Tactics For Catching Moving Water Panfish

Tactics For Catching Moving Water Panfish

Fishing for bream can be a different game on creeks and rivers. That can be especially true when it's redbreast sunfish you're after!

A rouge-hued flash beneath the surface leaves little question what caused the bobber to dart out of sight and is now made the angler's line race side to side. It's a redbreast sunfish, and that causes the angler to smile. Experience has taught him that when he catches one redbreast, he's usually on the path to filling his panfish basket.

Redbreasts are fiesty and colorful bream that favor streams over lakes and ponds. Photo by Polly Dean.

In many ways redbreast sunfish are like bluegills, shellcrackers and other kinds of bream. They have a similar appearance, can be equally feisty and the best fishing opportunities begin late in the spring. The biggest difference is that redbreasts favor moving water and their holding areas are current-oriented. Thus, the best fishing normally occurs in streams, instead of lakes. They especially like slow to moderate streams with sandy or rocky bottoms and plenty of woody debris, rocky cover or shallow vegetation.


Redbreasts are also commonly called robins, redbellies or longear sunfish, with the "longear" name actually describing their most reliable distinguishing feature. While the bright rosy or orange breast behind the "redbreast" name is limited to males, both sexes have elongated, narrow and dark extensions on their gill covers, which give them a "long-eared" appearance.


Redbreasts don't grow as large as bluegills or shellcrackers. The world record redbreast weighed 1 pound, 12 ounces. They aren't tiny sunfish either, though, and most fish caught are hand-sized or larger. They also fight with strength that seems too great for their size.

One fine thing about redbreasts is that they can flourish in a stream of virtually any size, meaning you don't necessarily need a big boat to get in on the action. Some of the best redbreast waters are suited for floating in a johnboat or a canoe because of shallow sandbars or gravel bars that would limit navigation for larger boats. Even wading anglers can find good redbreast opportunities in smaller streams.




RELATED READ: 24 Ways To Work A Panfish Jig




Good fishing opportunities exist year-round, but the most dependable action begins late in the spring, when the fish can be found around shallow, visible cover. Spawning redbreasts build nests in sand or gravel in 1 to 3 feet of water, usually near stumps and in eddies that are protected from the strongest currents. They also make use of existing bream beds.

Unlike their blue-gilled cousins, redbreasts don't necessarily spawn in big colonies, so you usually won't catch a whole bunch of them together. That said, if you catch a couple of brightly colored males beside a stump in 2 feet of water over a sandy bottom on the lee side of the river, you're apt to catch a fish or two from virtually every stump you can find in a similar setting.

You also don't have to find spawning fish to get in on good spring action. By May the fish often are lurking around shallow cover, where they find meals of freshwater shrimp, small crawfish, insect larvae and tiny minnows. Gravel bars, weed beds and downed trees all hold an abundance of the foodstuff that the redbreast like the best. Any cover that creates a well-defined eddy, but has a current sweeping past it, can be productive because it creates a nice ambush opportunity for redbreasts.

The most popular way to target redbreasts is with live bait, and both worms and crickets can be extremely effective. Smaller varieties of earthworms, such as red worms, generally work better than night crawlers for redbreasts. It's a good idea to get a couple of different varieties as sometimes the fish can be inexplicably picky about seemingly similar worms.

Two excellent live bait presentations are drifting bait beneath a float or presenting the same bait directly beneath the tip of a long pole. For either, use a long-shanked, light-wire hook in the No. 10 range and add a small split shot or two 6 to 8 inches up the line from the hook.

For the drifting option, use a slender, sensitive float, like a Thill Mini Shy Bite, which will show you everything going on beneath the surface. The amount of weight you need to add and the best specific float will vary by current strength, water color and the amount of wind that's complicating drifts. As a general rule, you want the least weight you can keep beneath your float and the most sensitive float you can cast and effectively watch. A light spinning outfit with a rod that's at least 6 feet long works well for delivering a float rig.

The basic approach itself is simple. Cast or pitch your rig to where you expect the redbreasts to be and then watch the bobber. It's not a sit-and-wait game, though. Redbreasts either are home and willing to bite, or they aren't, so keep searching till you find them. Cast upstream of promising cover and let the float rig drift through the best zone. Then reel it back and cast again. When you cast into eddies, where the bait won't drift, allow it to sit a few minutes before picking another spot.

Keep moving until you find fish, and adjust your float as needed to probe a range of depths. Try different kinds of cover and pay attention to details any time a fish hits. Be sure to watch your bobber closely, and be ready set the hook any time it lays sideways, pauses or otherwise alters its natural drift. The float won't always dart under.

