The term panfish applies to the group of fish that never outgrow the size of a good frying pan. There are many species in this grouping such as, goggle eye, rock bass, sunfish, crappie, blue gill, war mouth, and others are often overlooked as quarry for the fly fisherman, but they provide a ready bite, strong fight, and plenty of excitement on light equipment. While they will tend to hit on almost anything you throw in the water these are some of my favorite fish to catch and are tailor made to introduce kids and beginners to the sport.
If have ever used a hula popper, this is the mini-version of that and it doesn’t get any more fun than catching a boat full of bluegill on top. All panfish will hit poppers on top if you catch them during the right season. The key to using poppers is to let them make their noise, and to keep them on the water. This isn’t fishing with a bait caster, let your popper plop down and then count to 5 or until the ripples around it dissipate and then give your line a quick 3-6 in strip to make your popper pop, then let it sit again.
Next to the popper is the hopper! Panfish love hoppers, and I have caught my fair share of bass on them too! Hoppers aren’t poppers though, they need to be handled a little differently. The action they need should be that of a grasshopper or cricket struggling to get out of the water, so movement but not too much movement. Honestly though, it’s panfish! They are so aggressive it usually just takes a simple well placed cast.
Panfish love dries, and just about any dry fly will work. Thankfully you don’t need to use those size 18 and smaller versions that trout so often love. Dry flies for panfish not only offer up plenty of fun, it also will help you hone those same skills to help you catch trout on the top as well, which is a much more difficult proposition.
The greatest portion of any fish’s diet is below the surface. Panfish love nymphs and are very curious about anything that falls in the water. The trick to getting to the bigger ones is getting it down to where they are. Using weighted nymphs and adding weight to the line is the best way to do that. Again, panfish offer a fun way to practice getting your presentation down by controlling your drift, mending your line, and developing all those cold water skills. The good news is that trout flies will absolutely catch panfish, but not all panfish flies are equally successful in catching trout.
You fish streamers the same for panfish as you do for any other species, quick strips, appropriate pauses, and most importantly keeping the fly at the right depth. The good thing here is that by careful selection on the size of your streamer will help limit the number of small fish you catch.
Yes, panfish are great for kids to learn on, but they aren’t kid fish. They offer an amazing opportunity to catch fish, develop the finer skills, and to have a ton of fun while you are at it. Every fly fisherman should have an assortment of flies to target these great warm water species. You never know when a pond, river, or creek will offer an opportunity for hours of enjoyment!