Go Deep for Summer Panfish

A freshwater sunfish from a pond.

Go Deep #2 (Medium)Springtime fishing for pre-spawn and spawning bluegills and crappies is often easy and fast-paced.

Fish are positioned up on the flats and usually found in shallow water areas very accessible to most anglers.

After the spawn, things change, especially for the larger panfish. The larger adults vacate shallow water areas and seem to magically disappear. Juvenile fish continue to inhabit the weedy, shallow flats but the majority of the bigger adults are missing in action except for some shallow feeding forays under the best of weather conditions. Even then they may not penetrate into the extreme shallows, choosing instead to use the deeper weed edges.

Many anglers complain about the lack of big panfish during the summer months, but their luck might change if they would just turn their backs to the shallow water areas and focus on deeper water. As the late Buck Perry had preached for years, deep water is the home of the larger predators like bass and walleyes and also the home to the biggest bluegills, crappies and redear sunfish.

Summer Locations

The key to finding larger panfish during warm weather is finding deep weed line edges. Such vegetation s limited by the depth of light penetration into the water and in the clearest of lakes, this may be fifteen to twenty feet of water. However, in the more nutrient-dense and cloudy waters of many central Indiana ponds, lakes and reservoirs, the weeds may end as shallow as five to eight feet.

Dominant weed species will vary from lake to lake as bottom composition determines the predominate type of vegetation. In our area, cabbage and coontail are two of the better ones.

Along with weed lines, structure and structural edges also play a major role in deep water fish location. Breaklines or drop-offs located right off the spawning flats often hold schools of larger panfish through the summer months while sunken islands or deep-water humps can also be excellent places for summer ‘gills and crappies. Humps that top out at twelve or more feet are often excellent fishing spots especially if they have some type of additional cover on top like weeds, logs, trees or rocks.

Shoreline-related points are the easiest structures to spot. The tip of points that drop into the deeper, main lake basin areas can be good as well as inside bends in the weedline. The presence of cover will enhance any of these structures.

The most under-fished area is the deep-water, main-lake basin where suspended schools of panfish might be located in twenty to fifty feet of water. These deep water schools may be located near major structure as noted above but often seem to have no connection to cover at all!

You may ask, “What are these fish doing out here in the middle of nowhere?” It might seem that way, but these suspended schools are out there because that is where their food is. They are feeding on various types of plankton, water fleas, or tiny freshwater shrimp or minnows, in the case of crappies. I have taken bluegills and crappies as shallow as four to six feet over deep water but sometimes on the bottom where the water was twenty-eight feet deep- and virtually everywhere in between!


For locating suspended schools of panfish off the deep weededges, off structure and over open water a good quality, high-definition depth finder is a must. Once found, anchoring or controlled drifting will be necessary to stay on fish. On the windiest days, you might have to use a Drift Control drift sock to work your boats slow enough to stay over the school. Suspended fish may mark at several different depths but usually only one or two of those depths will hold active and feeding fish.

Suspended fish call for a 1/32 oz. or 1/64 oz. jig in chartreuse, fluorescent orange or glow-in-the-dark to provide some color attraction with your live bait offering. A small, Thill Pro Series Slip Float (PS105) with a metallic grommet insert lets your line slip through the float with unfailing ease and without hang-ups. A small diameter line like Berkley Sensation in 4 lb. Test also helps to reach those depths of fifteen to twenty-five feet when necessary!

Fishing the bottom is an under-utilized technique for summer panfish. Some of my largest bluegills and redear sunfish come right on the bottom every summer, sometimes as deep as twenty-five to thirty feet of water! My bottom rig is fairly simple – one or two small split shots with a light-wire hook like the Tru-Turn number 856, size 6.

Most of my summer panfish are taken on large redworms, smaller nightcrawlers, or small minnows. Sometimes small leeches and crickets do well, so experimenting with different live bait offerings is the way to go.

Tired of catching small panfish in the weeds during the summer months? Just look to deeper water and you will be rewarded!


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