MILLERSYLVANIA STATE PARK – Panfish – bluegill, crappie, yellow perch and pumpkinseed – are like humans in three important ways:
They love sunshine.
They gather together in big groups to soak in solar radiation on cloudless days.
They get hungry while enjoying the sunshine.
So, if a spring day feels good to an angler, chances are that the sunfish and perch in that little lake just down the road are feeling kind of happy, hungry and silly. So, why not take an hour or two or three out of a spring afternoon to pester those fish?
Sure there is work – for most of us anyway – but there is also such a thing as spring fever.
There are no scientific studies to prove this, but all of us know – deep in our hearts – that casting a line for spring panfish is a fast road to relaxation – and maybe the best meal of the week.
Bluegills, crappie, yellow perch and pumpkinseed sunfish come into the shallows to enjoy the sun, but they also start hanging around and staring at each other. Soon enough, all the fish are fanning out plate-sized nests on the bottom, and the smaller males are cozying up to the bigger females.
Yup, sunfish like to gather in shallow water, eat and spawn during spring.
Sunfish are not picky eaters, and they are not picky about their spawning partners. Bluegills will happily spawn with pumpkinseeds, redear sunfish and green sunfish. The hybrid offspring will happily mate in the same way.
And panfish are very, very good at reproducing. In fact, they can quickly overpopulate a lake, eat all the food, stunt out – and still keep on having offspring like crazy.
So, a spring day – such as the warm afternoons that we all basked in late last week – are terrific for hooking, keeping and eating panfish. No one should ever feel guilty about taking home a few panfish for lunch or dinner. On most Washington lakes, there is no catch limit for bluegill, crappie, perch, rock bass or other sunfish.
Best of all, sunfish are gourmet food when cleaned, skinned, breaded and fried in hot oil. They have a light, nutty flavor that outclasses most other gamefish. The only catch is that panfish tend to be small, so there is some work to all that cleaning and cooking.
But there is no better meal than fried panfish, a tossed salad and corn on the cob.
There are some hulking panfish out there in the Northwest – fish the size and shape of dinner plates. Panfish addicts – and there are quite a few, even here in trout and salmon country – guard their secret spots from casual anglers.
But it’s not hard to find panfish this time of year. Head to Deep Lake – at Millersylvania State Park – and it’s easy to find panfish in the shallows from now through summer. Sneaky anglers will catch more and bigger panfish than noisy, blundering anglers, but even knuckleheads will catch a few.
The bigger panfish – and there are usually some bigger panfish – are lurking near the smaller fish, but we humans can’t see them. That’s because those fat bluegill, yellow perch and crappie are hanging out in the first part of deeper water near the shallow water.
If that spot has weed beds, fallen timber or any other cover, well, you’re in business.
If kids are along – and they are newbie anglers – a meal worm or cricket on a size 12 hook under a bobber is a good idea. The panfish will keep that bobber bouncing around and going under the surface.
But even veteran anglers love to pester panfish. Casting a fly or small jig and slowly working it back to the boat or shoreline is relaxing, and the fish usually smack the hook all day long.
So, if the day feels comfortably warm – and some basking in the sunshine seems like a good idea, remember that the panfish feel the exact same way.
Chester Allen: 360-754-4226