Big north country panfish opportunities abound in June
I can remember fishing Leech Lake as a youngster and catching giant sunfish. They were the kind of panfish that fight like a largemouth by digging into the weeds and using their body shape to make the seconds following each hookset exciting. Those fish, a true rarity in our waters these days, were special.
While many species of fish have distracted me in the two decades between those trips to Leech and life today, I still look for big panfish and occasionally find them. The most recent find occurred on a little, never-to-be-named lake in north-central Minnesota. It’s the kind of lake with a gravel landing that makes me question that if I do get my boat launched without incident, if I’ll ever get it back out of the drink.
The sunfish, good ones mixed with absolute giants, were staged in the pencil reeds. The water was far too dark to see if there were beds below us, but the odds are pretty good there were. While we had to sort through a few smaller fish to find the dinner plates, it was worth it.
My fishing partner and I ended up running out of nightcrawlers, and with nothing to lose, tried jumbo leeches. This turned out to be a pretty good way of weeding out the 6-inch sunnies from the 10-inchers. After we ran out of the leeches, we tried casting small jigs. We caught a few fish, but it was clear they were looking for real meat so we gave up and messed around with some largemouth.
The largest sunfish we caught measured just a shade over 11 inches, and while that doesn’t seem overly huge, it was. The fishing was so good that we returned the next day, caught a few more, and realized that the fish already were backing out into deeper water. Very soon they’ll likely move even further and become tougher to locate as summer settles over north country.
That’s OK with me. We got our magical day of big sunfish and know that there are plenty more out there that we might find yet this year, or we won’t. Either way, come early summer next year, we’ll be back, and I hope they will, too.