Pan Perfect

Kids and panfish just seem to go together.
I was a wee lad of eight and fishing with my dad for the first time on Lake Puckaway in southern Wisconsin. We’d been on the lake for two hours, and hadn’t seen a fish. I was thinking that fishing wasn’t for me. Then my bobber plunged under.
“Lift your rod,” dad said. I pulled it up and felt a tug and a wiggle. “Now reel it in, he urged.”
Hands trembling, I cranked my reel, and soon saw a bright gold flash, then a squirming yellow perch. My heart racing, I ma-neuvered my prize catch into the boat. Just like that perch, I was hooked.
I don’t think any of us could forget our first fish. And chances are, it was a panfish: a bluegill, sunfish, perch, crappie, bullhead or any of a number of small fish found in lakes and rivers.
Some varieties, like bluegills, sunfish and their close relatives are easy to catch because they hang out near shore, bite readily and aren’t fussy about bait. Bottom dwellers, like perch and bullheads can require more effort. All can provide many hours of fun.
The Rod and Reel
When angling for panfish, use ultra-light equipment for best enjoyment and sensitivity. Eric Guider, who supplies Shimano products for Dunham’s, says the Shimano AXULSA Ultra-light Spinning Reel combined with an FX 5½-foot Ultra-light Rod is perfect for panfish. It’s easier to feel fish bite with a short, light rod, and you-get more fight out of small fish when using light equipment.
Shakespeare offers a wide selection of tackle designed for both young and old when panfish are the goal. Their Kid’s Combos are great for wee ones, and Ugly Stik combos are ready for action. Pflueger Microcast and Trion combos are good choices as well. You’ll find all of them at Dunham’s.
Fishing With Live Bait
Some fishermen won’t angle with live bait and contend fish are more likely to swallow the hook because the meal is tasty. Some research suggests that’s not true. And when fishing with children, live bait can be a plus, because it gets results.
A worm looks tasty to most little fish, although crappies and rock bass in some waters prefer minnows. In general, it’s best to use bait that’s native to the area, since it’s probably a staple of your prey’s diet.
A baited hook hanging from a bobber is usually the best way to catch bluegills, sunfish or crappie. Use a small bobber that won’t spook fish, and a number 6 hook a couple of feet below the bobber. If the fish are less than hand sized, a number 8 hook might be better.
Scott Ingram of Lindy Fishing Tackle suggests rigging a Thill Premium Slip Float on your line below a bobber stop. When you need to change depth, you can move the stop up or down, and a slip bobber lessens the chance of spooking fish when casting. It works great with both live and artificial bait.
A bottom rig – a split-shot sinker, swivel and hook – dragged along the lake bottom often attracts perch and bullheads. Angling for these guys with a bobber works too if you gauge the depth of the water and fish near the bottom.
Fishing With Artificial Bait
Some fishermen prefer to go after panfish with artificial bait. And some have no choice, since live-bait fishing isn’t allowed on certain waterways.
Jim Burrows of Pure Fishing believes the right kind of artificial bait can be as effective as live bait and points out that artificial bait won’t die. He even uses them when he takes his grandchildren fishing.
Because fish are unpredictable critters that can go into a funk at the slightest change in weather, it’s good to have a variety of artificial baits on hand when you’re angling for panfish. Matt Jensen of Rapala says any of their ultra-light series of hard baits is a good choice. If crappie or sunfish are lurking, he suggests you try Blue Fox Vibrax baits. They’re proven performers.
There are many ways to catch panfish, and your Dunham’s sales consultant can help you choose gear that’s best for you and your family. I can’t wait to get out to some of the local lakes with my granddaughter again this summer, and she’s as anxious as I am. Landing game fish is a thrill, but introducing a youngster to the joys of fishing is equally rewarding.
