Saturday, January 28th, 2023
Saturday, January 28th, 2023

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Unique techniques for fall panfish

By George Fiorille

Contributing Writer

Fishing for perch and other panfish during the fall, and some other low-activity periods, can be very difficult. Traditional methods of just still-fishing with live bait or casting with small jigs may not get you the results you desire. 

Unfortunately, when fishing success is slow or non-existent, most anglers just write it off as a bad day. Why not try doing something new that the fish have not seen in a while, or ever before? Avid panfish anglers who go through these tough times, resort to unorthodox techniques.

A crappie technique that is done down south a lot is to troll small crankbaits. Don’t use the larger style crankbaits that bass anglers use to get down deep. Try using deep diving crankbaits in the ¼-ounce category that may run in the 5- to 10-feet range. Some good ones are the Lucky Craft Staysee 60SP and the Lucky Craft LC1.5DDDRS. Troll a couple or more of these way behind the boat for suspended crappies. If it’s really slow, you can even just troll with small hair jigs.

During the late fall and late spring, yellow perch invade the shallows to feed heavily. It often pays to cover water faster in a “run and gun” pattern to get your offering in front of larger and more active fish. A great way to do this is to cast the shorelines with a small stickbait. Try using a small 3⁄16-ounce suspending model such as the Lucky Craft Pointer 65. To get longer casts to cover more water, try casting this rig with a 7 to-71⁄2-foot medium light spinning rod with 6-pound fluorocarbon line. 

The drop-shot rig is one of the deadliest set-ups for bass the past several years. It also works extremely well at times for panfish such as perch and bluegills. This finesse rig consists of a short shank hook, tied riding point up approximately 6 to 18 inches above a drop shot weight. The shallower your depth the fish are in, the shorter your leader length to the sinker should be. If you want to get the maximum feel for your strikes, try using 8- to 10-pound braided line with a 4- to 6-pound fluorocarbon leader. You can use this rig with live bait, but small minnow and crawfish plastic grubs work great with it. 

If you are really into a school of fish with the drop-shot rig, you can double your chances of catching fish. Instead of using a bottom hugging sinker, use a small jig head with a grub for a double presentation. With active fish, you sometimes can pull in two at a time.

Avid bass anglers know that if fish are not in the weed edges, they are usually in the weeds, and you have to go in after them. Panfish can be the same way. Try using the drop-shot rigs by casting them into holes or pockets in the grass. Huge rock bass in the fall can be found in these areas.

The Ned rig has become very popular with bass anglers the past few years. It consists of a mushroom style jig-head with a short 3-inch stick worm style bait. The 3-inch size will catch larger panfish but, try trimming the worm down to 2 inches or less to score on numbers of panfish. 

Another way to catch multiple panfish at once is to use a version of the Alabama bass rig,which consists of a lead or plastic main head connected to multiple wire arms that you attach a swimbait to. Some companies now have a smaller panfish version with three arms. You can add three panfish grubs to the arms and create an illusion of a school of baitfish. Sometimes, in very cold water, this type of rig is the only thing that will trigger a strike.

If you are after larger panfish, you can score on them by using certain other bass techniques. Small spinnerbaits cast in weed beds and pockets will often catch the largest panfish in a lake. The larger fish such as perch seem to hide in cover to avoid the pike and muskies that are roaming outside the weed beds. Use a tandem bladed model for better lift. Don’t be afraid to pause the lure and let it flutter down into a hole.

Also, if you attach a small trailer hook, you can catch more short strikers. I believe this technique was responsible for catching a former state record perch. I have caught giant perch doing this in the fall while northern pike fishing. You usually don’t catch a lot, but the few you do are usually over a foot long.

During late fall, panfish such as perch and others go very deep. Many panfish anglers have trouble fishing in depths of 30 to 60 feet. The largest perch I have ever caught, and had mounted, was one that was almost 16 inches long. It took a ¾-ounce spider jig slid along the bottom in almost 40 feet of water. It was caught in late fall while fishing for deep water smallmouth bass. 

If you are out pan-fishing this fall (or next spring) and the usual tactics fail to produce, try one of these unique tactics. The success you have with the new pattern may just become one of your favorites. Fish on!

George Fiorille is an outdoor communicator from Upstate New York. Besides writing, he also teaches college bass fishing, is a part-time guide, tournament fishes, and does tackle/marine promotions. He can be reached at gfiorille@gmail.com.

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