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Stealth Rigging Panfish

Borrowing finesse bass rigs for endless crappie, bluegill and panfish action

Sometimes, it pays to pitch for panfish as if they’re merely miniaturized versions of their larger bass brethren. In a way, they are. As members of the (Centrarchidae) sunfish family, species like bluegills, crappies and bass, in fact, all share a common pedigree. 

The connection is even closer than anglers realize, as each of these species regularly co-mingle near the same aquatic turf, feasting upon the very same prey. Crayfish, insect larvae and tiny shad and shiners all whet the appetites of these communal predators. Bass and big bluegills frequently stalk the same rock-strewn turf, nosing around in little nooks and crevices for concealed crayfish, or larval insects clinging to the hard cover. Same deal on boat docks. 

Just as often, they’re hovering and hunting around the fringes of brush and aquatic plants where baitfish hide. Here, bass, crappies and adult bluegills chomp and even cannibalize scads of baby, thumbnail-sized panfish. 

Whether close to cover or cherry-picking emerging insects in the abyss, panfish frequently feed up and off bottom, leaning on their nearsighted talents to inspect potential prey, eye-to-eye. Picture a single big crappie or sunfish, nosed right up close and personal with their next meal, examining it for several seconds before finally scooting in for the kill shot. Imagine then the power of presenting a bait that hovers and quivers continuously in the water column, rather than sinking to the bottom and out of the strike zone. 

Offering all the depth precision of a slip bobber or float rig, yet with the added ability to traverse the bottom terrain, micro-sized finesse rigs remain among the deadliest yet most overlooked panfish presentations of all. But accomplishing the valuable “hover” portion of the presentation relies solely on a new generation of specialized superplastics—exceedingly soft and lively, impossibly durable and perhaps most important, naturally buoyant. 

A sweet little secret is that some of the best finesse bass methods— dropshot, Carolina and Tokyo/Cherry rigs—become crappie and panfish… | Instagram

Micro “Hover” Rigs
Consider the value of a micro finesse dropshot, Carolina or Cherry (aka Tokyo) rig, coupled with a softbait that floats and hovers naturally in the water column. Often, panfish graze insatiably on emerging insect larvae that hatch out of soft bottom. In other waters, crappies and sunfish crunch crayfish and bugs, such as dragonfly larva, clinging to the upper branches of aquatic plants, vertical dock pilings, or tangles of brush.

In each of these fish-attracting scenarios, a Z-Man LarvaZ™, StingerZ™ or Baby BallerZ™ rigged on a dropshot soars at a set depth, continuously. The natural buoyancy of this specialized ElaZtech material offers ample loft to float the hook itself, tirelessly hovering and twitching nervously, right in the fish’s strike zone. Little tics of the rodtip make the bait’s tail kick, dance and undulate in place, mimicking the exact movements of a live larva. The durable nature of the softbait material keeps the bait on the hook and won’t tear, even if you merely impale it once through the nose with a #8 to #14 hook. Or thread it onto the hook shank for a more horizontal posture while maintaining complete tail motion.

If sonar shows fish staged two feet off bottom, rig the dropshot with the hook riding 2-1/2 to 3 feet off bottom. Most panfish enthusiastically swim up to feed, so always better to keep your bait at eye level or a foot or two above. When fish gather closer to the substrate, switch to a shortened dropshot or “Cherry” rig, pinning the bait/hook within inches of the bottom. Once again, the buoyancy of the ElaZtech material keeps the bait hovering right at the fish’s eye level and out of soft mucky bottoms, where a traditional soft plastic will descend and disappear.

As noted, tail-kicking microbaits like the LarvaZ and StingerZ shine for moving slowly around smaller areas where fish gather. For covering more water or for imitating faster moving baitfish, switch to a micro finesse swimbait like the Shad FryZ™ and drag the rig slightly faster across the terrain. Moreover, the versatile Micro GOAT™ imitates both a crayfish or a baitfish. Rigged flat and retrieved with a slower, rod-twitching cadence, the Micro GOAT resembles a crayfish. But arranged on the hook vertically and retrieved faster, the GOAT’s twin tails become a double tail swimbait with an alluring scissor-kick action . .

About Z-Man Fishing Products: A dynamic Charleston, South Carolina based company, Z-Man Fishing Products has melded leading edge fishing tackle with technology for nearly three decades. Z-Man has long been among the industry’s largest suppliers of silicone skirt material used in jigs, spinnerbaits and other lures. Creator of the Original ChatterBait®, Z-Man is also the renowned innovators of 10X Tough ElaZtech® softbaits, among the most coveted baits in fresh- and saltwater. Z-Man is one of the fastest-growing lure brands worldwide. 

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