Spring Pan-Fishing Made Easy
It has been a long winter in the North Country and spring is finally in the air. Some of the best early spring time fishing is not far away. It can seem like a grueling task to figure out a spot to catch some Bullhead or Crappie with the endless amounts of waterways that we have in the North Country. Over the years of chasing every species of fish around our waters I have picked up on a few things that may be able to simplify this process and allow you to get out and enjoy some fresh air and have some great Panfish action.
Spring into early summer is spawning time for many of our fish species here including Bullhead, Bluegill and Crappie which are just a few of my favorite fish to catch shortly after ice out. The difference between a good day and a bad one often has to do with timing and water temperature. I will do a breakdown of species and what to look for and fish with in order to have that good day. The information I am providing may not be exact numbers if you Google the scientific facts about a specific species but my own personal knowledge of what I have learned fishing local bodies of water.
Bullhead - a tasty fish treat after a long winter and normally quite easy to catch, a great species to bring a child along and let them enjoy a day outside on the bank of your favorite body of water. Bullhead begin to migrate into shallow water when the spring arrives and the sunshine starts to warm the warm each day. The ideal spawning temperature for Bullhead is between 45 and low 50 degrees F. When the water nears this temperature you can expect schools of fish to migrate into spawning area towards the back of bays, small creeks and areas that are shallow with little current. The bottom will generally be soft, to moderate hard with stumps or light old vegetation. This will be prime habitat to catch numbers of fish. Bullhead can be caught during the day but often times anglers will find a better bite after dark.
Setup- For a rod I like to use a medium action with a fast tip, which means the rod is sensitive at the top and quickly gets stiff a few eyelets down from the top of the rod. This allows you to detect when the fish is biting by seeing movement at the tip of the rod. The stiffness of the rod allows you to set the hook when the fish bites. Bullhead have a hard mouth and it takes a little bit of a hookset to get that hook to stick in the fishes mouth and stay hooked.
Line- 8lb fluorocarbon line will work fine, you do not want to go to heavy with the line as it will affect the sensitivity of detecting the bite. Fluorocarbon line also sinks which helps keep your bait on the bottom.
Hooks- I prefer a 1/0 hook with a long shank. Often times the fish will engulf the bait and the long hook shank allows for the hook to be easily removed once the fish is caught.
Sinker- I prefer a bell sinker which is tear drop shaped, this allows for good bottom contact but reduces the number of snags that will occur. Bullhead are bottom feeders so it is important that your bait lay on the bottom to catch fish.
The above diagram is a setup I like to use when fishing for bullhead in the springtime. The exception to the rig would be a flourocarbon leader which would allow the hook to lay close to the bottom which would be ideal for catching bullhead.
Bait- Nightcrawlers are the number one bait to use, but these fish will eat just about anything. Live or dead minnow, leeches or even cut up hotdogs from your day on the water.
Locations- 44' 49.694 N, 75'17.628 W- Located of Rt 37 in the Town of Waddington, this bay is South of the dam.
44' 34.833 N, 75' 18.688 W- Located just outside the Village of Rensselaer Falls on County
Bluegill- these aggressive little Panfish will be the next ones to move up shallow for the spawn. Bluegill action can be some of the best fishing you will see catching trophy size gills in the springtime can offer some great angling action. I have had some of my best Bluegill action as the water temperature hits the low to mid 50's. Fish will begin to migrate into backwater bays with a dark bottom and the mouths of small feeder creeks. They may spawn on a variety of things from stump bases, old logs or soft bottom where they will fan out small beds. Males move in first and build a nesting location. The females move up and begin the spawning routine and the bite can be really good. After the spawn the females will move back out to deeper water and the smaller males will remain around the nest until after the hatch.
Setup- I prefer a ultra light rod about 6 feet in length. This set up I prefer the rod to be less stiff than a Bullhead setup. Bluegills have small mouths and prefer tiny baits. An ultra-light rod which has a lot of action allows you to throw small jigs and bobbers a greater distance.
Line- I prefer 4-6lb fluorocarbon line, so when choosing a reel be sure your drag works good. This light line allows for you to easily tie on small jig while the line will not be visible to the fish. This also lets you effectively work the jig and bobber set up.
Hooks/Jigs- I prefer a 1/16- 1/32 oz tube jig head, and a small Panfish tube on that jig head. This provides me with an easy opportunity to figure out how and what the fish are feeding on. Normally in the spring with Bluegill a small piece of night crawler or grub will do the trick. Sometimes the bite is tough and it may take a minnow added to that rig to entice a bite. Other times the bite may be so aggressive that nothing else is needed other than the tube jig itself.
