3 Great Hard Baits for Late Summer Panfish

News & Tips: 3 Great Hard Baits for Late Summer Panfish...

Putting a few panfish in the livewell during mid to late summer is a different matter than the springtime, when spawning activities have fish in predictable locations. Warm weather success with species like yellow perch, crappies and even bluegills often requires a more aggressive approach — one where the business end of the line is rigged with some type of hard fishing bait.

1. Hard Jerkbaits to Catch Yellow Perch

3 Hard Baits for Late Summer Panfish
A crappie caught with a Hot n Tot lure — smaller crankbaits are what crappies feed on in late summer.

Smaller versions of aggressive action hard jerkbaits like Rapala X-Rap slashbait and Yo-Zuri's Pins Minnow allow an angler to quickly search for yellow perch, fish that often locate themselves, at this time of year, in open water near the outside edge of sub-surface weedbeds.

This pattern is particularly effective on clearer water reservoirs and natural lakes that have stands of milfoil, coontail or cabbage weeds growing out to depths of eight to 10 feet or more. Since lakes of this description are often heavily rimmed with such submergent growth, simply finding the perch can be a major factor in success. Cover-the-water baits like a minnow-shaped jerkbait allow you to rapidly hunt.

Pare down your hard baits choices to smaller baits. No. 6 and no. 8 X-Raps and 2.5 inch Pins Minnows offer enough size to be cast effectively, yet are small enough to conjure hits from perch. I like to use a medium-light action rod like St. Croix's 6 foot, 8 inch Mojo Bass spinning rod (Wacky model) coupled with a Shimano 2500 Symetre spinning reel. The reel is loaded with 20-pound test Power Pro braided line. A 4-foot leader comprised of 8-pound test fluorocarbon fishing line is tied between the braided line and the lure. This setup — thanks to a rod with some backbone and the no-stretch line — ensures the angler gets maximum action from the lure, a key in triggering bites.

Start your search along weed edges that have character. This includes stands of growth near the mouths of bays, inside turns along the edge, or a large weed point that juts out into the lake. Casts should be directed toward the weed edge and also in the open water 20 to 50 feet away from the edge. Work the bait by giving it sharp downward rod snaps, which force the bait to dart quickly from side to side. Every three or four snaps, rest the bait for a few seconds so it suspends (or slowly rises in the case of the floating Pins Minnow). Perch will often strike the bait while it lies relatively motionless.

Watch the bait as it nears the boat. On days where perch are reluctant to eat the jerkbait they will often follow it, revealing their location. You can then show them a slower presentation, like a small jig, that they might be willing to take.

This method also works quite well on quality-sized crappies, always a welcome addition to the livewell.

2. Small Crankbaits for Crappie

By mid-summer crappies are often in main basins, particularly in lowland and flatland reservoirs that are fairly shallow. It takes a mobile approach to catch find and catch these fish, something often best accomplished by trolling.

Small crankbaits make perhaps the best presentation for crappie trolling, at least when it comes to searching. Crankbaits are too big for crappies, you say! Take a good look at the funnel-shaped mouth of a good-sized crappie the next time you catch one. Smaller crankbaits like a 2-inch Hot 'N Tot, a No. 5 Shad Rap (also, two inches long) and 2.5 inch Cordell Wally Diver are similar in size and profile to much of the forage crappies are feeding on at this time of year; definitely not oversized for the maw of a decent-sized slab.

3 Hard Baits for Late Summer Panfish
A Rapala X-Rap helps reel in a yellow perch.

Nice rod/reel setups for this kind of fishing are fairly light action trolling rods like Bass Pro Shops' 8 or 8 foot, 6 inch Leopard NFT trolling rods coupled with a small diameter linecounter level wind trolling reel. These outfits are also perfect when trolling for walleyes, thus serving double duty. Since I like the performance of braided line in this type of trolling, I put a layer of monofilament on the reel, allowing enough room for about 250 to 300 feet of 20-pound test Power Pro braided line. The thin diameter of the braid lets lures quickly achieve their diving depth; its no-stretch characteristic makes it easy to read when a weed fouls the lure.

Since crappies can be suspended or near the bottom, it's wise to troll baits at various depths. The aforementioned lures will get down in the 10 to 12 foot range with 80 to 100 feet of line out. Shorten the let-out to 40 to 50 feet and you'll effectively cut diving depth in half. When fishing a typical flatland reservoir that has depths in the 20 to 25 foot range, you can work suspended fish by staggering let-out lengths.

To get baits nearer the bottom, clip in a Bass Pro Shops Fish Weight Inline Fishing Weight between the main line and the lure, using a 4- to 6-foot fluorocarbon leader to separate the two. A one-ounce weight will get your lures close to the bottom in the depths discussed here. Trolled baits incorporating a weight system like this will be speed sensitive. As the boat slows, the sinker will pull baits deeper. The trick is to work the lures near the bottom, but high enough above bottom cover to keep from hanging up. Maintaining a constant boat speed — 2 to 2.5 mph is right for summer fishing — let out weighted lures until they bump bottom. Then take in enough line to where they run free. As the boat goes into deeper or shallow water you'll need to adjust the amount of line out to compensate for the change.

It works best to keep trolled rods in rod holders. For tangle free trolling keep the weighted lines to the inside, and closer to the stern of the boat.

Experiment with different let-out distances and lure patterns in the quest of finding the best combination for that particular day.  You can then duplicate that setup with other rods. GPS units allow you to retrace your path over productive water.

3. Fishing Jig/Spinner Combos for Bluegills

Even bluegills, which have diminutive mouths compared to crappies and perch, can be effectively fished with hardware, particularly underspin jig/spinner combos like smaller versions of the time-honored Road Runner.

"All fish tend to look up," said Alabama-based panfish expert TJ Stallings. "Therefore underspins have an advantage over the safety-pin style of spinners. The blade position simulates gill-flash, a natural feeding signal. This gives the lure a 'preoccupied' look, like it's feeding."

During the summer, Stallings first looks to cypress trees and stumps as places likely to hold bluegills. He also has great confidence in weedy areas that have a hard edge with at least four feet of water nearby.

"Bluegills like vertical cover that offers them some safety from predators," he explained. "This vertical cover often holds bugs and minnows."

When Stallings is in search mode he typically uses a 1/16 ounce Road Runner. He often switches to a 1/32 ounce Road Runner when he wants to slow down, something of most importance when he's fishing shallow water.

"There are a couple important tips to remember when fishing a Road Runner for bluegills," Stallings added. "Remember to lower your rod tip as the jig approaches. This will keep the lure in the zone longer. Also, if you miss a bite, lower the tip a little and continue your retrieve, as bluegills love to do a fast, 360-degree turn to strike a lure again."