Early in the spring, before the urge to procreate takes over, panfish gather together in massive schools and are fairly easy to locate and catch. Then when spawning is in full swing, those same fish move back into the shallows, where antagonistic strikes from aggressive adults guarding eggs are simple to conjure up.
But soon the post-spawn period will be upon us, and catching these highly sought-after fish will be tough. Or at least that’s what the majority of anglers think.
The truth is, it’s not that the fish are unwilling to eat, but rather they have spread out and, although are feeding veraciously to make up for energy lost during the spawn, aren’t willing to move much to wolf down morsels as they once were.
Locating them with pinpoint accuracy is key. And that isn’t as hard nowadays when a boat’s rigged with the right electronics. And then there’s using equipment geared towards casting light lures and hooks tipped with bait, yet sensitive enough to confirm there’s a fish interested in your offerings.
Gone, But Not Too Far
The all-panfish-species specialist of the Midwest is fishing pro Brian “Bro” Brosdahl. The Minnesota-based guide knows right where to drop bait after the spawn is over, as well how to summon strikes during what is thought to be the toughest bite of the year.
“A lot of people think bluegills and crappies aren’t catchable during the post-spawn period and that they’ve gone tight lipped, bellied-up to bottom and comatose after the spawn. But nothing could be further from the truth,” he explains.
According to Brosdahl, you don’t have to look far from where they spawned, either. The first major breaks nearest bedding areas that have an abundance of cover such as weeds, wood and rock are prime starting zones.
He says that what used to take hours of searching the shallows now only takes minutes.
“I would drive all over looking for breaklines and cover. But now with Side Imaging and 360 Imaging, I can easily locate fish-holding structure. And with the punch of just a couple buttons, place a GPS waypoint to the very places I want to cast without disrupting those areas with the boat.
“Panfish don’t need a huge mass of cover to stick by, either—a single log or a small scattering of rocks may hold several fish. And now it’s easier than ever to find these individual structures with Side Imaging and 360.”
Individual fish, too, can be seen in shallow water with the advanced technology. “You’ll see white ‘specks’ scattered along the edge of cover—those are fish.
Cast, Lift, Set, Repeat
The gear and tackle he prefers during postspawn? He wields a variety of ultra-sensitive graphite rods, light line, small jigs and terminal tackle, as well live bait offerings.
His rods of choice are 7-foot or longer with a fast action allowing for reaching casts and sweeping hooksets. “The clearer the water, the longer the rod I use for extended casting distance,” he adds.
Super-duper long rods let Bro cast light jigs long distances, all the while affording sensitivity, in addition to the energy for solid hooksets. Photo by Bill Lindner Photography
If he’s spied panfish suspended over cover, jigs nipped with live bait get the nod. He keeps an array of jigs on hand—his favorites bring his namesake Bro’s Bloodworms, Thumpers and new tungsten Fire-Ball Jigs from Northland Tackle. He ties these directly to the end of 2- to 4-pound monofilament, and then tips each with maggots or wax worms—the whole package suspended just above the bottom with a light float.
In Bro’s world, minnows are unattractive inanimate objects if not maintained properly.
The panfish specialist leans on Frabill’s Minn-O-Life aeration product to keep his bait spirited. Photo courtesy of Frabill
If fish aren’t responding, he just lifts the rodtip and lets the bobber slide across the surface. This lifts the jig up and over structure before a tantalizing pendulum-like fall.
A small BB-size split shot is then pinched 6 to 8 inches above the hook when fishing in stained water, and 10 to 12 inches above when casting in clearer conditions. “I like the split shot fairly close to the hook so that the minnow or leach can’t swim far, as post-spawn pans don’t like to chase down forage,” he adds.
The package naturally produces a slow, attractive descent. Bro lets the bait set for a minute before lifting the rodtip and ‘swimming’ it back to the boat. Hits are often felt more as weight on the end of the line than a bobber plunging.
Looking to catch panfish during what some consider to be the toughest time of year? Implement the insight from a wise panfish junky like Bro. Inside cover adjacent to breaklines in close proximity of spawning sites are where you need to begin your search. Once you find the fish, the action can be intense and constant, which in a panfisherman’s world—that’s perfect!
According to professional crappie angler and full-time guide, Todd Tucker, the crappies haven’t moved too far and should be pretty easy to find.