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Panfish on
Really Small Water

By Noel Vick

Panfish, bluegills and crappies, are creatures of habit. They flock to shallow water in the spring; deeper haunts during the summer; returning to the shallows as fall approaches.

For the most part, this armchair chronology holds true. But I've discovered a division of brutish and hearty panfish that dwell in shallow places year round. They lurk in residences better associated with largemouth bass and slop, thriving in only a couple of feet of water. Tight quarters. I dub such places Really Small Water.

Inlets are a good example of Really Small Water. Not the inflow of a well documented throbbing creek or brook, either, because these are "community spots", crowded venues. Rather, I search for trickling streams and purging storm sewers, both of which introduce aquatic edibles and attract baitfish. Hydrological maps don't always reveal seasonal inflows and rarely ever show manmade ones. They're exposed through careful shoreline studies and time on the water.

The seepage of water through a bog or wall of cattails is another case of Really Small Water. Incessant spring rains and summer downpours inject forage-rich water into lakes, reservoirs, and rivers, and again, panfish are drawn to such locales.

Boat harbors, be they manmade or not, contain fertile and colored water, and accordingly, throngs of baitfish and buggy edibles. The average angler earmarks massive multi-slip resort and public harbors, but smaller one and two vessel private harbors often go untouched. Panfish find a safe and often shaded haven in such places.

River backwaters are common panfish lairs. Sizable and mapped backwaters get hit all year long, but you can avoid the boating-crowds by investigating further.

Look for high water pools formed behind stretches of shoreline timber. I favor drifting along wooded stretches searching for hidden hollows of water - not true backwaters - which potentially hold fish. Excellent hunks of Really Small Water.

Beds of reeds and rushes, shoreline oriented or freestanding islands, host panfish throughout the calendar year. Big beds get noticed, so do smaller ones. But it's not just an ordinary field of emergent vegetation I look for. I prefer one with pockets or openings. You will find these concealed clearings by slowly motoring around a weed-mat. Crappies and bluegills love such hideaways, and many go untapped.

Speaking of standing weeds, the inside edge - open water section between shore and where vegetation begins - is another overlooked producer. Here, panfish benefit from wind and predator protection, and find ample forage.

Now that you've been introduced to some Really Small Water, I must give you the bad news. These are tough spots to hit. That is, hit with a lure, a jig to be exact. Pinpoint casts are the only way to access these fish. Tangling tree branches and snarling weed tips block passage to the best of the best. But with a little practice, some finesse, and the right gear, no bull or slab is unreachable.

I've all but abandoned the notion of attacking Really Small Water with a jig alone. Even with the lightest, most abrasion resistant line, paired with a long but firm rod and aerodynamically designed jig, it's still an ordeal to reach fish. Any sudden gust of wind or turn of the boat puts your lure in harms way.

The dilemma is resolved by introducing a bobber, but not just any old model will do. The right bobber, or float as some call them, affords you precision depth control, and in this instance, added weight for improved casting distance and accuracy. Many anglers have turned to the Rocket Bobber.

Powerful for its size, The Rocket Bobber casts for distance like nothing you've ever used. Need 30 yards into a headwind to reach the back of a boat harbor? No problem. Give the rod tip a soft whip and you're in; keep the trajectory low for greater accuracy.

Casting distance is crucial because shallow-ranging panfish are easily spooked. Often, pods of fish scatter when a careless angler motors too close. It's much wiser to visually identify a hunk of Really Small Water, back off, and launch a long distance assault. And the durable Rocket Bobber won't explode on contact if you misfire and smack a rock or dock post.

I'll conclude with this tactical suggestion. Think small when it comes to bait and lure selection. Sometimes hyper-finicky and edgy, panfish in Really Small Water will shun gaudy jigs and large frantic minnows. Reach for a 1/64th-ounce jig. Go to tiny minnows, which I call "slivers", or wax worms and maggots, because they're universally accepted.

By design, the Rocket Bobber executes flawlessly with light jigs - no split-shot necessary - and announces even the slightest nibble by raising its tip.

Pay extra care to your surroundings this spring and summer. Panfish will be in their ordinary seasonal spots, but with a taste of resourcefulness and stealth, you'll find finer fishing and less pressure in Really Small Water.

Author's note: The sensational Rocket Bobber is available in both panfish and gamefish sizes. Look for it in local sporting goods and bait stores. But if you can't find one, contact Tackle 2000, Inc., P.O. Box 2187, Wausau, WI
54402-2187 or visit their web site at www.tackle2000.com.

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Noel Vick is a freelance outdoor writer who hails from Isanti, Minnesota, where he lives with his wife and three urchins. Vick published and edited The MN/WI/ND/SD Fish & Game Finder Magazine for nearly a decade before selling the publication to pursue writing as full time occupation. He's best known for his ice fishing material, which regularly appears in dozens of publications during the winter. One of his latest works, "Fishing on Ice", is a 265 page book dedicated to the hunt of hardwater quarry.

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