Outside Chance: Spawning Panfish

by Jack Payne


 When the lilacs start to bloom, it is a signal to me that the crappies are on the beds. Within two weeks the bluegills will move on their beds. What a great time for the angler and their families and friends.

Crappies love new cabbage weeds or any type of wood. On one of my favorite lakes in Barry County we find spawning crappies on the logs and stumps spewed and scattered around an island. On the same lake near we also find crappies using the new cabbage weeds.

On a favorite lake of mine in Allegan County the crappies love the pencil reeds. Pencil reeds and rice beds are very easy to spot. Their stems often stand 1-2 feet out of the water. Crappies love spawning around them.

On a third lake in Ionia County that we fish the crappies will be found in the standing timber. Fishing tree tops is a real hoot and something not often found in Michigan.One last magnet is flooded brush.This is mostly found on our river tributaries.

Bluegills on the other hand love gravel, pea stone or a combination of such and sand. They will spawn in lily pads and fishing the pads is not for weak. Pad fishing is best done with a long rod so that you can drop your bait right into the openings and lift the fish straight up and into the boat.

Bluegills do like some type of overhead cover. Some of our best spots have tree limbs hanging over the potential bedding areas. Bluegill beds are easy to spot especially with a good pair of polarized sunglasses. 

Gills build nests in colonies that often overlap another gill. They look like a bunch of saucers. During the height of the spawning season a good spawning ground will have a musty smell much like a musk scent. The surface will also have a scum layer across it.

The bigger gills spawn in depths where it can be harder to see their beds. Thus, if you find a colony of gills in say 3-4 feet of water, back off and try 5-6 feet of water. Just remember that it is the male that protects the nest and do not take all of the males off of one colony. Save a few and find another colony.

Crappie anglers only need a few lures. The old Original Pinky jig is awesome and so are the Whip R Snap plastic action tail lures, both from Stopper Lures. You can cast these baits out and reel in slowly or you can work them under a Carlisle Float.

Most crappie anglers never thought of using a float with the jig but it works great. It keeps your lure at the right depth and you can stop and go and drive a nice platter size crappie nuts. Other anglers might want to try a minnow under a float, give both a try and see what the fish want.

Bluegill anglers have a wide range of options. Fishing a Tungsten Moon Jig or a Moon Shad O Jig is great. Both of these baits are favorites with the ice fishing crowd and boy they tear up in the spring. Tip them with a wax worm or a spike.

You can never go wrong with a Hot Leg Spider. A spider can be fished under a float, with a fly rod or with a pinning rod and a Missile Casting Float. The same technique can be used with a Black Gnat. I love using a Missile Float because I am a much better caster with a spinning rod than with a fly rod.

An overlooked bluegill bait is the Whip R Snap. For spawning gills this is a great bait under a float and let dancing and dangling on the nose of a bull bluegill. Tip it with one spike and be ready. Any of these lures will land you plenty of sporty panfish. It’s a great time to be on the water with family and friends.