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Panfish Patrol

You all know that big fish turn my crank!  The biggest, baddest predator fish swimming in a body of water, “GET ON MY LINE”!  I spend A LOT of time on the water each year trying to do just that.  The thing is when pursuing those biggest, baddest, top-of-the-food-chain, apex predators, there never are a lot of them and there are a lot of hours of effort for each one hooked.  Yep, sometimes a lot of hard fishing in miserable conditions for just a mediocre fish or two.


But, I love catching a lot of species of fish.  If the specimens are big, you can get me excited about fishing for just about anything.  It is relatively to size, so a honest-to-goodness 1-pound bluegill can get me as excited as a 15-pound pike!  I never get bored fishing and one reason is it is nice to switch it up, instead of spending hours pounding the water for a fish or two, to pursue something that is just a little more abundant and a lot more willing to bite.

Each spring coming out of my and my kid’s annual turkey and mushroom blitz, when we finally get back to some fishing, it is nice to ease back in with something relatively easy, something back to our roots.  Not coincidentally, late spring/early summer is one of the peak times to do some panfish fishing on Nebraska waters.  That is what we have been doing for the past several weeks.  We have fished several public waterbodies in southeast Nebraska and racked up dozens of nice panfish on ’em all!

One trip was made to target bluegills, but we discovered there were still a bunch of black crappies up shallow finishing their spawning rituals.

Male black crappie in spawning colors.

The bluegills were on their beds too, just a little bit shallower than the crappies, caught lots of each.

Miraculously managed to spot a killdeer nest.  Walked by again a few hours later and noticed that one of the four eggs was now a little puff ball!


Went the other direction from home on the next trip and still found the bluegills shallow and very willing to bite.


I listen all the time to anglers complain about “the weeds”, aquatic vegetation, and how they cannot fish because of all the “weeds”.  Sorry, I do not get it.  That aquatic vegetation is great fish habitat, I am always looking for it, and when I find it, I fish it, right in it!  The fish are there, sometimes in only a few inches of water.


Now you can probably guess what we were catching ’em on.  Might as well show it all to you, “K.I.S.S.–Keep It Simple, Stupid”.


I have referred to my “Kid’s Fishing System” many times–small float, small jig tipped with a wax-worm.  Don’t need no stinkin’ nightcrawlers!  It may be simple, but it ain’t just for kids.  My kids and I have caught thousands of fish on that rig, and they have not been just panfish, have not been just small fish.

We lose track of numbers on our panfish-fests.  Who cares?  We are together, we are catching fish, we are having fun.  Does it really make a difference if we caught a couple dozen or a hundred and a couple dozen?  We caught 9-10-inch crappies and bluegills up to 9 1/2 inches, lots of them, but we wanted a little more; we wanted a few “kicker” fish, some BIG panfish.  So. . . .

My daughter had to go back to college this summer, before she left we visited a private waterbody, it was one last fishing trip before she went back to school.  It was a special trip to a special place.  Same baits, same presentations, just bigger fish.

B.C. photo

With some hybrids mixed in!  Green sunfish X bluegill hybrid here:

B.C. photo.

Redear sunfish X bluegill hybrid here, and what a pig (the fish, not me!).

B.C. photo.

We again caught dozens of bluegills, redear sunfish, and sunfish hybrids.  How many exactly?  I have not a clue, it was a great night.  Between the three of us, by the time it was dark and we finally quit fishing, I am pretty sure we had over 20 sunfish that would have exceeded a pound, large enough for Nebraska Master Angler Awards.

Private waters are important to Nebraska anglers, every waterbody is important to anglers in this state.  Surveys have consistently shown that a least a quarter of Nebraska anglers spend some time fishing private waters every year.  In my position I try to spend almost all of my fishing time on public waters as it is my job to share with others the fish and fishing opportunities that are available in this great state.  There are lots of private waters I could fish, but I do not, only slip onto private waters once in awhile, but what special fish can be caught from those special waters!  Thank you Bruce for the invitation!

However, one reason I like to fish a private pit or pond now and then is to be reminded of the potential of Nebraska waters; potential that could be realized on a lot more waters if there were a lot less emphasis on harvesting fish.  Every one of the dozens of panfish caught by my partners and I in the past few weeks were immediately released; we are going to go back and catch some of those bruisers again.

There will be trips across the state in the coming weeks to bigger waters in pursuit of bigger fish.  But, those are some of the fishing adventures I have been on recently, and I gotta admit I love my panfish too!  I do not care how old you get, it is still a darned lot of fun to watch a “bobber” go under!


About daryl bauer

Daryl is a lifelong resident of Nebraska (except for a couple of years spent going to graduate school in South Dakota). He has been employed as a fisheries biologist for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission for 25 years, and his current tour of duty is as the fisheries outreach program manager. Daryl loves to share his educational knowledge and is an avid multi-species angler. He holds more than 120 Nebraska Master Angler Awards for 14 different species and holds more than 30 In-Fisherman Master Angler Awards for eight different species. He loves to talk fishing and answer questions about fishing in Nebraska, be sure to check out his blog at outdoornebraska.org.

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