Live bait is best for producing panfish year-round, but there are times throughout the year when artificial lures will outperform the real deal.
The key to catching panfish on artificial lures is to “match the hatch” making sure the size of your lure is the same size as the forage panfish are munching on that day. Here are seven lures for catching crappie, white bass, and sunfish year-round.
A simple jighead is the best year-round panfish producer because you can attach a variety of soft plastic bodies on it. Some of the most popular soft plastics to match with a jighead are shad- or minnow-shaped bodies, double-tail grubs, curly tail grubs, paddle tail grubs and tube baits. I opt for 1/32-ounce jigs when fishing less than 6 feet deep for crappie or bluegill and switch to 1/16-ounce jigs for fishing deeper than 6 feet. When fishing for crappie and white bass in a strong wind, I choose a 1/8-ounce jig to prevent my line from bowing too much and missing bites.
The old reliable Roadrunner or horsehead-shaped jig with a marabou or soft plastic body has been a productive lure for me for decades. I have used the 1/8-ounce model for catching white bass in the current of dam tailraces and the 1/16-ounce version has been a favorite of mine for catching crappie in the shallows of coves or along bluff pockets. You can catch plenty of panfish retrieving the lure at a steady pace or pumping it up and letting it fall to the bottom.
These action lures mimic a variety of panfish forage such as crawfish, minnows, shad and insects. The lures can be trolled to catch panfish in deep open water or cast around shallow targets such as weeds, logs and boat docks. Select crankbaits with longer bills for trolling and short-billed crankbaits for running in shallow water.
When panfish are keying on minnows or shad, a small swimbait is the ideal baitfish imitator. The lure can be attached to a jig head to run separately or you can attach a multitude of swimbaits on a miniature umbrella rig to imitate a school of baitfish. Steadily retrieving the single swimbait or the umbrella-rigged swimbaits with an occasional twitch of the rod will draw strikes from panfish.
Twitching a jerkbait such as the Rapala Minnow at a fast pace produces strikes from white bass and crappie when the fish are feeding on baitfish along wind-blown banks. A twitch of the rod followed by a long pause with a suspending jerkbait is a productive retrieve for crappie suspended over deep brush in the wintertime. Jerkbaits in the 3- to 4-inch range are ideal for catching numbers of white bass and crappie but 5-inch jerkbaits are best choice for catching quality fish.
The lure’s spinning blade creates lots of flash and vibration to trigger strikes from a variety of panfish. Inline spinners are great for casting long distances to prevent from spooking fish in clear water or for trolling for suspended fish in clear or murky water. Steadily reeling at a moderate to fast pace to make the blade spin vigorously is the key to retrieving this lure.
Heavy slab spoons are great for vertical jigging for deep panfish in open water. When white bass are busting baitfish on the surface I have tricked the fish by skipping a 1/8-ounce slab spoon through the surface explosions. Small flutter and jigging spoons are great for vertical jigging around weed edges to catch crappie and bluegill.
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