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Basics for Panfishing Success

Tested and true lures and bait

     Drifting to the edge of the channel in my skiff, I had my eyes glued to the electronic finder screen. A glance over my shoulder assured me that I wasn’t getting in the way of anyone navigating through the area, so I released a little more fishing line and felt the one-ounce sinker below continue its tap, tap, tapping contact over the shell-strewn contours. Perfect.
     Watching the numbers increase as the bottom fell away, I tensed as it descended through 14 then 15 feet, the depth that had proved the sweet spot.      Then the screen’s bottom image showed a long bright blob marking a tight school of perch. Seconds later, as my baited rig passed through those marks, my rod tip surged down and I felt the heavy weight of a good fish. It arced deeper as another fish jumped on. Double-header!
     Years ago, during a particularly good panfish bite, I experimented with a number of variations of two-hook bottom-fishing setups, termed hi-lo or top-and-bottom rigs, to see which were the most effective. The best setup — quite a surprise — has remained the top producer for bottom fishing throughout the years, despite any troubling instincts to the contrary. 
     I knew that twisted wire or heavy mono two-hook (maximum permitted in Maryland) setups would scare off every fish with any sense. So I started from scratch designing my own barest fluorocarbon-rigged setups for stealth and effectiveness.
     My creations of light fluorocarbon leaders, fine wire hooks and minimum construction worked well and caught lots of fish, just as I anticipated. But for due diligence, I also tried more popular rigs and hook setups. 
     What I discovered was amazing. The outlandish and all-too-obvious twisted wire top and bottom (or hi-lo) constructions out-fished everything I had so laboriously created. Far from scaring the fish off, the clumsy contraptions seem to attract the attack of panfish of all sizes.
     This was also true of the snelled hooks that I bent on the wire top-and-bottom rigs. The simple small black hook snelled with light monofilament caught fish. But the more obvious bright red No. 4 hooks, dressed with orange beads and a silver or fluorescent spinner blade, caught more panfish of every type, including the bigger, older fish that should have known better.
     Over time, I have also developed a strong preference for baiting with bloodworms. Though soft crab, grass shrimp and razor clams can sometimes provoke more bites, the bloodworms remain on the hook longer, are far more difficult for a panfish to filch and, as a result, reduce the need to rebait empty hooks. More time for your rig in the panfish zone means more hook-ups.
     My day on the water this past week with that bait and those big, obvious setups once again proved the efficacy of the terminal tackle and bait system. Perch as big as 12 inches — with the smallest just under 10 inches — made up the dozen fat keepers that accompanied me home that day. There were of course many throwbacks, but the constant action kept the day exciting.
     If you’ve a yen for some productive fall fishing, this commonly available gear will maximize your chances of a good catch. 
 
Fish Finder
     The middle Bay is plagued with barely keeper sized rockfish. Trolling has been the top producer, simply because it is superior in covering a lot of water. Bigger fish are falling to vertical jigging, but in this endeavor relentlessness is key. Bluefish are roaming the Bay, providing some lively action but ruining the bite for live-liners using spot.
     White perch are schooling in the tributaries, particularly in 14 to 16 feet of water. They’ll be leaving soon for their main Bay wintering grounds, so if you intend on putting any in the ­freezer, now is the time. 
     Spanish mackerel have shown here and there. Clark Spoons, red hoses and Captain John’s spoons all trolled at about five knots are the key to hooking up with these swift migrators.
 
Hunting Seasons
  • Ducks: thru Nov. 21
  • Snow geese: thru Nov. 24
  • Whitetail deer, antlered and antlerless, and Sika deer: Bow season Oct. 22-Nov. 24; Muzzleloader thru Nov. 21
  • Black bear: Oct. 23-26
  • Squirrel: thru Feb. 28