Panfish are everyone’s fish, no-pressure fish, a lazy May or June afternoon’s fishing kind of fish, fish that deservedly belong in a frypan.
A collective term, panfish refers generally to such species as black crappie and white crappie, and bluegill and related sunfish. A freshcaught mess of any of them can produce a mouth-watering meal.
Panfish are easy to catch — as unsophisticated as a cane pole, a bobber, a hook, and a minnow or a worm. Hard-core panfishermen also may use various ultralight spinning tackle or flyrod gear. Avid crappiemen use a stacked “crappie rig,” one hook stacked above the other with each tipped with a minnow.
Crappie — pronounced “croppie” — have such a following that their fans form clubs, compete in tournaments, hold contests galore. They are a school fish, especially when they have moved inshore to congregate and spawn, typically in May and into June.
The trick to finding them is to keep moving until you find where they are holding on a given day. Often you start fishing shallow, from just one to five feet deep, but veterans will keep going even as deep as 10 to 15 feet if no schools are located up high. Crappie like brushy underwater structure.
Minnows are the most reliable way to put crappie in a cooler. But some anglers also use a small jig with a minnow or they cast small spinners in chrome or white, or tiny spinnerbaits with a plastic tail.
Two species of crappie, black and white, can be found in northern Ohio, though white crappie tend to tolerate a wider variety of water, including silty or turbid water. Black crappie like clearer waters.
White crappie have 5 to 10 vertical bands on their sides and backs and black crappie have dusky or dark blotches, with deeper bodies. White crappie, moreover, have just five or six spines on their dorsal fins and black crappie have seven or eight.
Crappie are not huge, averaging 8 to 12 inches, but larger “slabsides” are not uncommon. The state record white crappie is 3.9 pounds, 18.5 inches long. The record black crappie is 4.5 pounds, 18.12 inches.
Do not get too enthusiastic when setting the hook on a crappie, or you’ll soon understand one of their nicknames: “papermouth.”
Bluegill are farmpond kings, providing year-round action. But they also are found in many waters large and small, lake and stream, and they are on their muscle during late spring and early summer spawning time.
Flyrod anglers use imitation ants and crickets to good effect. But these slab-sided panfish respond as well to mini-spinnerbaits, small jigs with plastic grubtails, and small spinners and the like, all fished on ultralight spinning tackle.
Too, a small hook baited with live waxworms or crickets, or even redworms, is the old standby. Along with a hook, add a piece of split shot and a small slip bobber to the line, adjusting the depth to where the fish are suspending. You’ll be ready to go.
The term “bluegill” has been used generically to describe what actually is a whole sunfish family of similarly shaped cousins.
These include the green sunfish, hybrid sunfish, longear sunfish, redear sunfish, pumpkinseed, orangespotted sunfish, and warmouth sunfish. Identities can be confusing at times, especially when crossbreeding or hybridization is taken into account.
The family indeed includes a true bluegill, which has a classically small mouth and a long pectoral or belly fin. A bluegill’s coloration will vary with its food supply and the chemistry of its home waters. But its earflap always is black and a true bluegill will have a black spot or blotch near the end of the top or dorsal fin.
Most bluegill are 6 to 10 inches long, though the Ohio record is a 12.75-inch bluegill, taken in 1990 at Salt Fork Reservoir in southeast Ohio. It weighed — get this — 3.28 pounds.
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