Panfish Fishing Tips: How to Catch Panfish

I'm a fisherman who loves to fish for panfish. I spend countless hours on the water and have had a lot of success catching trout, bass, catfish, and many other types of fish. However, I've noticed how hard it is for some people to catch panfish when they're fishing in my boat.

What Are Panfish?

Panfish, also called pan fish or (in the U.S.) sunfish are small freshwater game fish that are usually less than 10 inches long and weigh less than a pound. They have round bodies and can live in both still and flowing water environments. Panfish usually inhabit areas of warmer water. This makes them very popular with anglers who are just learning how to fish or those who want a break from targeting larger fish.

The main reason I love catching and fishing for panfish is that they provide the biggest "bang" for your buck. To me, nothing is more gratifying than landing a 5-pound bass or a 1 pound catfish on light tackle, but that accomplishment doesn't happen every time I go fishing. However, catching panfish does.

So here are 20 tips that will help you catch more panfish:

1.Find a good spot

Many people think panfish can be caught just about anywhere, but that's simply not the case. You need to find a spot where there are lots of panfish; it may take you some time, but it'll pay off in the end.   While fishing, watch the other fishermen around you. You can usually tell a lot about their success and what they're doing just by observing them for a few minutes.   Also observe the other people who are fishing from shore,  if you can see them.   Watch the way they're fishing and try to figure out why they're getting bites and what baits they are using—you'll probably find some clues there.

2. Use the right rig

Even though some people may scoff at me for saying this, there is a right way to rig up your line. I use 12 pound test monofilament because it has the ability to cast farther and with more accuracy than other types of line. Also, my fishing rig consists of 4 lb mono followed by 20-25 ft of 6½ lb leader. This is followed by a 4/0 VMC treble hook that is baited with wax worms, mealworms or nightcrawlers.

3. Use the right bait

Most panfish go nuts for small live worms (such as earthworms and red wigglers), crawdads and minnows. However, don't be afraid to experiment with your bait when you're fishing for panfish. Some of my best catches have come from using different types of bait. My favorite is wax worms, but don't neglect nightcrawlers or red wigglers either. You can also use pieces of worm or crawdad as well as small strips of salmon eggs, smelt eggs or pieces of shrimp. If you're fishing in an area with a lot of vegetation, try using a piece of worm on the end of your hook and fish it through the weeds.

If you are having trouble catching panfish, change up your bait. Sometimes you have to take time experiment to determine what type of food they like the best.

4. Target shallow water areas

Panfish prefer to live in shallow and murky water, so try looking for places where this is the case. Fish near shorelines, where weeds or grass are most prominent, or any place there is a lot of vegetation that blocks out light from the bottom of the lake or river you are fishing in.

5. Use a bobber

Nothing helps you catch more panfish than a bobber. I'm not talking about those little round bobbers, either; I like using huge round fish finders that are at least 10 inches in diameter. These let you know when there's any type of movement on your line or if it sinks too deep. I use a bobber that is large enough so when the fish hits it doesn't go under the water.

Some anglers like to cast and fish without using any type of float; however, if you're new to panfishing or fishing in general, then I recommend using a bobber because it allows you to learn how to detect each bite.

6. Use the right type of fishing line

Something that puts a lot of people off in regards to panfishing is having a super light test line, but I recommend 12 lb test hand-tied "fireline." If you don't know what this is, it's braided Dacron fishing line that is very thin and easily cast.

7.   Use the right size hooks

A lot of people don't think about the size of their hook—they just use the biggest one they have. But if you're having success with smaller hooks, then stick with them because panfish can be pretty strong and will pull a big hook right through their lips or inside their mouth. Just make sure to keep the hook size to a manageable level so you don't snap your line.

8. Use the right lure

Using artificial lures is probably more effective than live bait, but it can also be harder and take longer to catch fish if you're not familiar with what types of lures work. For panfish, I use small shad- or minnow-colored crankbaits because they both cast a lot farther than any other type of lure.

9. Try nightcrawler colors

If you really want to catch panfish, use a black or dark green tinsel worm as your bait instead of yellow and red ones. During the late fall when the water is getting cold and I want to catch a larger number of fish, I will use the black and dark green colors because they are attracted to darker colors.

10. Follow the water current

Panfish love eating small critters that get washed downriver, so look for deep holes or eddies in the middle of the river where food is being pushed through. These are prime panfish locations.

11. Avoid weedless hooks

Some anglers will use a hook that doesn't have any point or barbs on the end, and these can be great for catching panfish if you are fishing in deeper water. However, I think it's better to use regular hooks because they have more of an aggressive bite.

12. Don't use too much pressure

If you're casting and your bait lands within about 12 inches of a sunken log, rock or other obstruction, don't reel in fast. Let the bait sit for about 30 seconds before reeling it back in. Panfish will be lurking behind these areas waiting for food to swim by. If you pull up your line too fast or start reeling before your bait sits there long enough, you'll scare off the fish.

13.  Tie a knot with heavy monofilament

If you're using braided fishing line instead of regular mono because it's more sensitive and can detect smaller bites, then add a strip of rubber from an old inner tube on the end about 8 inches long. This makes it even more sensitive and allows you to detect the slightest bite.

14. Use one rod at a time

How many of you go fishing with three, four or five rods at once? Well, if you do this, then your chances of catching panfish is slim to none because too much commotion in your area will spook the fish. Instead, use a rod and reel setup that is all you need minus any other rods, reels or lures.

15. Keep your hooks sharp

A lot of anglers like to use dull hooks because they don't snag on weed as frequently. However, this is a bad idea when you're fishing for panfish because the fish will usually avoid them and not bite your hook because it's too uncomfortable in their mouth. It's better to go with sharper hooks because they are less likely to get tangled or snagged while you're fishing.

16. Listen for splashes

Hearing the splash of a panfish eating your bait is often an indication that you've got a bite. However, sometimes they just make this noise when they're swimming around or are scared off by commotion near your location.

17. Stay away from the edges

Panfish like to hang out in the middle of a river or lake because those are safe areas. If you find yourself fishing around the edges or where weeds are growing, then it's probably not a good area to target fish. Move somewhere else and let the panfish swim around your bait instead of chasing them down.

18.  Use the seasons to your advantage

During the fall, fish tend to move into shallower waters because of the colder temperatures. It's also a good time for fishing during early morning or evening hours when it's too hot during the day. While winter is not ideal panfish fishing season, there are anglers who catch fish in clear lakes by using a dark colored worm on a lighter colored hook. This will not only attract the fish from below, but also from above in case any bait is falling down into the water.

19. Try ice fishing for panfish

During winter, try using an auger to create an entrance hole about 6 inches wide and 30 or 40 inches deep before you mount your fishing rod and reel. This will prevent the water from freezing solid around your setup, allowing you to catch more fish in case they are swimming by.

20.  Change your bait often

Once a panfish has sniffed your bait, it will keep returning to the area and looking for more. This is why you shouldn't change baits once one fish has taken it because that bit of food could attract others as well. Instead, while you're fishing, try different lures and baits until you find the one that attracts the most fish.


Simple enough? Hopefully you enjoyed our little list of panfish fishing tips. Remember, we're just anglers like you who love to fish and are sharing a few secrets that have helped us catch more panfish over the years. Above all else, though, keep practicing and one day before you know it, you'll be a pro just like us!

Thanks for reading.


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