Into the Deep for Summertime Crappies and Bluegills
Consistent Panfish Action
By: Dave Duwe
Maybe some of you can relate to this childhood memory.
My dad and I always went fishing in the shallow bays for bluegills in the spring. We had a great time. As summer grew closer, we continued to fish those shallow bays and I always wondered, “What happened to the fish?” The big bluegills became 3 to 4 inches by the middle of summer and we just thought the big fish weren’t biting. I guess we weren’t too good at figuring things out in those days. We just didn’t know how much we didn’t know!
When the dog days of summer get here, bluegill and crappie fishing seem to get tough. But it doesn’t have to be that way if you know the right tips and tricks to dial them in when they are down deep. When spawning ends and the water gets warm, most fish will head to the depths of the lake for safety, food and comfort. If you want to find them, you need the right techniques to bring the big fish into your boat.
Here are a few things I’ve learned over the years, having been a guide on Delavan Lake and one of Wisconsin’s deepest lakes, Lake Geneva. Both of these lakes are located in Southern Wisconsin.
There are two summertime patterns for deepwater panfish that I’ve found very successful. The deep weedline bite is in 15 to 22 ft. of water. Or, as summer wears on, the suspended fish over open water that is even deeper.
For the deep weedline bite, the biggest key to finding the bluegills and crappies is a good fish locator. My go-to graph is a Humminbird 859, linked to my Minn Kota Terrova bow-mount trolling motor. Before I start fishing, I will slowly move down the weedlines, looking for schools of active panfish. Once I locate them, I will start to fish. The deep weedline doesn’t hold just one or two fish. Typically, there are large schools that will show up as a cloud on the graph. I prefer the weedlines off of the main lake basin. I start in 15 to 18 ft. of water and have gone as deep as 25 ft.
Of course, my bait of choice is hand-picked worms that my son digs from the garden and my wife’s flower beds. Unfortunately, there are only so many worms one can find. So, in that case leaf worms also work great. Due to the depth of the water, I find that using a small #12 Kahle hook with a small split shot, positioned one foot above the hook, is the easiest way to get the bait down to the fish. The presentation is vertical underneath the boat. I use 4 lb. test fished on a spinning reel and 6’6” light action rod. The length of the rod is important to get a solid hook set in the deep water. Once the bluegill bites, I like to lower my rod tip, giving the fish time to eat the bait before a strong hook set. Another presentation option is a small version of the drop shot rig; basically the same principle as the bass version, just downsized. For the drop shot, I keep the drop sinker about 6 inches from the hook. Keep in mind, the deeper the water, the heavier the weight. The hook set is the same with either method. Bluegills are usually tight to the bottom, within 1 to 2 ft.
Crappies on the deep weedline, are typically positioned slightly different in the water column. Unlike the bluegills, the crappies are consistently right on the top of the break, before the weedline drops to the deeper water. The only structure is the weeds. I concentrate on the change and subtle points on the weed edge. The crappies like the points on the weedline or the slight turns. I position my boat in 20 to 25 ft. of water casting into 12 to 13 ft. of water. By keeping the boat slightly deeper, if the crappies are down the weedline a bit, you’ll still be able to catch them.
I prefer a small 1/32 oz. jig head, with small plastics for the crappies. I like a 3/0 round split shot, 12 inches above the jig. This aids in longer casts and it takes less time for the jig to drop to the preferred depths. The color of the plastics can vary depending on the lake, but start with purple and chartreuse, as I have found success with those colors just about everywhere.
If you are unable to locate schooling bluegills and crappies on the deep weedline, there is a good chance they are suspending over the deepest water in the lake. When fishing for blugills in the lakes I fish, I have found 40 to 42 ft. deep is the magic depth, with the fish suspending 10 to 15 ft. down. I like to drift through the school, using my trolling motor to control the speed of the drift. Due to the depth, anchoring isn’t really an option. The bait and rig combinations can be the same for suspended fish as they are for the deepwater weed line fish. Another option is to use a Lindy slick jig in 1/32 oz. It will give the bait a horizontal presentation. I will tip the slick jig with a couple of wax worms or a leaf worm.
The crappies suspend in shallower water, typically 20 to 25 ft., with their position 10 to 15 ft. down. The crappies seem to prefer to be closer to the weeds, as they like an escape route from the bigger game fish. The presentation will be the same as the weedline fish. In either location, I like to use a stop and go retrieve. I have found that the longer the pause the better chance for success. I’ve noted, in my experience, most people retrieve too fast and need to be reminded to slow it down.
Deep water fishing presents some challenges that many anglers aren’t willing to accept. However, the rewards of a bucket of tasty bluegills and/or crappies are attractive enough to venture away from the shade of the shore and the known shallow hot spots. Down deep the results can be worthwhile.