Panfish in the fall
Each and every morning on my way to get into my truck to go to work, I take deep breathes of that fall air. There is doubt that Mother Nature is showing off right now with these beautiful fall days. Almost half way through the month of October and we haven’t even been close to a frost, that is unusual. Plants, flowers and the grass are all looking colorful, again very unusual for this time of year. I also have noticed that the water temperature in local lakes is still hovering around the 65-70 degree mark. This is highly unusual for this time of year. Mother Nature may be showing off this week, but what she is really doing is delaying the fall movement of fish, but this weekend and the weeks coming could be some of the best panfishing you might have all year long.
If you love to chase crappies and bluegills, then you need to make some time to get out to your favorite areas in the next two weeks. This is the peak time for catching a wonderful fall meal of panfish. Of course every day can’t be that magical day when the fish are cooperative and seem to bite anything and everything. There are certain areas on most days in the fall that will help you catch a nice mess of fish.
Bluegills and crappies, although very different species by DNA, act similar throughout the year. Fall is a fine example of this; often you can catch a bluegill on one cast, change a bait and catch crappies on the next cast. These two species will use similar places to feed up before the cool winter water is upon them.
Those popular cold water areas can be broken down into two main things to focus in on. The first being areas that are closest to the deepest parts of the lake. The deeper the water, the warmer it will be this time of year. This can concentrate fish on a certain bank of a lake, points or even out in the middle areas of lakes. Panfish like to move around frequently searching for food in schools. Rarely will you catch just one panfish in an area, where there is one, there are more. By studying your favorite lakes’ contour map you can quickly pick out areas that are close to or adjacent to the deeper water. These are the go-to areas when the weather turns cold. The fish will live in the deeper water during the winter months, and some have already made their way to these deeper areas of the local lakes. When the weather/water temperatures get even colder, then the deeper areas of the lakes would be the only places I would look for panfish to catch.
The other area, which could be awesome this weekend, would be shallow bays and coves located close to deeper water. During warming trends, like we are seeing right now, these shallower coves water temperature will be the warmest in the entire lake, even warmer than the deepest water. I would not be surprised at all if a lot of panfish move up to shallow areas this weekend to feed up. There have been a lot of insect hatches this week, and those insects will play a roll in the reason why fish are up shallow too. The food chain can drive fish to feed, and right now, fish have one thing in mind eat as much as they can before winter. Not all shallow areas are created equal though. Make sure and look at a map to see which coves are located closest to deep water. Those coves will likely hold more panfish this weekend.
During the fall months, bait selection can be key to your success. I prefer to use live bait in the fall. I keep things pretty simple, small redworms for bluegills and small minnows for crappies. I also like to use slip-bobbers to closely monitor the height of my bait, this allows me to zero-in on an exact depth and know where my bait is at all times. A plain hook or a painted jighead depending on the amount of wind is used. Either way, sometimes just a quick change in depth by a foot or so can make or break a day on the water.
Another point I would like to bring up this week falls under conservation. Many times in the fall, once you find one panfish, there are dozens more to be caught without much effort. This can put people over the limit of their daily creel. Each angler can keep 25 bluegills (including sunfish) and 25 crappies per day. Be careful not to go over your limit, and do your best to never waste our fishing resources. If you won’t eat them, please put them back in the lake for another day. Enjoy the fall weather while you can, the extended forecast has much cooler weather in store for us.