Panfish Bonanza!

After a long, dark, cold winter, the first few warm days of spring prompt many of us to head to the cottage to see how things fared during the arctic chill. 

For the most part, spring clean up involves picking up fallen branches and twigs from winter storms and raking up the leftover leaves that refused to drop in the fall. I, for one, look forward to this annual ritual. It’s not because I enjoy the yard work, but it does signal it’s time to get out fishing for panfish!

Panfish, or “pannies”, is the word used to describe fish which usually do not outgrow the size of a frying pan. In Ontario the term encompasses a wide variety of small fish, primarily sunfish (pumpkinseeds, bluegills), crappies, yellow perch and rock bass, all of which are ripe for the taking for those anglers who long for that tug on their line.

For the most part, Southern Ontario has a year-round open season for panfish, but you should consult the Ontario fishing regulations for your area to be aware of any restrictions or sanctuary areas.

Spring is also a great time to get the kids out fishing. Ontario residents under the age of 18 do not require a fishing licence; combine that with the fact the equipment needed won’t break the family budget and it makes for a fun day out on the water.

Typically, I like to fish shallow back bays or canals that are sheltered from the wind, which allows the water to warm up. Panfish such as crappies and bluegills, will actively seek out this warmer water in the spring, as they begin to congregate for spawning purposes. I look for any leftover standing weeds or wood (old, submerged trees, or dock pilings); even last year’s bullrushes are a good starting point. 

Keep things simple – a light or ultra light fishing rod with 4 to 6 lb test line and a float of some kind to suspend your offering is usually all that is needed. Those packaged rod and reel combos you see in the tackle store are perfect for the kids in this situation.

I like using artificial baits for panfish, most manufactures have a wide variety of plastic tubes, grubs and creature type baits which are very durable when used with a small jig head. Some even come pre-rigged in the pack and are available in a wide array of fish catching colours. In addition, if the kids are along, you won’t be constantly re-baiting hooks. Use the smallest possible float or bobber that you can. Often the bites are very soft, and a smaller float allows for easier detection of a bite.

Tips and Tricks…

It may take you a while to locate the fish in your area, but you can up your odds by doing a few simple things:

  •  Fish shallow. Concentrate your efforts in water 5 feet deep or less.
  • Offer a variety of baits to start, make sure everyone is fishing with something different. Often panfish will show a preference for a certain colour or size of bait.
  • Don’t let your bait sit idle. Artificial baits need to be moved. I would recommend letting the bait sit for 5-10 seconds after the cast, and then moving the float 12-14″ while reeling in the slack line and repeating the process until you need to cast again. This will cause your bait to swing like a pendulum under your float and makes it seem more “lifelike”.
  • Adjust the depth of your bait under the float after every 10 or 15 casts if you are not getting any bites. Sometimes that cold water makes them lazy, and you need to put the bait right in front of their nose.
  • Bring a pair of needle nose pliers or similar hook removing tool. Panfish have a small mouth and getting tiny hooks out can be a challenge.

This spring give panfish a try! They are fun to catch and make for a tasty treat.

Good luck and get outside!

Mike Quesnelle, GOAT Angling Adventures   705-934-1450