Bro continues from his panfish pulpit: “It’s also a great rod for pitching slip bobbers, but it’s light enough and sensitive enough you can just hold a finger on the line and drop your bait down in vegetation holes like a crane operator and tight-line your presentation no bobber required. That’s how sensitive that rod is. It’s also a great stick for reaching bluegills in wood – around the runs leading in and out of beaver dams and muskrat houses. This is just a great rod for getting in there and pulling them out. Ultimately, it’s just a fun rod to catch fish on – big bluegills or even the accidental bass or northern pike. The rod’s up to the challenge of all of it and it’s just enjoyable to fish with.”
Dock Shooting with Aaron Stiger
Ohio-based St. Croix pro, Aaron Stiger, is a bigtime spring panfish fan. He can be found from ice-out chasing crappies in a number of ways: from his bass boat, his Hobie kayak, or often just fishing from the bank. Stiger’s frequent crappie tournaments put his techniques to the test under the pressure of competition.
“Normally I’m shooting docks for crappies, but I also enjoy jigging, too,” says Stiger, who employs different set-ups for each of his techniques.
“In Ohio, you can start to catch crappies right away from ice-out. They seem to be some of the more active fish early in the season. It really depends on when you get out that will determine where they’ll be positioned,” Stiger offers. “If it’s right after ice-out in that mid-March timeframe they’ll tend to be more toward the middle of channels. That’s where I’ll target them. I’ll use a small float and put it about three feet above the jig and start searching for an active crappie school. Once you locate that active school it can be a lights-out bite – fish after fish after fish.”
As the season progresses though into April, Stiger says darkening crappies become a lot more structure related. “What I try to do is look for the very warmest water – areas around riprap because that water will really warm up, especially in the afternoons,” he says. “I tend to go out in the afternoons to give the water a chance to warm up; there’s really no need to be out early in the morning. So I’m looking for riprap and dock posts, metal dock posts are really good because they warm up pretty quick. If I’m jigging riprap, I’m looking for any kind of irregularity, which could be a concrete piling, a cut, a point, or anything that has a source of heat. It could be a laydown as well. Wood and rock tend to hold heat a little better overnight, so I’ll target riprap and wood early and then I’ll move shallower and try to find some metal docks and dock posts for shooting.”
Stiger uses a couple different set-ups. For shooting docks, he prefers the 5’, ultra-light power, moderate action (PFS50ULM) St. Croix Panfish Series rod. “You can really bow that stick and skip jigs right under the docks and find some of those fish in the shade. As the sun comes out, a lot of times you’ll find fish on those heated dock posts in the back of the dock. These fish haven’t necessarily seen a crappie jig in a while –or ever. So getting back in there far is a huge advantage. It’s where I’ve caught some of my biggest crappies,” he says. For dock shooting, Stiger uses 8-to-10-pound yellow PowerPro as his main line with a 4-to-6-pound Sunline fluorocarbon leader. At the end of the leader, he opts for tiny jigs, typically sickle hook style jigs in the 1/64-to-1/32-ounce range with a small ball-tipped plastic grub or mini-tube.
When jigging the channels or rip-rap from the bank, Stiger uses the 9’, light power, moderate-fast action (PFS90LMF2) St. Croix Panfish Series rod. From the kayak or boat, he reaches for his 6’9”, ultra-light power, fast action (PFS69ULF) Panfish Series rod with a smaller Pflueger 20X or 25X reel. He believes in miniscule jigs in bright colors for stained water, typically chartreuse or chartreuse and purple.
From the ice-out pre-spawn period through the excitement of fish on shallow beds, springtime panfish fishing is an ideal way to get out and experience lots of bites. It’s also one of the best times of the year to get kids on the water for unforgettable memory making. Follow the advice of our pros and you’ll be well prepared to maximize the fun. Good luck on the water.