Fishing for Panfish (Bluegill, Crappie) in the BWCA
Few of our guests check crappie or bluegill as their primary fishing goal when they are dreaming about the north country. Artists rarely show a savage crappie smashing into a mealworm or a bluegill busting the surface of the lake. But any fishermen who has ever hooked a two-pound fish on a super ultra-light rod has gotten the ride of a lifetime! And these two species have saved many a slow day by providing top quality action when the big-name fish are sluggish.
Black crappie move in schools, suspending in summer over spots where the bottom is 20 to 40 below. But while they rest suspended over deeper water, in May and June they move into shallow bays and slower moving rivers to feed. During mid-summer, they can usually found along deep weedlines or a little farther out from shore. They'll hit during the day, but morning and evening slots are prime. On overcast days, crappie can be caught all day long.
Remember back to the first bluegills you ever caught. We'll bet you were standing on a dock. That's because bluegills are drawn to structure like magnets. Since there are no docks in the BWCA or Quetico, it only makes sense to look for "dock-like" structure ... namely those shoreline trees that have toppled into the water that you pass all day long while paddling our wilderness area. The fresher the tree, the better. While northern pike hang around the bare, scragily pines, bluegills prefer a fresh cedar or birch with the leaves still attached (more protective cover).
Like crappies, bluegills are another schooling fish, where you hook one ... you'll find others. The trick here is to work from the outside of the school in towards the center. In this manner, you won't spook the school.
Effective baits include small live minnows (which are "a real pain-in-the-butt" to carry on a canoe trip), very small spinners, panfish jigs, mini-crankbaits, nymphs, and streamer flies. Jigs should be in the 1/32- to 1/8-ounce range. The hot colors are orange, chartrusse, amber, yellow, white, and pink.
Both crappies and bluegills have their eyes positioned to see upward, so bait should be worked slightly above them. This makes the precise presentation of float fishing the way to go once you locate the school by casting, trolling, or drifting.