Using a long pole and a tight line isn't as visual as bobber fishing, and it doesn't allow you to drift your bait naturally past cover. However, it does allow you to fish very tight to cover because you can place the tip of a long pole right against a stump, weed edge or deadfall and le

t your bait straight down. Pull the line from the reel in measured strips so you know exactly how deep you are fishing, and keep a finger on your line for maximum sensitivity once your bait is down.

Again, you don't need to keep your bait in any given spot for long. Hold the boat a rod's length from the cover as you work your way down a bank and drop your bait in every interesting looking hole. When fish do hit, remember that you are working with a very short line. A quick snap of the wrist is all you need to set the hook, and you might have to give the fish a little line in order to play it. Having a long-handled dip net handy, or have a buddy to help out.

Although the live bait approach is the most popular way to target redbreasts, it not the only effective means. In fact, casting small artificial lures with an ultralight outfit provides its own advantages. This approach allows you cover water quickly, casting to everything that looks interesting, and to draw reaction strikes. It's also tremendously fun to work a lure, feel every hit and fight the fish on very light tackle.

The best lures overall are diminutive jigs and spinners, including the same Beetle Spins, Road Runners and curly-tailed grubs that work nicely for bluegills. Along with imitating the various invertebrates and small minnows that redbreasts like for dinner, these lures allow you to fish with equal effectiveness in 6 inches or 6 feet of water simply by varying presentation speeds and your rod position.

A final alternative is to fish with bait, but to work it like a lure. A red worm strung onto a 1/32-ounce Road Runner head fished slowly around cover with the current doing much of the presenting can be highly effective. Be aware, though, that a great big bass or channel catfish might just spot or smell your offering and not know that you're after redbreasts!

Get Your Fish On.

Plan your next fishing and boating adventure here.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Yakgear Basic Kayak Angler & Deluxe Anchor Trolley Kits

Yakgear Basic Kayak Angler & Deluxe Anchor Trolley Kits

New products from ICAST 2020 included the Yakgear Basic Kayak Angler and Deluxe Anchor Trolley kits. Bill Bragman highlights the features of each kit.

Bubba Blade: Multi-Flex Interchangeable Blade Set

Bubba Blade: Multi-Flex Interchangeable Blade Set

Four blades in versatile knife system to fit your needs; ICAST Fishing Gear Guide.

Tackle Test 2020: Abu Garcia Revo MGX

Tackle Test 2020: Abu Garcia Revo MGX

Tackle Test 2020: Abu Garcia Revo MGX

What

What's New with Abu Garcia Veritas Rods?

There are big changes to Abu Garcia's popular Veritas series of rods. Andrew Wheeler highlights the new features with In-Fisherman's Doug Stange as part of our 2020 ICAST New Fishing Gear Guide.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

If you haven't looked at the smaller urban lakes in your area, you are missing out on some great bass pond fishing. Bass

Bass Pond Fishing: Catch Lunkers at Small Lakes Near You

Dan Anderson

If you haven't looked at the smaller urban lakes in your area, you are missing out on some...

As most catfish anglers know, blue cats, channel cats and flatheads will eat darn near anything that fits in their mouths. Catfish

5 Ways To Catch Catfish on Lures

Keith Sutton - September 16, 2015

As most catfish anglers know, blue cats, channel cats and flatheads will eat darn near...

Celebrate with great food for your backyard BBQ or picnic with these outdoor recipes. Wild Game

10 Recipes for Your Backyard Get Together

Game & Fish Online Staff

Celebrate with great food for your backyard BBQ or picnic with these outdoor recipes.

See what made the Old Town Sportsman Autopilot kayak the show's top pick. ICAST

Who Won ICAST 2020 Best of Show?

Game & Fish Staff - July 17, 2020

See what made the Old Town Sportsman Autopilot kayak the show's top pick.

See More Trending Articles

More Other Freshwater

There is no shortage of excellent fishing to be had all over the Northeast in the coming months. Here are a handful of top destinations to pursue some of the region's most iconic species. Playbook

The East's Hottest Summer Fishing Destinations

Jeff Knapp

There is no shortage of excellent fishing to be had all over the Northeast in the coming...

Few summer fishing experiences in the Midwest can match targeting predators herding baitfish. Use these techniques to get in on the action. Playbook

Summer Schooling: Join the Feeding Frenzy

Mike Pehanich - June 16, 2020

Few summer fishing experiences in the Midwest can match targeting predators herding baitfish....

Summertime on a river might be the best time and place to hook into a monster musky. Other Freshwater

Go With the Flow for Muskies

Jeff Knapp - July 15, 2020

Summertime on a river might be the best time and place to hook into a monster musky.

New electronics can help you find and ice more fish. Here's a CRASH course on how to use them to your advantage. Other Freshwater

Ice Fishing: The Skinny on Hardwater Software

Dr. Jason Halfen

New electronics can help you find and ice more fish. Here's a CRASH course on how to use them...

See More Other Freshwater

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get Digital Access.

All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now