What angler hasn’t started out by sitting on a dock and fishing with a simple hook and a worm under a red and white bobber for sunfish, bluegill, bullheads, rock bass, or other panfish? Ontario has a long list of small fry that offer dependable action for the whole family. The species mentioned are just a few of those available.
Crappie and yellow perch draw the biggest followings and are also the largest. Indeed, some crappie are as big as a fry pan! The crappie’s Ontario range is expanding, making them available to more anglers.
The black crappie is most common, but there are white crappie in the southwest. Black crappie move in schools, suspending summer and winter over 20 to 40 feet (6 to 12 m) of water. Open-water anglers get their first crack at them as ice clears from backwaters in April or early May and the fish move inshore to feed.
Top spots include man-made boat cuts and canals, and shallow bays with cover (wood, weeds, docks). More fish move in by late May and June to spawn. In summer, the fish are along deep weedlines or suspended farther out. They’ll hit during the day, especially during overcast weather, but morning and evening are prime.
Light spinning or fly-fishing tackle and 6-pound or less line is suitable for perch and other panfish. In fact, let the kids fish with whatever equipment you can assemble. A 6-foot ultralight spinning outfit is ideal for drifting, casting, or trolling tiny lures. A good second choice is a 9- to 12-foot light panfish or steelhead float rod.
Effective baits include small live minnows, spinners, panfish jigs, minicrankbaits, nymphs, and streamer flies. A crappie’s eyes are 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 crappie by casting, trolling, or drifting.
Hang a live minnow or a 1/32- to 1/16-ounce jig and 1 1/2-inch tube or twister body under a panfish slip-float. Scented orange, yellow, white, pink, blue, amber, and chartreuse jigs are good. Crappie are tasty, but yellow perch are considered by many to be even finer panfish in the pan.
Lakes with abundant forage produce perch topping one pound (.45 kg) and occasionally twice that size. There are family-oriented derbies for these “jumbos” in some areas. After ice-out in late April or May, scads of perch are caught near shore, where they spawn.
Fishing weedlines and flats bordering deeper water pays off through summer. Perch are more bottom-oriented than crappie. Light slip-sinker rigs or split shot and a hook with a worm or small minnow are all you need to catch them. Panfish jigs, cast or hung under a slip-float, are also effective.