Refining Your Panfish Presentation
Panfish can either be one of the easiest fish to catch or the most frustrating. Most days it doesn’t seem like there is much room in between. However, even when they are at their most fickle, there are several things you can do to draw strikes, even when everyone around you is being flummoxed.
A friend of mine once wisely compared crappies to
retrievers. “If I drop a ball in front of my dog,” he said, “she looks at me
like I’m an idiot, but if I throw the ball, she will go through anything or
anyone to get it.” Crappies behave in much the same way, if you put your bait
directly in front of their face; they will often stare at it briefly until
something more interesting happens off to the side. Put the same bait down near
the crappie and play a game of keep away, and watch their predatory instincts
kick in. A little secret for you, fish (actually all predators) are not used to
their food getting up in their face, nothing wants to get eaten. They will struggle
mightily and try and put as much distance between themselves and the predator
as is possible. This is what you need to make your bait look like it is doing.
Practice your “evasion” techniques with your bait and you will be more likely
to be rewarded with a fat crappie flopping on the ice.
Getting panfish to chase your bait is a great starting tool, but many anglers are convinced that they have to continually go up with their baits. But guess what? Prey can swim down as well and often, when fishing near the bottom or in shallow water, their first instinct is to seek shelter. This can mean weeds or burrowing down into the muck. In shallow water, there simply isn’t enough room to continually raise the fish up 10-15 feet like you can when basin fishing; likewise murky waters limit how far you can take the bait away from the fish before they lose sight of it.
This is where the “yo-yo” comes into play. Exactly like it sounds, the yo-yo is getting the fish to move up, and then if they do not commit, lower the bait below them. When the fish starts to move down, raise it above them again. By doing this you can extend the time you keep a fish interested. This has a couple of benefits. One, the longer you can keep a fishes attention, the more likely it is to bite. Two, the longer you can keep that fish there, the more likely another fish is to come along and want your bait. As I said earlier, panfish behave much like dogs, and there is no way I know of to get a dog to chase something faster than to have another dog going after it as well.
Keeping a fish interested in your presentation is only half the battle, however. A moving bait will keep the fishes attention, but only the most aggressive fish will attack while there is constant movement. You will need to occasionally mix in a trigger. This can come in the form of a slowing down of your jigging, or just an all out pause. The problem many see with trying to include this trigger, is that with standard spinning reels, your line twists every time you turn that handle. So when the time comes for that pause, your lure will continue to spin. Try sight fishing with a spinning reel sometime and you will see it. Panfish, bluegills especially, will just sit back and wait for that spin to stop.
Luckily, many advancements in the technology of fishing reels have been made available to the general public in the last few years. My favorites have come from the guys at 13 Fishing. For shallow water, it is hard to beat the ease of use of the Black Betty. But for deeper water situations, the 6061 and the new Teardrop shine with their ridiculous retrieve ratios and free spool options.
The main idea behind these tricks is to make your lure behave like the prey the fish are feeding on every day. Eliminating line twist will allow you to pause the lure and give the fish that ambush point much like an indecisive minnow. However, keep your pauses brief and periodic, as the goal is to keep the fish moving to keep their interest. The longer you keep that interest, the more likely you are to get bit when fish turn inactive.