There is no doubt that fall is in the air; cool crisp breezes, nighttime temperatures dipping into the 40s and 50s, and leaves are beginning to change colors. If you haven't noticed these things, you must be one of those people that are trying to hang on to summer as long as you can. The signs are there, and fall is here. These signs from Mother Nature also bring on some migrations that we cannot over look. I'm sorry, but for those readers thinking this was going to be about bird watching, or hunting waterfowl, you were wrong. I am speaking of the panfish migration.
As many of you know that follow this column, I am a die-hard bass fisherman. However, this time of year as the bass tournament trails wind down, my focus starts thinking about that panfish migration that occurs in area lakes. Besides early May, the rest of September and a few weeks into October can be the best panfishing you can find all year long. In Central Iowa, the crappies and bluegills go into a feeding frenzy, knowing that winter is just around the corner.
When we really start to dissect and try to understand fish, then this migration really becomes just a matter of eating. All summer long bluegills and crappies have been feeding on insects, their larvae, small crayfish, minnows and other small fish. As the weather cools the insects disappear, and the crayfish hibernate, leaving the panfish only one option to feed on. I believe that this is the major factor of why panfish go into a long feeding pattern before the winter months, they know their time of eating a buffet all day long is almost gone. This is one reason why fishing this time of year makes perfect sense.
T-R PHOTO BY TODD REED
As the weather cools, so does the water in area lakes. This yearly event triggers panfish to feed heavily before winter sets in. Now is the perfect time to search out and catch bluegills and crappies.
Another reason why panfish begin to feed is the water temperature. Again, they know that winter is coming, and they know that the long days spent under the ice will result in little food. Like a squirrel in October, they prepare for the long Iowa winter. All fish are cold=-blooded creatures, so their bodies react to the water around them. As they start feeling the cooler water temperatures they know that they should start to eat everything in site.
This mental state they have, to eat anything and everything, brings the panfish up shallow where there are sticks, rocks and weeds to find food in. This is the main reason why people are very successful this time of year too. Fish are much easier to catch when they are shallow, and fall is a time that they come back to the shorelines.
BAIT SELECTION- In the cool fall weeks, you can't go wrong with live bait. Minnows, worms and crickets make awesome bait all year-long, it is no different this time of year. Some days, when the fish are actively feeding, you may not need live bait at all. A small tube, or twister-tail rigged on a small jighead is all you really need. A combination of both is what I tend to try first, and then try to just use plastic tubes or tails as I find actively feeding fish.
AREA LAKES- All of the area lakes will this fall migration of panfish starting to come to the shallow water and feed up for the winter. Most of the time the lakes that are the shallowest will cool down the quickest, thus making Rock Creek Lake and Union Grove Lake top choices to start your search. Hickory Grove Lake, Sand Lake and both Pine Lakes will most likely be shortly after them. Rock Creek and Union Grove both have a large population of crappies, and Hickory Grove Lake is full of big, healthy bluegills. The Pine Lakes and Sand Lake offer good fishing for bluegills too.
HOT SPOTS- The fall migration will bring fish up shallow to feed, but remember that they will spend most of their day in deeper water. You need to keep this in mind while thinking of an area to start fishing. I always try nearby my summer (deep water) areas first, just fishing them shallower. Another great area to try is where any logs or old trees are in the water. This provides the feeding panfish a place to hide while looking or waiting for their meal. These areas are good all-year long, but can be extra hot in the fall. One last area to pay attention to is main lake points. Points are often over looked for a shallow area to fish. Most anglers fish points, and use them to locate fish in the deeper water, well in the fall these are great places because they offer deep water and they offer shallow water too.
HARVEST- Just like in the spring, fall fishing can mean a bucket full of crappies or bluegills. If you intend to harvest fish for eating, please remember the laws, twenty-five fish (per species) per angler is allowed to keep per day. That is more than enough for a large meal, and the rest should be thrown back for another day. Please remember to release the small and the very large fish too. It can be very hard to throw back a bluegill over nine inches, or a crappie that goes twelve inches or more, but those fish are the future of that lake, consider throwing them back and keeping fish smaller than those to eat.
Enjoy the fall weather when you can, just think, in about 10 weeks we could be ICE FISHING! I sure hope so.