Panfish is a general term that includes a number of fish species that normally don't grow larger than a frying pan.
Panfish run in large schools in shallow water near the shore in spring and fall.
Technically, it includes fish like crappies, but black and white crappies attract such a following year-round that they command their own category of discussion among fishing circles. Instead, panfishing is usually understood to include small fish in the sunfish familybluegills, redears, green sunfish, pumpinseeds and related species. These are aggressive feeders, common in most waters, and easy to catch during April and May.
They can be found near lily pads, bull rushes, cattails, grass flats and debris man made structures such as boat docks and lifts. During the summer panfish will be found in water 10' to 20' feet deep. Even at these depths, they will be found around structure and drop offs. Bluegills, Pumpkinseeds and Longears prefer lakes and ponds but may occur in streams. Rock Bass are found in cool lakes and rocky streams. Warmouths like sluggish creeks while Spotted Sunfish and Redears like warm cypress lakes. Redbreasts prefer clear streams. Crappies prefer clear water although White Crappies will tolerate some silt with spring and fall being best.
In keeping with the name of this group of fish, many anglers stock their freezers with tasty panfish taken during the spring spawning season.
Fortunately, sunfish can thrive in almost any kind of water except for cold lakes and streams. They are abundant in farm ponds, natural lakes, slow-flowing creeks, large reservoirs and even drainage ditches having permanent water. Due to their popularity, sunfish are often stocked in urban fisheries. Because of this, they are readily accessible throughout most of the United States. Nearly anyone can experience the spring panfish bonanza close to home.
Bluegills are the best known and probably the most sought-after panfish species, given their relatively large size and nationwide abundance. Their life history is typical for sunfish species, so knowing how to catch them is useful when fishing for any of the sunfish group.
Fortunately, panfish spawn in shallow water thats easily accessed from the shoreline. Boats or float tubes can sometimes be helpful but usually are not essential. Small sunfish may nest in water only a foot deep, but the trophy fish tend to nest 4 to 6 feet deep on sandy or rocky bottoms. Since it takes longer for deep water to warm to preferred spawning temperature, big fish tend to spawn later than their smaller relatives.
Water clarity and depth also affect timing of the spawn. Murky water absorbs heat and warms faster than clear water. Shallow impoundments warm faster than deep, bowl-like fisheries. Knowing these things helps panfish anglers extend their success by moving to different locations at appropriate times.
Generally, daily panfish limits are either absent or very liberal, due to prolific reproduction. In certain fisheries with heavy angling pressure, though, size limits may be imposed to help fish reach trophy proportions. This is especially true in stocked, urban fishing areas. Be sure to check regulations before fishing.
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