Panfish Prep & Places to Go

By Nick Simonson

Panfish are the bonus catch for many spring and summer fishing trips for larger species.   The packs of perch interspersed with a trolling effort for walleyes often add a few extra fillets to the Ziploc bag at the cleaning station at the end of the day.  A herd of bull bluegills are worth a few extra casts with a light rod when one of them manages to impale itself on a 4/0 worm hook during bass fishing efforts. Add white bass, crappies and even rock bass into the mix and there’s a pentagon of panfish perfection awaiting anglers in North Dakota’s waters, that should be celebrated as more than just a second to gamefish angling efforts.  What follows is a highlight of how to get ready for these fish and where to find some good opportunities throughout the state.
Great Whites
White bass provide some awesome action on light tackle.  Using light or ultra-light rods rigged with four- to six-pound test and a selection of small jigs, crankbaits or in-line spinners, a fast night of 100 fish or more can come to be.  Roaming in nature, white bass will key to some structure, especially in summer as they chase small baitfish along weedlines and other places like points and inside turns where they can hem them up and feed.  Remember to cast an offering beyond the school and bring it back through them to avoid spooking the fish.  Top destinations for these silver panfish include Devils Lake and Lake Ashtabula.
Gills Galore
Bluegills provide a great first fish for young anglers, but serious panfishermen look for those hand-sized specimens that top 10 inches or longer.  Targeting them with light tackle and small jigs, or items of bait such as waxworms or crawlers under a bobber means getting down to bigger fish and past the quicker, smaller ones at the top of the school.  Focus on the deeper edges where sunnies are schooling to sneak past the bait-stealers and find the big boys.  Lake Metigoshe remains one of the top draws in North Dakota for those seeking bulls over 10 inches, while many small lakes and impoundments scattered around the state have good numbers.


Crappies are a popular panfish pursuit and can be taken with small jigs. Simonson Photo

Have a Crappie Day
A species synonymous with shallow spring fishing and warm summer nights along well-established weedlines is the crappie.  Whether black or white, specks are popular choices with those looking to find fast-biting fish that also make for an awesome fry back home.  Utilizing the same light tackle for white bass, cover water quickly with jigs, tubes and small spinners to find packs of crappies.  Once located, set up some slip-float rigs, with #4 or #6 hooks under a small split shot and baited with a minnow for less-active anglers, and keep working the area with castable baits to keep tabs on the school.  Nelson lake remains a great crappie destination, and while Jamestown and Pipestem Reservoirs have been historically good, though partial winterkill may set them back a bit this season.
Find A Perch
While the yellow perch is seen frequently as a winter fish, summer schools show up when trolling for walleyes, or when working weedlines with jigs and live bait.  A 1/16-ounce jig tipped with a chunk of crawler or a fathead minnow will easily connect with fat fish gorging on openwater stores of food.  If a school of nice fish, say bigger than 11 inches are encountered when trolling for walleyes (and that bite is slower) double-back and jig the spot to catch a few more black-striped footballs.  Devils Lake still boasts some of the state’s largest perch, but sleepers like Lake Ashtabula and Hinsz Lake are boat-accessible waters with good populations and nice fish in the mix.
Rock It
Finally, rock bass round out the handful of fun panfish pursuits in North Dakota.  With their large mouths, hard strike and bright red “goggleyes” these bronze-and-black-flecked fish often provide a bonus catch when fishing for smallmouth bass in waters where both are present.  Capable of taking larger offerings with a ferocious hit, jigs of 1/8 ounce or more dressed with curly-tailed grubs will help get into the rocks from where these panfish get their names, without a whole lot of worry about losing a bait to the snaggy areas they love to hang in and around. The southern Sheyenne River below Kathryn and the Red River hold populations of these panfish.
Fill out a spring and summer of fishing with fast angling for panfish. Knowing what to use and where to go for the best options will put a smile on any angler’s face and a few more photos in the memory books with the biggest little fish that swim in North Dakota.

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