The tubes I like to use, overall I seem to have the best bite on #123 which is red and white.
Floats- I prefer the smallest foam float I can get, which has a lead peg inserted into the center of the float to hold your jig at the desired depth. These floats allow for easy depth changes when searching for fish. They also seem to cast the best because of the small lead weight which balances out the float. This can be crucial sometimes especially when fishing from the bank and attempting to make longer casts to reach schools of fish.
Locations- 44' 52.079 N , 75' 11.616 W- Located off Rt 37 in the Town of Waddington the public boat
public boat lauch where Sucker Brook Meets the St. Lawrence River. The small pockets and
bays in Sucker Brook will also provide some great BlueGill action.
44' 28.309 N, 75'35.850 W- Located on Black Lake in the mouth of Fish Creek, this location
is often times one of the first places BlueGills and Bullhead can be caught. The entire length
of Fish Creek will also offer some great BlueGill action.
Early Spring can also offer the oppurtunity to catch speices not often caught during the regular summer months. (Black Lake, NY)
Crappie- My favorite of all Panfish to target in the springtime, also one of the best eating fish you can catch. I have really developed a skill at locating and catching giant Crappie in the springtime especially on Black Lake. My trials began there with tagging fish for the yearly Panfish event which was held on Black Lake every year. I have figured out over the last few years at least on Black Lake, just the right time to be on the water. I now target the lake about 7-10 days after the ice is fully off the lake. This time seems to get me at just the right water temperature for when the big Crappies are moving in to spawn and feed. Crappie will spawn between 45-58F. I have found the prime temperture to be right around 56-58F. When attempting to catch big Crappie on the lake I also pay attention to what the Bluegill are doing. If the big Bluegill are still in eating and spawning the time is not quite right. Normally the areas I fish Crappie seem to move shallow good when the Bluegills have finished the spawn and all that is left up shallow are small male Bluegills guarding the nests. I suspect this bite gets good at this time for a couple of reasons, first the spawn is starting. Second there are tons of small fry roaming about the shallows which make it an easy meal for big Crappies moving up shallow. My favorite habitat to focus on is super shallow water, one foot or less. I often times will have my boat jammed up into the brush and will make short casts into shallow pockets where these big fish will hang. Logs, tree stumps and beaver houses will often hold schools of fish.
Setup- My rod selection is usually twofold. I have an ultra-light rod about 6 foot in length which is the same as the Bluegill setup. This allows for long cast to open water or shoreline when the fish have not quite moved shallow and tight to the brush. I also keep a ultra-light 7 foot rod handy for when the fish move tight into the brush or backwater pockets off the bay. This long rod allows for me to place my bait into a pocket without making a cast. I simply reach out and place the bait into the brushy pocket to catch the fish.
The rest of my set up will be the same as the Bluegill set up, a tube jig with the exception of a minnow being the preferred bait. I have rarely had much luck catching Crappie on a night crawler. Its important to remember Crappie look up to feed, so be sure not to have your jig too low in the water column. This is why when you do find a school and the bite is slow try adjusting the height of the jig in the water column until you get your action to pick up.
On occasion with just the right conditions you may be lucky enough to hit just the right time when the bite is fast and furious. When this happens you will know because your lure will hit the water and be gone. Often a minnow is not required when the action gets like this. If you experience this sometime a small 3/16 oz crankbait can produce giant slab Crappie.
Locations- Many of the locations that I listed above will provide you with some great action. With Crappie it may be worth checking those locations after the Bullhead and Bluegill bite has slowed down. All of the back bays, tributaries and flows on Black Lake will provide you with fantastic fishing for Crappie. Also the Indian Chain lake will keep you busy with Panfish action.
When getting ready for your first outing be sure to check with New York State Fishing Regulations for size and possession limits. Also if fishing from the bank be sure to check with a landowner for fishing access and if you carried it in, carry it out. PanFish can provide some tasty eating for you in the springtime and the bite is often fast and furious. Catch what you need for a meal if you desire to eat fish. But practice catch and release so future generations can enjoy what fishing in the North Country has to offer.
Do you need to get setup for a day of fishing now? Stop into Hosmer's Marina for all of your needs. Live Bait, tackle and food.
“If people concentrated on the really important things in life, there'd be a shortage of fishing poles.”
Chris Flint- Don't chase your dreams....catch them!!!
Check out my YouTube Video of last springs action on Black Lake!