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Stories from the River

Try Drifting for Suspended Summer Panfish

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T week, I ran into Joe Puccio, one of the past owners of Bait Rigs Tackle with cousin Tony Puccio, a pro tournament angler and guide. Joe was the designer of the Cobra Panfish jig. This proven jig with the kahle hook design has been a winner in the panfish world for years. Joe also is an expert on panfishing and particular fishing the Madison lakes with 50 years experience. I talked to Joe at length about the Madison fishery and got the info from him on the pattern and technique he uses for catching suspended fish during the hot summer months.

Soon after the weather warms in the “Chain” lakes and all panfish are done spawning, many bluegills, crappies, and perch suspend over the lake’s main basins and feed on zooplankton and other small insects, worms, and bugs that hatch from the lakes bottom. Lakes with a soft and mud bottom have a better hatch and thus more fish will suspend.

Puccio likes to have a buddy or child fish with him so that he can take advantage of the Wisconsin law that allows each angler to use 3 rods. So, ideally Puccio likes to fish with 6 rods to cover the entire water column. The first two rods are fished deep with bottom bouncers and a 24” lead to a small panfish willowspoon (a light flutter spoon) baited with a leaf worm. These spoons work the deeper water for perch which usually relate to the bottom. The next 4 rods are going to be “high” rods fishing and covering the water column from above the bottom bouncer rods to the waters surface. On 2 of the rods, Joe likes to use panfish spinner rigs with a small blade (# 0) and a piece of crawler. He uses larger split shot to get the rigs down deeper on these two rods. Adding and taking off split shot either makes the spinners sink or ride higher. The last two rods are rigged with 1/32 ounce Bait Rigs Slo-Poke jig baited with minnows, crawlers, or leeches. The Slo-Poke is a swimming jig that trolls or drifts well with a horizontal presentation.

The bottom bouncer rods are close to the bottom, the Slo-Poke rods are next in the water column, and the spinner rigs are the highest up rods in the drifting pattern. Long rods are best and Puccio suggests rods at least 7 feet long with a light or medium-light action. Don’t use ultra-light rods because you have to make a sweeping hook set or often lose the fish. The line to use is Berkley Trilene XL in green color for the stained water and 6 pound or 4 pound test monofilament.

Try to use your electronics (Lowrance or Humminbird) to locate fish and forage as you drift. This is not an exact science, according to Puccio, and he experiments with adding and subtracting split shots to get the rigs to the proper depth. Sometimes, Joe will use as many as 5 or 6 shots to reach different depths. Using a different number of split shots on each rod with the exception of the bottom bouncer rods, allows your bait (either worms or panfish leeches) to reach different depths where the panfish may be suspending. When you catch a few fish on the same rod, try to repeat the process for more success and fish.

Another important factor to remember is that the fish are scattered and wind can blow the zooplankton around the lake. If the weather is windy, use a drift sock to slow down and control your drift. If the day is calm, use your bow-mount trolling motor to work you across the water. You are “raking” the lake for fish according to Puccio. Start your drift shallow and work to the deep water in the lake’s main basin. On Lake Monona, try working from the mouth of the Yahara River to Turville Bay on the south end. On Lake Wabesa, work from from north of Hog Island to the south end of the lake. Here, you’ll be drifting over 20 feet of water. On Lake Kegonsa, the drift pattern is the same, but shallower. The water is darker, so the fish will be in shallow water. Work the weed edges and the rock bar in the lake’s middle. Try to find the deepest weed edge adjacent to deep water.

Try drifting for suspended panfish on any lake you fish. Covering the water column will find the fish that suspend during the hot summer months.



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