Few anglers fish bluegills and sunfish with artificial lures, but that’s a mistake. It definitely pays to carry a large selection of lures when you're targeting panfish because they allow you to cover large expanses of water in a hurry. Better still, when the fish are feeding aggressively, they allow you to fish faster, and catch more panfish, because you spend less downtime rebaiting.
Jig And Curlytail Grub: Arguably, this combo is the most used and most effective artificial used to target panfish. They can go as light as 1/64 to even 1/100 ounce, but typically a 1/32- to 1/16-ounce jig head is standard fare. The curlytail body provides an enticing wiggle that triggers strikes. Jig it vertically for panfish suspended anywhere in the water column. Or, you can swim it over weed tops, or hop it along the bottom to target panfish relating to structure or cover.
Jig And Overhead Spinner: This variation of the jig-and-grub offers the flash and vibration of a small overhead Colorado blade to the presentation. It often out produces a standard jig in slightly murky water near shore, or where weeds are thicker and you need something more to catch the fish’s attention. It also makes a fine search bait when you’re looking for concentrations of fish on an extended flat. Both this lure and the jig-and-grub can be tipped with a piece of nightcrawler or a maggot if necessary to produce strikes.
Mini Crank: Many lure manufacturers offer crankbaits, including divers, floaters, rattlebaits, in diminutive sizes (1/10 ounce or lighter) for small game species. If panfish are in feeding mode, mini cranks will clean up. Better still, use them as search lures to strain large areas. They cast well on light spinning gear with 4-pound mono, but their real advantage is that they don’t dive very deep, making them a good choice in the shallows where panfish prefer to live.
In-Line Spinner: In-line spinners often take a back seat to other types of lures, but they can be deadly on ‘gills and sunfish. Cast a size 0 or 1 spinner along weedlines, over flats, near brush or fallen treetops, or anywhere you’d cast a mini crank or swim a jig. The blade’s flash and vibration will draw fish from a distance. Tips for fishing in-lines: Consider clipping off two of the hookpoints at the shank with a wire cutter; even tiny trebles can be difficult to dislodge from a panfish’s mouth. Also, tie in a small barrel swivel a foot above the lure to minimize line twist.
Flies: Insects and small crustaceans are a fair part of a panfish’s diet. When panfish are active, small rubber-leg poppers make for exciting topwater action, but wet flies like nymphs, wooly buggers and gnats will catch more fish day-in and day-out. To use them with your light spinning gear, attach a fixed float or casting bubble to the main line above a light fluorocarbon leader. The flouro will help the fly sink, plus its near-zero visibility will keep finicky fish from spooking. Because the float is fixed, and the leader limited to a length that can be cast, this is a shallow-water presentation.
Don't leave your maggots and earthworms behind next time you strike out after panfish, but at the same time, make sure your tackle box is well stocked with a selection of these tiny artificials.