Alternatives to a jig and a worm for panfish
If you got your start fishing at a young age there is a good chance that your first fish was a panfish. Many people classify panfish as a fish sizeable for the pan. Be it a Bluegill, Crappie or a Rock Bass, all are fairly eager to bite a variety of presentations. Most anglers move on to “bigger and better fish” leaving the days of smaller species on the end of a line behind them, often forgetting the exhilarating fight and exuberant colours offered by the smaller members of the Centrarchidae family. With summer here the bugs can be thick and sun scorching but somewhere out there is a panfish or many ready and willing to bite.
A Crappie Afternoon
It was a hot summer’s day with a light breeze creating just enough chop on the river’s surface to give the worm chunk below the bobber some added action. We were fishing a small river looking for a bite, anything would do really. A sucker or carp, goldeye or bullhead, I’m not prejudiced. Often times fishing rivers I will start out with a worm or a minnow under a bobber or fished on a bottom rig of sorts. After a few bites and hopefully landed fish I may then change up my tactics to better suit what was biting and that’s exactly what happened after the first two fish landed this day.
The bobber shot under and the fight began. As the fish got close to shore the night black and emerald green shimmer of a Black Crappie appeared. A nice eater size but I released it after popping the hook out, quickly re-baiting and casting out to see if it was a fluke or if there were more around feeding. Sure enough another one was landed in no time. I could have continued fishing a worm under a bobber but decided to change up to a small scented plastic in hopes of saving time re-baiting. I began casting out without the bobber and letting the jig sink followed by a slow finessed retrieve near the bottom. A general rule of thumb with light line and jigs is roughly one foot of drop in the water column for every second it falls. If you found a strike zone with a certain amount of line out under a bobber, you can fairly easily hit that area with the countdown technique. Many bites were had on the fall and once the slack was gone and weight felt the hookset followed. If the lure wasn’t hit on the drop there was a good chance it would get attacked on the slow retrieve to shore. The action was steady and we continued to catch and release many more crappie that day, only needing to change lures once or twice when the bite slowed.
Red Eyes in the Rocks
Another small fish that is eager to bite as the summer drags along is the Rock Bass. Their mouths are often bigger than a Crappie or a Bluegill of similar size and when you find them they can produce just as much fun. Another day of multi-species fishing on another river and after catching a few different fish from a current seam I changed to a 1/32 jig tipped with a chunk of Gulp red wiggler and began to cast and jig amongst the rocks. A familiar light tap and up came a small Rock Bass, blood red eyes, olive sides and a few black scales thrown in the mix.
Where one is found there are usually others near by and after a dozen or so rockies ranging in size from 4 to 9 inches, it was time for a different presentation. I tied on a small Northland soft plastic crayfish with a 1/16 jig, it was a meal no fish could resist and larger than the worm imitation. I began to cast out covering as much water as I could, bouncing the lure along the bottom in anticipation of a bite. Using the lightest possible jig that will still make it to the bottom is key and it produced a few larger Rock Bass from the depths and shallows as well as other species.
A jig, a bobber and a worm. Standard protocol when it comes to Bluegills, but really there is so much more to the pursuit of them. Small scented plastics, the tiniest of cranks and topwaters can all produce strikes under the right circumstances from shore. One of my fishing partners is always trying different lures and combinations, eager to see what fish are interested in, it is part of what makes him so successful on our many outings. While I would contently jig small plastics or worm chunks for gills he is often popping along a tiny topwater waiting for the micro explosion of the fish attacking the lure. It adds a level of excitement and challenge to what is considered an easy fish to target, providing great practice for patience on topwater strikes when you are after those bigger species. No matter how you hook one, they fight like the panfish version of a Smallmouth Bass and are notorious for pushing down in a death spiral of sorts and heading for cover. They may be small but they are smart!
Panfish hold a vital role in the aquatic ecosystems they inhabit and selective catch and release should be practiced whenever possible. Big fish produce more eggs and pass on the genetics that got them there. Many the productive fishery has taken a hit due to over harvest and has lost some good genetics in the process. Everyone has certain sizes in mind when keeping fish to eat, I prefer to let the big breeders go whenever possible. When retaining a few to eat breaded fillets sure are tasty but a scaled and whole cooked panfish can be equally so and yields more meat. These fish have brought smiles to many young and old alike and salvaged a few handfuls of fishing trips I’m sure. So if a jig and a worm is your thing stick with it, but remember there is always an alternative when it comes to these gills, rockies and crappies.
Tips, Gear and Tricks
Gearing up for these fish can be fairly simple and the more you fish for them the more you can expand your arsenal. Four pound mono, or braid with a flouro leader and a light or ultra light rod will allow for a fun fight and easy bite detection. While an assortment of small jigs and soft plastics as well as micro cranks and top waters is all you need to get a start. Some of my favorites are the Southern Pro Little Hustler, Gulp! 2 inch Minnow and the Trigger X Mustache Worm as far as plastics go. Light floats with minimal resistance can help keep a lure in the strike zone longer and go down easy when you have a hit. Keeping as quiet as possible is easily forgotten about when shore fishing and if you are fishing close to shore structure, it is in your best interest to try to be. Any time is a good time to fish but my favorites are early morning or a calm before a storm, you never know what might bite and what you may learn.