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We’re getting into that time of year when the mornings and evenings are cool but the midday is still hot – too hot to paint, as I found out when I set out to work on the north side of the cabin. Painting around windows is slow, tedious work, too difficult in the heat of the day. I gave it an honest try, but gave in to nature once again. Maybe next month, when it’s a little cooler!
I happily traded my paintbrush for a fishing rod. Even in the hottest part of the day pickerel will bite, and if I want bass or trout I just need to wait a few hours till the shadows hit the water. The bigger fish will move inshore as the water temperatures cool and I can have the water all to myself while more sensible people stay indoors or lounge by the pool.
August is the perfect time to fill the freezer with fish for winter chowders. Maine’s abundant panfish (horned pout, yellow perch, white perch and bluegills) are perfect hot-weather targets, fun for seasoned anglers to catch and the ideal starter species for young fishermen armed with department store push-button rods. I have a photo of me taken when I was about four years old, proudly holding a 4-inch bluegill I’d caught while dapping with my trusty Zebco off the camp dock. All these years later I still enjoy filling a bucket with these common summertime fish.
At this time of year the more popular trout, salmon and even bass are down deep and difficult to catch – no fun if you’re a kid or an angler who just wants some action. Get into a school of perch, ‘gills or horned pout and you will likely run out of bait before they run out of interest.
Happily for all concerned, it doesn’t take a three-day class at a fancy fishing school to learn how to catch panfish. Tie a bobber on the line about three feet above your hook; add a cricket, garden worm or grasshopper, toss it out there and wait. Absolutely nothing to it! In a minute or two your bobber will begin to wiggle and wobble, and then it will plunge beneath the surface with a splash. Fish on!
For beginner-level fun, sit on the dock and fish, fish off a bridge, or just cut a forked stick to hold your rod and fish from shore. Fish near a culvert or bridge, and toss your offering as close to the weeds as you dare, then hang on. If panfish were as big as sharks it would not be safe to go into the even near the water.
Experienced anglers who can’t sit still can opt for fly-rodding or spinning tackle. The standard “fly” for August panfishing is not really a fly, it’s a “popper.” The most rudimentary of these are made of a small piece of cork impaled on a small hook (point up to make it weedless). Cast your popper out there, let it sit a minute, and then skip it slowly across the surface, making every effort to “pop” it through open holes in the weeds, near rocks and logs – or just out there among the zillions of rising panfish.
Poppers can be as simple as a raw cork, but most anglers want some realism in their offerings. Poppers are available in a wide variety of sizes, colors and designs; some resemble bugs, some resemble frogs, some don’t look like anything found in nature but the fish don’t care. Make it hop, pop and splash and you will catch fish.
Lures for panfish can be spinners, plugs or crankbaits but the common denominator is . . . make them small! Most panfish have small, paper-thin mouths and can miss a large lure or have the lure ripped from their grasp by over-eager anglers. Use tiny, flashy lures (small Rooster Tails or Mr. Twister Teenys are perfect) and fish them slow but steadily through weeds and other cover.
Very early or late in the day, fish from a boat or canoe so you can reach those big schools of feeding fish you see splashing and feeding on the surface just out of shoreline casting range. Get into a school of hungry white or yellow perch and you’ll wish you had brought two buckets to fill instead of one!
During the hours of darkness the only panfish that remains active is the horned pout. These miniature catfish are so abundant there is no limit on them, and on a good evening you should be able to fill your buckets and the boat with them. Most horned pout are less than 10 inches long, but the smaller ones are the most flavorful, anyway. Also known as bullheads, these whiskery fish will take any live bait, cut bait or prepared bait (cheese balls, dough balls and such) with abandon. Each fall I save my deer, moose and bear livers for summertime catfishing. I cut the livers into one-inch chunks and freeze them in 50-count containers with a little anise added for flavor (the scent brings the fish in from quite a distance). When I’m ready to fish I’ll take a container out of the freezer and put it in the hot sun for a few hours so it’s nice and ripe when I head for the lake. I wear rubber gloves while handling this stuff, but it’s worth the trouble – horned pout eat liver chunks like candy.
Most folks know how to fillet perch and bluegills using an electric knife, but no weaponry is needed to clean a bullhead. Simply grasp the fish by the head, body in the other and snap smartly back on the spine. Pull the head, skin and viscera away from the meat, which can be breaded and fried or grilled. Catfish is considered to be a delicacy in some areas of the country (notably the South, where fried catfish stands are almost as common as churches!).
No matter which species of panfish you prefer, I can tell you that fishing for them definitely beats wielding a paint brush in August!
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