Top Lures and Retrieves for Panfish in the Spring

A jig-spinner combo with a smoke-fleck body, caught this early-season yellow perch. Photo © Ken Schultz

Yellow perch, assorted sunfish species, and crappie are among the most popular fish in many states, especially in spring and especially around the time that ice melts in northern waters. In fact, some species have already spawned or are just about to when spring “officially” rolls around.

Jigs & Jig-Spinner Combos Are Tops

For pre- and post-spawn panfish, particularly yellow perch and crappies, the number one artificial lure is a small jig.

This may range from a micro model to a 1/8-ounce model, although it is more likely to be in the 1/32- to 1/16th-ounce class. These are tough to cast any distance, so a light and somewhat limber rod, and a small reel that is completely filled with light (2- through 6-pound), fine-diameter line, are important complements.

Many jig possibilities exist, including those with assorted soft bodies, or versions with hair or other materials. Successful colors run a wide gamut. Many people have success with white- or yellow-bodied jigs. When these don’t produce, try silver or smoke bodies, including plastics with imbedded flakes (or “flecks”), which produces extra pizzazz. Don’t use bodies that are too bulky or too lengthy, or whose tails extend well beyond the hook, which encourages short strikes.

When a plain jig doesn’t do the job or stops producing after awhile, try using a small jig with a tiny spinner blade.

Versions with blades attached to the underside of the head, or which are attached to a small overhead-wire arm spinnerbait-style, catch perch and crappie alike.

Jig-spinner combos have to be fished at a speed that is fast enough to turn the blade, but not too fast. If the blade isn’t turning it’s almost useless.

Plain jigs should be fished as slowly as necessary to get action out of the body or tail. There is some irony to this, especially in crappie fishing, since a live minnow must be frisky to attract a crappie, but a small jig, many of which imitate little baitfish, should be retrieved very slowly.

For those who have not fished a jig in and around brush, timber, and weeds, it can be done with a deft touch. Light-wire hooks enable unsnagging, but hangups can be largely avoided with careful use. It is seldom effective to fish atop brush and weeds, so you need to develop a good feel for the jig to work it down at the proper level and still minimize hangups.

Other Lures to Try

Natural lakes and ponds that do not have timber can provide good results to those using small spinners, especially for sunfish and perch, and mini crankbaits for crappies and occasionally perch. Both also have to be fished slowly, and small spinner blades must rotate freely at a slow pace to be effective.

Remember that panfish travel in schools, so where you catch one there’s more. You may be able to pluck many crappies, perch, or sunfish out of one prime place, so work and re-work places where you’ve located these species.

More Panfishing Tips

  • Anchor a boat at casting distance from prospective cover so you don’t drift too close. This may be especially important for larger, warier panfish.
  • With overhead sun, focus on any weedlines and vegetation edges that exist. Consider that panfish will use the edges of these to ambush passing prey; it may pay to drift or troll along the outer edge.
  • In reservoirs that have boat houses and docks, look for panfish-holding brushpiles in the immediate vicinity of those docks or boat houses. Work these structures as well.
  • Early in the morning, and at sunset, bluegills and crappies may behave like bass and be susceptible to small surface lures. You may catch bass as well.
  • When casting to the shallows and to bedding fish, be sure to make casts land softly so as not to alarm fish. Use the lightest line possible.​

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