-Hook, Line & Sinker
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Hook, Line, and Simple

Finding the right fishing gear has never been easier.
by Tony Wilson
When the ice melts and the leaves return to the trees, it’s time to get back out on the lake and land that trophy lunker. For beginning anglers and veterans alike, though, it takes a combination of having the right equipment and knowing the lake and its inhabitants to be successful.
Should you fall in the beginner category, have no fear. There is plenty of gear at Dunham’s Sports to get even the most inexperienced fisherman the tools needed for fishing season. Companies like Rapala, Shakespeare, Abu Garcia, and Eagle Claw ensure that all fishermen are geared up from the season’s start to its finish.
“The Rapala brand is a great way to start,” said Matt Jensen of Rapala. “Rapala has all the essential lures, tools, and knives to help new anglers gear up for the season. For an angler who is new to fishing, the best thing they can do is to work with a sporting goods manager to ensure that they start out purchasing products that are simple and easy to use.”
John Vander Sloot of Eagle Claw, echoes similar advice, though he advises beginners to start small. There’s no need to get the top-of-the-line gear unless you have top-of-the-line experience.
“My best advice for someone who is going to purchase gear for the first time is to start on the low end of the pricing scale,” Vander Sloot explained. “Dunham’s does a great job of carrying entry level combos (rod and reel purchased together) that can get a person into the sport at a reasonable cost.”
Scott Ingram of Pradco, which produces products like Yum soft baits and hard lures like Hula Poppers, Jitterbugs, and Pop R’s, advises shoppers not to be intimidated by a large selection, similar to one you’d find at a Dunham’s.
“When you walk into a Sporting Goods store, such as a Dunham’s, the fishing department can be overwhelming,” Ingram explains. “This is a great place to start the learning experience. Never be afraid to ask questions. You will be rewarded when you hit the water.”
When selecting fishing equipment, the options may seem overwhelming. There is a variety of different types of rods, reels, lines, lures, and tackle boxes, and each is meant for varying levels of fishing experience.
“In today’s environment, selecting the proper equipment to start fishing has never been easier,” said Jim Burrows of Pure Fishing. “Dunham’s Sports carries a large selection of combos, covering every need from Ultralite combos for pan fishing to 6’ or 6 1/2’ light, medium, or medium-heavy combos for walleye, bass, and northern fishing.”
When selecting a rod, anglers will see that some are plastic, some are graphite, and some are fiberglass. But what’s the difference, and what makes one better than the other? According to Vander Sloot, the differences in material will increase with the price of the rod.
“When an angler steps up in cost they will start seeing rods made out of graphite,” Vander Sloot explains. “While fiberglass is tougher and more durable, graphite is lighter and more sensitive to the action that is going on with the line.”
As far as how to select a quality line, there are a few different choices. According to Jim Burrows, a monofilament line is the most popular. Monofilament lines, like Berkeley’s Trilene XL, is a solid choice for open water and Berkley’s Trilene XT for dirty water with obstructions like dock poles, weeds, large rocks, and the like. A fluorocarbon line is better for clearer water. It reacts with light, making it virtually invisible to fish.
Finally, braided lines, like Spider Wire, are known for their near indestructibility. So you have the rod, reel, and tackle — but how exactly do you catch fish? There are plenty of different techniques, all reliant on water depth, outside temperature, and weather, to name a few. But one key, according to Burrows, is to just tag along with someone who has that experience.
“For a person who has never fished or may not have fished since a child but would like to, there are several ways to approach it,” said Burrows. “First I would recommend trying to find a friend or family member who fishes and ask to go with them. This approach will allow you to talk with them and to use their knowledge to assist you in picking out the proper equipment to meet your needs.”
“My best advice is to simply be on the water,” Jensen added. “An angler cannot catch a fish from the cabin, but time on the water will help anglers learn more about where they are fishing.”
It doesn’t just take the best rod and reel — it takes the most patience, experience, and ability to learn about the sport. But by asking questions with the insightful staff at your local Dunham’s, you’ll need to make room on your mantle.
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