Panfish — whether you call them, sunfish, perch, bream or whatever — are some of the most populous freshwater fish in this great state of ours. Once you catch them, especially the fish that weigh more than one pound, the fillets are great eating.
Take children out fishing, and the first one they usually catch are the panfish variety because they are so prolific. I have also found that small panfish will bite on small pieces of hotdogs, worms, bread, shrimp — you name it, and they will take it. Noise along the banks is not too much of a problem for the small fish either, so the talking from the shore or squirming around in a boat is usually not too much of a problem.
To catch large, eating-size panfish, it is important to be a little more careful about the noise. It is also necessary to get down to a more serious fishing technique with meal worms or night crawlers. At this point, let’s take a look at some serious fishing techniques that will help you take home a mess of these hard-fighting, good-eating inhabitants of our lakes, ponds and rivers.
When panfish reach the size of a man’s hand, they has been around long enough to become leery of noise and anything out of place in their surroundings. When they grow larger, they are as wary as any black bass ever was. Adopting that attitude is how they live long enough to attain the larger size. With this in mind, quiet must be the first order of the day. Any unnatural noise will spook the larger bream into the next county. A paddle banged against the boat, a tackle box lid banged open or shut, a dropped can or water bottle and even a squeaky seat are all examples of everyday fishing noises that can scare away the quarry.
Once your fishing environment has been located and acceptably sound-proofed, it’s time to wet a hook. In lakes like Lake Conroe, start around riprap, which is found around the concrete at each end of the bridges that runs into the water. Use meal worms or night crawlers for bait under a cork. Change your fishing depth from time to time until you find the depth at which they are biting, and then just haul them in.
Fishing from a boat offers more flexibility of location, so head out to the thickest, most out-of-the-way cover you can find. Dense stands of trees, logs and other structures under the water offer hiding places for the bream. Also, look for submerged brush pile that will run 12-20 feet deep. Just because the small bream are around the rocks and boat docks in shallow water does not mean the big ones will be there, too.
Before you go fishing for panfish in one of the large lakes, also consider that many large panfish are taken out of relatively small ponds. There is plenty of time and money spent while gearing up for a trip to the lake, so if you just want to wet a hook for a little while, give a nice farm pond a try.
When it comes to the fishing tackle, my first choice is either an ultralight spinning outfit or a graphite jigging pole with a soft tip. Unlike the small panfish that tend to hit your bait hard and run, the large bream may just nibble tentatively. The need to be aware of that and to feel it is a necessity.
Should you elect to use live bait, it is hard to beat night crawler or meal worms. Put them on a long shank hook with no cork or sinker, and just let it slowly settle down to the depth you desire. If you hit an area where the bait-stealing small ones are present, go deeper. The larger bream will be below the rest of the school. They will be on or near the bottom, in the brush or hiding in the undergrowth and trees. To catch them, it will be necessary to get down to that depth. Only use a small split shot if it’s necessary to get to a depth that cannot be attained with only a hook and a worm.
Another good area to fish for those fillet-size bream is where the pleasure boats do not go. In large lakes, look for areas of flooded timber or brush. In creeks and rivers, look for trees hanging over the water creating shade, and then quietly drop your night crawler into the area and watch for your cork to start jiggling.
When fishing for fillet-size perch, don’t fall in love with a spot and figure you will fish until something bites. If results are not coming soon after you begin, move on to another spot. Bites will quickly happen if the fish are there and if you haven’t scared them off with the noise of your approach.