by Ron Griffith aka Wind Knot/Ark
There is an old saying about confession being good for the soul. I hope
it's true because I feel the need to confess - I'm a panfish junkie!
I've fished for bass, trout, walleye, and several other species in both
fresh and salt water, but my favorites by far are the numerous little fish known as panfish.
They include bluegill, rock bass (goggle-eye), crappie, sunfish, shellcrackers, white bass,
and in my opinion, all bass less than approximately 1 1/2 pounds in weight.
There are as many methods for taking the little battlers on hook and line
as there are different species, but one of the best has to be the fly rod. Options as to the
proper rod vary, but my favorite is an 8 1/2 foot, 6-weight as an all-around panfish rod.
True, you will be somewhat over-equipped for most fish that will be caught, but the strength
of the 6-weight rod will be welcome when the occassional large bass or catfish inhales the fly.
Flies should be compatible with the fish being sought. With the broad range
of species available, feeding habits vary drastically. Shellcrackers are mainly bottom feeders,
subsisting on a crustacean diet. Shrimp and various nymph patterns are the most consistent
producers, but I have taken them on small poppers. Speaking of poppers, bluegills were made
especially for these flies! They can be taken on nearly any fly, but seem to have an affinity
for top-water bugs. Crappie and white bass are prime streamer candidates, while goggle-eye and
small bass readily take leech and crayfish imitations.
As with all species of fish, the small ones are foolish and easy, the
large ones are much more difficult. A one-pound or larger bluegill is probably one of the
most difficult fish there is to catch. True, they are rare, but so is a large bass or
trout. I probably see more 8-pound bass than one-pound bluegill.
Good presentation is extremely important in fishing for large bluegill.
They are easily as spooky as any other fish that swims, and will not hesitate to vacate the
area if they sense something isn't right. They also get downright selective at times. Just
try them when they are sipping midges. Poppers and other gaudy warm-water flies will not
draw a strike. You will find yourself going to a 7x tippet and a #20 dry fly to tempt these
"easy" fish. Better watch that 7x tippet, though. A half-pound bluegill will snap it easily.
One of my favorite flies for both bluegill and shellcrackers is an
exaggerated shrimp pattern tied on a Mustad 37160 hook. The deep curve of this hook's
shank emphasizes the curve of the fly's body, and a pair of oversize bead chain eyes
give it the weight to get down deep.
For bass and goggle-eye, give me a black wooly bugger and a small crayfish
pattern and I'll be a happy fisherman. Lake fish may be a bit more selective, but these two
flies will take fish in any stream I've ever fished.
I don't have a lot of experience with white bass and crappie on the fly
rod, but I've done well occasionally with the Shineabou Shad and the Clouser Minnow. These
two species seem to key mainly on baitfish of various types, but I've caught both on several
different types of flies.
Possibly the greatest strength of panfish is that fishing for them is
very close to decent, if not great fishing. They can be found in most lakes and streams,
and in nearly every farm pond in the country. Don't forget the lakes in city parks and the
water hazards on golf courses. If they don't freeze to the bottom, chances are they have
one or more species of panfish in them. Sometimes the best fishing is in the most unlikely