The spring months in North Carolina are usually associated with hunting wild turkeys and the “running” of the shad and striped bass in the waters flowing towards the Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds. Of course, there are other fish species that are somewhat forgotten, but offer some of the best outdoor fun available. The overlooked panfish.
I use the term panfish very loosely. There are many species and subspecies of panfish. The most common are longear, bluegill, redear, and pumpkinseed. Due to hybridization, they are sometimes almost indecipherable. What is not indecipherable though, is the amount of fun one can have when fishing for these easily-overlooked fish.
Most anglers started out fishing for panfish in small ponds, streams, and rivers. They tend to outgrow this type of fishing, it seems, in the pursuit of bigger fish species. What the die-hard panfish anglers know, is that a Zebco-type reel and some live bait will rival some of the best fishing you can find. Many avid fisherman even use ultra-lite rod and reel combos, fly rods, and cane poles. Not only is the terminal tackle and necessary equipment needed easy to find, but it’s also inexpensive. You are likely to spend more money on the way to fish, than what’s needed to actually fish.
The key to finding these panfish is to find where they are bedding. They usually select areas along the riverbanks or pond edges in shallow water and create a depression. With a polarized lens, you can cut out the UV glare and clearly see the beds while on the water. These fish are a very adaptable and can be found in most any pond. They typically will be near some sort of structure, but can very easily create their beds in bare-banked ponds.
The best baits to catch these panfish on are typically earth worms such as night crawlers, and crickets. I typically rig them on a long shank number 6 hook about 6-12 inches below a bobber, or cork. The depth you fish depends on the water clarity and current conditions. If the current is stronger, a few split-shot sinker weights can be added above the hook, or swivel if you are using one.
If live bait is not an option, there are a variety of artificial baits at your disposal that will fool even the smartest fish. Beetle Spins and in-line spinners are some of the most sought after artificial baits for panfish. Small floating top water baits will also get the attention of many panfish, including the occasional bass. There are also more minnow and jig combinations than one fisherman would ever need, all of which will snag a panfish any given day.
This spring, don’t let the simplistic fun of fishing for panfish slip by. There’s a variety of tackle options and places where you can catch plenty of fish and have a blast in the process. You’ll be glad you did!