For many people, open-water fishing for panfish consists of anchoring near some shallow weeds or wood and tossing out a few bobbers or slip floats, hoping there are some hungry fish nearby. While this is a tried and true method for many, it is not the only option when chasing panfish from a boat. There are many panfish that make their home in deeper water for much of the year. Often these fish are neglected by anglers because people don’t know how target them. Here’s a method I like to use to jig for these deeper fish using B-Y Baits plastics.
The method I’m going to discuss works best in water deeper than 10 feet and it helps to have a little wind so it’s not flat calm. It is best if you have two anchors to keep your boat from spinning and a fish locator is a critical tool as well. I prefer to use a B-Y Baits MegaMudBug, FreshWaterShrimp or SuperMinnow threaded on a small jig and generally start with a bright color like white or fluorescent orange.
First off, you need to find some fish. If you do not how to tell if there are fish on your locator, check out some YouTube videos and online tutorials on reading a fish locator. Usually, you will find these deeper panfish near some sort of structure, whether it be weeds, rocks or sunken wood. With enough practice, you will be able to determine what type of structure you are fishing over and quickly determine if there are any fish home. I have seen it where it is difficult to tell if there are any fish around until you drop a bait at the structure, but more often than not you can see a few fish “arches” nearby when you pass over the spot. I usually drive around until I can mark fish in a few locations and then go back and vertical jig them after a few promising locations are found. You don’t need to have the latest and greatest electronics to do this. The sonar I use is about 15 years old and I’m sure many of you have better units than what I am using for this type of fishing.
I like to position my boat upwind of the spot that is holding fish. By doing this, you can keep working closer and closer to the desired location by letting out more anchor rope so the wind can drift you closer to the spot or hopping your anchors along the bottom until you are directly over the fish. Also, there is less chance of spooking the fish off the spot if you keep your anchors well away from the structure you are targeting. By using two anchors, you keep your boat from spinning, which will help you keep your bait as vertical as possible so you are able to read it on your screen.
Now that you are positioned over fish, the fun can begin. Start with a bright color and a jig just heavy enough to keep the slack out of your line and stay as vertical as possible. Below is a picture of the view on my locator on our last trip to northern Wisconsin. You can see my jig hovering above a school of crappies. In this case I had my boat positioned about 10ft from the edge of the brush pile these fish were holding on. As you can see in the picture, a couple fish come up and turn down my offering, but right at the end a fish jets up and smokes my B-Y baits MegaMudBug. Once you are over fish and reading them on the screen, it is very similar to ice fishing with plastics. Keep changing styles and colors until you find something that makes them aggressive and try to work them up in the water column. One major difference you will notice from ice fishing is how fast and aggressive the fish will move around. Any time you see a diagonal mark shooting up out of the school of fish, get ready for a hit because more often than not they are on their way up to smack it. If they don’t want to bite and you’ve tried a few styles and colors of plastics, try downsizing your jig or working the bait away from them at the same rate they’re coming up. Follow that with a pause and sometimes that’s all it will take to trigger a bite.
If you are having trouble seeing your jig on the screen, it is usually because you aren’t fishing directly under your transducer. Find where your transducer is mounted on your boat and jig right next to it. If your boat is spinning, or constantly moving around it is very difficult to keep a light jig on the screen. This is where the two anchors and a little wind to keep them tight is key. If you still can’t find your jig, try adjusting the sensitivity on your locator. From lake to lake, day to day and spot to spot, the sensitivity setting you use may change.
Some advantages of jigging panfish in deeper water is when you find some structure holding fish, there are usually a few of them around. Many times you are able to catch multiple fish off the same spot because you aren’t as likely to scare them away as you are when you hook one in shallow water. Finally, you will find that the locations holding fish in the middle of the lake are far less pressured than the shorelines. On any given day on a busy lake, the shoreline and back bays are littered with boats fishing shallow structure. Many of these popular areas see lures multiple times a day on busy bodies of water. By using your locator to find some offshore structure in deeper water, you may stumble upon a spot no one else bothers to fish all season.
With how popular fish locators have become for ice fisherman in the winter, it is puzzling why more people don’t take advantage of the capabilities of their locators while out on the boat. They can be used for far more than simply telling you what depth you are at. So, next time you are out on a lake to target panfish and your favorite shallow weed edge is already occupied, put in a little time to find some fish holding out in deeper water and you may be surprised by what you find. While it is fun watching that bobber go under when fishing for open-water panfish, try vertical jigging for them out in deeper water and get ready to feel that thump!