Springtime panfish are universally sought out and thatís mostly due to their nature of being aggressively schooled-up and more than eager to attack whatever you put in front of their stout little noses. Big sunfish and slab crappies are caught throughout the Midwestern belt during those times and it provides some excellent action for anglers both young and old.

But, the springtime flurry doesnít last forever and those same aggressive-natured fish will once again become less energetic and will transform into wandering nomads, only feeding when there bellies tell them to. No longer do they devour what ever
presents itself, or at least not in areas where we once sat wide-eyed at springtime and early summer. Now they are on a different path, a path that leads them into the dog days of summerÖ

Panfish will hold shallow, there is no use disputing a statement like that, but shallow is only relative to the body of water being fished. Shallow can mean 2 feet in the local farm pond, yet in the expansive reservoir across the street it can mean 8 feet of water
off a break. Panfish typically hold shallow during the spring fling and they are beginning their open water adventures.

The shallow water bite may last for a period of time, but those areas will change as the season progresses, and usually into conditions that make fishing them tough. Thick weeds begin to sprout up and fresh budding lily pads turn into thick mats of green and brown walls separating you from the underwater world.

Conditions call for a new approach and fish patterns will tell you the same. Itís time to seek out a new area, because one, the old hot spot is unfishable, and two, the fish have found refuge in nearby deeper water, although weed pockets are an exception. Deeper water areas usually take the form of deep weed lines or out in the open water of the main lake and mid-depth basins.

Around this time most lakes experience an influx of thick, infectious weeds, which surround much of the shorelines and usually have a deep and shallow edge. Many lakes will see this veritable force beginning in 4-6 feet of water and ending where the water drops into deeper water, usually where the break line takes a drastic plunge. Some lakes will even have a deep edge along a flat or where the thick mat of weeds disperses into scarce weed patches as the bottom composition changes.

No matter the form it takes, these substantial weed lines will attract panfish, but effectively fishing them can be difficult unless you search out for pockets in the weeds. Weed pockets are often over-looked, but hopefully from now on you begin seeing them as opportunities instead of just spaces of nothingness. These weed pockets all have the potential of producing panfish. Panfish are abundant underneath the vegetated barrier and they are scurrying about picking off tiny morsels here and there.

You can bet a sunfish or crappie will snatch up an easy meal if it presents itself out in the open water of one of those pockets. Some days you can set over one of these pockets and catch one fish after another. Several characteristics make weed pockets as effective as they are. Weed pockets provide an excess of sunlight, which will attract what attracts panfish, mainly baitfish and other forage.

Weed pockets also seem to have a different bottom composition in the immediate area, which will also attract surrounding organisms and water dwelling insects. Just like weed pockets grab our attention, they grab the fishís attention as well. Weed pockets are a part of my plan of attack when I hit the water in search of Dog Day Panfish.

Plastics tend to be my preferred way of targeting these weed-dwelling panfish. The Exude Nymph offers a unique, natural-appealing presentation that works well in weedy conditions. Nymphs and other insects will utilize these particular areas, and it only makes sense that you ďmatch the hatch.Ē I typically rig these plastics with either a plain hook (for neutral buoyancy) or with a jighead (for a more aggressive technique along deeper weed lines).

Many anglers stop pursuing panfish once the shallow water bite ceases, but it doesnít have to be that way. Locating summer panfish shouldnít be intimidating and many times the fish are located in areas you seek out when bass or pike fishing. Weeds play an important role in summer panfish locations and the presence of deep weeds make things just that much better.

Deep weeds and weed lines will draw in a huge smorgasbord of organisms for panfish to feed on, and in very high numbers. The cool water of the deep weeds is comforting to panfish and you can expect to find them there until the weeds change or the temps begin to drastically drop.

Classic summer panfish spots will remain true throughout much of the summer months and the panfish holding on them usually wonít go far if harsh weather presents itself. Deep weeds are a classic summer spot and should be a part of every panfish anglerís daily routine once the summer suns take form.

Weeds are very important, no doubt about that, and I usually seek out some form of weeds, whether itís pockets or deep weed lines, but donít let vegetation be your only guide to a day of success. Open water and mid-lake flats can equal victory on some days too.

This pattern holds true for crappies more than sunfish, but every body of water is different and locations can vary. Crappies will roam out in open water, and usually itís the open water areas of a bay or the areas adjacent to deep weed lines and structure. Crappies like chasing down baitfish (much like the Exude Micro Shad) that are daring enough to adventure out into the open. The crappies know itís an easy meal and that they have a huge advantage over their prey in situations like that. Itís not uncommon to find cruising pods of crappies out in 30 feet of water, suspended 10 feet off the bottom.

Crappie locations during the hot summer months can be very frustrating on some lakes, and the possibilities seem endless. In order to narrow things down, you need to grab a lake map and look for possible springtime locations (where the crappies were just recently at) as well as nearby deeper water. Figure out where the deep weed line is and where, if any, is there deeper structure.

Crappies will hold near and around deep structure during the summer, then when the opportunity presents itself they will slide out into the open water to feed. You will even find lakes where the crappies hold out in the open water for extended periods of time, and they wonít feel the need to seek refuge around deep structure. Cruising the break line and deep open water adjacent from shallow structure with the electronics running is a good way to locate a school of crappies. Once a school is located, it wonít take long to figure out whether or not they are hungry.

Pitching a plastic like the Exude Micro Shad allows me to effectively mimic suspended baitfish. When rigged on a collarless jighead, the Micro Shad has the potential of giving off both an aggressive and neutral action. The collarless jighead offers just enough weight to drop the plastic, yet itís subtle enough for a more ďfinesseĒ approach if the situation calls for it.

So, to expand on this concept of summer panfish, I will end with a question:

Why is it that during the winter months we target panfish in 30, 40 or even 50 feet of water, yet during the open water months we stop searching once we canít find them in 5-6 feet of water?

The over-looked answer (that will help you this summer):

Panfish will utilize deep water just like walleye, bass and pike. Deep water shouldnít scare panfish anglers, and having the willingness to target deep water during the summer months can really increase your catch. Some days it just takes patience and the motivation to look for meandering fish.

Iíve only touched on a few of the options that are available for panfish during the summer months, and donít let these possibilities be your only resort. Fishing is constantly changing and we must change with it and adapt to the given conditions. Watch for pockets in the weeds, check for deep weed lines, and pay attention to your electronics for pods of schooling fish in deeper water while motoring from spot to spot.

By doing a few of these things you can eliminate some of the guesswork and wasted time spent on the water. But in the end, every day on the water is a good day if you have a fishing rod in your hand. Enjoy the summer and good luck!!!
Good Fishin,
Matt Johnson
Guided Open Water and Ice Fishing

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