For many anglers, our first fishing trip of the year is in search of panfish. Panfish come in several varieties and can be found almost everywhere on the North American continent. They are usually willing biters, and they're great in a frying pan. Additionally, in most places, you can fish for panfish as soon as the ice goes out. There are seasons for some species of fish, but in most areas, panfish are fair game year 'round. That's what makes them so popular among anglers almost everywhere. Here's how you can get in on this early season action.

Panfish spawn in shallow areas with a sand bottom. The sand bottom allows the panfish to fan out nests with their tails. They then lay their eggs in these nests. However, the nest-building and egg-laying processes take place several weeks after the ice goes out. Panfish like warmer water to spawn in.

Fish for panfish right now

Fish for panfish right now in areas near their spawning grounds for more success​

So, after the ice goes out, panfish will start moving toward the spawning areas, but they probably won't move into them. Spawning areas might be bays or shorelines: The consistent need for spawning is a sand bottom and some cover. Cover could be reeds or trees lying in the water or boat docks or boat lifts: Wherever there is some sand and cover, there will be visits from panfish looking for a place to spawn.

Right now the panfish will be in the areas near the spawning grounds. They'll hang out in these areas until the water warms enough and the days get long enough for them to start bed-building. You can catch them now, but it will be a different type of fishing than you'll encounter a few weeks later.

The best way to catch panfish now is to work through the areas adjacent to the spawning grounds. You might even want to try some of the deeper areas where they'll be spawning. Rig up a 1/32nd ounce Fire-fly jig with a tiny minnow hooked through the lips. You will need to add a splitshot a foot or so above the jig. Fish this set-up under a slip-bobber. Fish areas that have vegetation starting to grow, around deep boat docks or fallen trees. Look for areas that have some bug life. Set the bobber so the bait is about a third of the bottom depth. If the water is six feet deep, set the bobber so the bait is about two feet down. If that doesn't work, set the bobber so the bait is a little deeper. Later on when the fish are shallow, you'll want to fish closer to the bottom.

When the water is cold and the bite is slow live minnows will be best usually, but as the water warms tip your jig with an Impulse Mini Smelt or one inch Tube. These baits provide more color options, and they stay on the hook much better.

Use bigger baits, sixteenth ounce size when crappies are the target, smaller for bluegills and sunfish.

As mentioned earlier, panfish are great in the pan. Keep a few, but put most of them back. They are going to be very susceptible to fishing pressure for the next few weeks, and keeping too many can damage the population of a small body of water.

Now is a great time to take advantage of the numerous panfish opportunities that most anglers have near to where they live. Get on the water and find out how much excitement this action can provide.

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