Panfish Palooza

Staying Alive: Part Five
August 24, 2023
D.I.Y Dove
August 24, 2023

Super-Sized Opportunities for Panfish Abound All Over Texas

Feature Story by TF&G STAFF

LISTEN: (7 minutes, 50 seconds)

EVERYTHING is bigger in Texas.”

In the world of fishing that slogan is most often used for the massive largemouth bass that inhabit the state’s reservoirs or the huge redfish along the coast.

It’s not often associated with panfish, but it should be.

There are super-sized opportunities for a wide variety of panfish around the state and has a big following among angling veterans. It also has a new generation of anglers specifically targeting them in streams, rivers, and ponds with intense fervor.

Andrew Austin, known as “The Texas Naturalist,” on Instagram and host of The Wildlife Experience podcast has a background in biology that deepens his appreciation of these fish.

“Texas has panfish biodiversity, and you can catch them everywhere from neighborhood ditches to reservoirs and clear streams in the Hill Country. They’re a lot of fun to catch and when you get into it deeply, different aspects like flyfishing or targeting certain weight classes in specific waterways make it a real challenge. And best of all, it’s a great way to get a kid started fishing,” he said.

We’re going to look at Texas top species and give you a few tips on where and how to catch them with a particular emphasis on rod choice.

Crappie: Crappie are abundant and big, especially in the eastern third of the state. The four-pound black crappie state record was taken on Toledo Bend and the massive 4.56-pound white crappie came from Navarro Mills.

Other top lakes include Lake Conroe, Lake Fork, Sam Rayburn, Ray Roberts, and Livingston.

Crappie are abundant (and big!) especially in the eastern third of the state.

Crappie are abundant (and big!) especially in the eastern third of the state.
(Photo: St. Croix Rods)

Most crappie in Texas are caught around docks or manmade brush piles where they gather in large numbers. The usual offering is a live shiner, but jigs are also very effective. Rig a 1/32 or 1/16-ounce shiner or crawfish pattern jig on a 6’9” St. Croix ultralight/fast Panfish Series Spinning Rod and you can’t go wrong. If you want to try your hand at the dock shooting technique, the St. Croix Avid Panfish 6’9” medium-light power, extra-fast action model was designed for it.

TF&G Editor-In-Chief Chester Moore holds a big white crappie caught in an oxbow off the Sabine River south of the Toledo Bend dam.

(Photo: Chester Moore)

Bluegill: Bluegill are abundant from the Texas Hill Country to the Pineywoods with the strongest concentrations of larger fish in that eastern corridor.

These fish fight hard, gather in large concentrations and are the preferred species of a growing number of anglers. With the state record a whopping 2.02 pounds, they also get big here.

A hunk of nightcrawler under a popper is hard for bluegill to resist but small spinners and curl-tailed grubs are also good choices. Rig them on a 7 foot, light/extra fast St. Croix Panfish Series Spinning Rod for great results. If you want a little shorter, lighter rod, try the 6’4 light/fast action model in the same series.

Longear Sunfish: These are arguably the most beautiful of all sunfish with bright colors and the signature long gill covering. And they are very aggressive fish that will take fly poppers, soft plastic worms fished for bass and even small spoons. These scrappy fish are found in most of the state.

Longear sunfish is arguably the most beautiful of all native fish in Texas.

Longear sunfish is arguably the most beautiful of all native fish in Texas.
(Photo: Chester Moore)

Longears prefer areas with slack current and are often found around eddies in streams or in bayou backwaters where they gather in schools. Try a tiny popper or floating rubber-legger for fun results on a 7-foot, 3 weight Imperial USA Fly Rod from St. Croix.

You can certainly get away with catching them on a two weight but even small longears fight hard and you want to be able to get them away from thick brush and other cover quickly, so a little more strength with the three weight is recommended.

Redear Sunfish: Texas’ top redear weighed a whopping 2.99 pounds and while that almost seemed like an anomaly, there are lots of big, fat ones still out there. They are widely distributed in the state. 

Faith Moore caught this big redear sunfish in a backwoods slough.

Faith Moore caught this big redear sunfish in a backwoods slough.
(Photo: Chester Moore)

According to Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) officials, redear sunfish often utilize snails as a major food item, hence the common name “shellcracker.” 

“However, insect larvae and cladocerans may also be found in their diet. The species is usually found near the bottom in warm water with little current and abundant aquatic vegetation.”

These guys are super hard fighters that don’t strike the surface nearly as much as bluegills. Fly anglers typically catch them on nymphs and other sinking flies.

St. Croix Pro Brian “Bro” Brosdahl said his favorite rod choice is the St. Croix Legend Elite Panfish 7’, light-power, extra-fast action spinning rod. 

Rod choice is a big factor in chasing all species of Texas panfish.

Rod choice is a big factor in chasing all species of Texas panfish.
(Photo: St. Croix Rods)

“It’s simply the best multi-purpose panfish rod for long, bomb casting, searching, and slip bobbing. It’s gentle on a slab crappie’s fragile mouth, can feel every nibble, quiver, or shake, and has the backbone to pull giant bluegills out of the jungle, with enough muster to defeat incidental catches of larger bass” he said.

And those do tend to hang around bluegill in Texas.

Rio Grande Cichlid: These rather odd-shape, yet beautiful spotted fish are considered a prized trophy by Texas panfish enthusiasts.

According to TPWD officials, the distribution of the Rio Grande cichlid in Texas appears to have originally been limited to the lower reaches of the Rio Grande. However, several populations have been established in river drainages of Central Texas’ Edwards Plateau including the San Marcos, Guadalupe, San Antonio, and Colorado rivers. We have also verified populations in the northern tier of the Houston metro area.

Cichlids love insect-patterned flies and are a sucker for any small crawfish-patterned soft plastic.

An 8-foot 4 weight Imperial USA fly rod is a good choice for big cichlids as is the 7’3 medium-light extra fast St. Croix Panfish Series Spinning Rod.

For The Kids

You can’t go wrong starting a kid fishing for panfish.

A little red, white, and blue bobber and a small hook rigged with an earthworm can get you into a lot of action on most water bodies.

Dustin Warncke is a father, outdoor writer and works with kids at camps to get them started in the outdoors. He has an important piece of advice for taking kids on a panfish expedition.

“Bites from bluegill and other varieties of panfish might be rather light. I watch the line carefully. If it makes a steady move in or out from where the bait settled in my cast I usually try to set to hook because the fish usually has it in its mouth at that point,” he said. 

Warncke said you never want to set the hook too hard, so as to pull the bait and hook out of the fish’s mouth too soon, but don’t be afraid to be direct and assertive with the hook set. A short quick jerk should be fine. 

“If kids have an issue setting the hook at the right time with little fish like these, it can be frustrating at times. Fishing, after all, is a game of patience and fun so when my son was younger, I would hold the rod and reel and wait for the bite, set the hook, and hand the rod and reel to him. Kids enjoy reeling in and “fighting” the fish more anyway.”

Kids at Heart

Seeking panfish can be as simple as soaking worms under a bobber or flyfishing in super clear water for big shy cichlids. At the heart of all panfish pursuit is fun and we tend to think anyone who truly loves panfish is still a kid at heart.

They are at the root of many of our fishing experiences and if you get the right gear and find the sweet spot on your favorite stream, lake or pond, there is Texas-sized action to be had for the whole family.





—story by TF&G STAFF

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