Fly Fishing Equipment for Panfish
Panfish is one of the most widely available fish species in North America. Furthermore, these fish are quick to accept flies and, despite their size, put up a good fight when hooked. Sunfish are an excellent fly fishing target for both beginners and expert fly fishers due to their unique blend of characteristics.
Bluegills are highly numerous in your area and are perhaps the most frequent sunfish. However, bluegill are far from the only variety of panfish found in abundance, such as the pumpkinseed sunfish shown above.
Let’s take a look at some of the best panfish flies and then speak about the gear you’ll need for fly fishing for sunfish.
Flies for Panfish
Sunfish are opportunistic predators that feed on both aquatic and terrestrial insects that fall into bodies of water. They also eat other species’ young, smaller minnows, and worms, as do most fish species.
Panfish are not picky eaters because they are opportunistic. Therefore they will consume a wide variety of flies.
Panfish can be caught with trout dries, topwater flies, nymphs, and streamers. Because some panfish, such as crappie, have large jaws, they can take larger flies. However, because many other panfish species have smaller jaws, the flies must be designed correctly. Most of my panfish fly fishing is done with flies in the 8-12 size range. Crappie are an exception, and I’ll use flies as little as size 2 to catch them.
Basic trout flies work well for panfish, but bold and flashy patterns can be even more effective. Because panfish aren’t fussy, a fly designed to attract a fish’s attention will outperform a fly tied to replicate a natural prey item perfectly. This deviation from the “match the hatch” approach to fly fishing for trout and other selective species is so common.
Colors like red, orange and pink are quite effective. When combined with a twitchy retrieve, adding movement to the fly, such as marabou tails, rubber legs, or soft hackle collars, is an efficient approach to elicit a strike.
When I’m fishing streamers, I usually take it slow. Sunfish will pursue a fleeing prey item, but a slow-moving prey item is much more likely to be picked at. As a result, I’ve found that a slow retrieve is the most successful. Woolly buggers and leech patterns in appropriate sizes have been the most fruitful flies for me, and they make up the majority of my panfish fly box.
Nymphing has also been shown to be a very successful way to catch panfish. If you’re not getting any bites, a quick twice every 5-10 seconds should attract any surrounding fish’s attention.
As previously indicated, a basic dry fly developed for trout will also perform well for panfish. However, if you’re looking for panfish-specific flies, I recommend hopper and damselfly patterns, as well as adequately sized gurlgers and poppers.
Weedless flies may make things easier for you depending on the water you’re fishing, particularly if you’re fishing later in the summer when aquatic plant growth is at its peak.
Small poppers work well as a topwater fly for catching sunfish.
Fly Fishing Equipment for Panfish
Fly Reel, Fly Rod, and Fly Line
When it comes to sunfish, unlike some other species, no specific equipment is required. A fly fishing panfish rig can be made with a general-purpose fly rod designed for trout or bass. Use common sense here, and don’t try to catch panfish with a spey rod!
An all-purpose sunfish fly rod should be in the 5wt to 6wt weight range. Going this heavy is also good if panfish coexist with bass since these rods will have the necessary backbone to handle a rogue smallie or largemouth.
You can get away with a smaller fly rod if you’re not going to be throwing larger flies like poppers or bead-head streamers. A specialist panfish fly rod should be in the 3wt to 4wt weight range.
Combo of a 7-foot 3/4-weight fly fishing rod and reel (Amazon Link)
When fishing for sunfish, long-distance casts are rarely necessary. The majority of the time, you’ll be casting quick, precise casts. Therefore, a fly rod with a shorter, medium action (or even slow action) is preferable to one with long, quick action. For panfish, a medium-action fly rod with a length of roughly 7′ works nicely.
A word about choosing a fly line: if you live in a warmer climate (for example, the southern United States), a warm water fly line may be preferable to a regular trout line. Warmwater fly lines are made with chemicals that prevent them from getting limp in the summer heat.
While the reel is a vital aspect of the rod setup, you may get away with a low-cost reel. The most crucial factor to consider is finding a reel that is appropriately balanced for the fly rod you’ll be using. This helps a lot with casting. When you buy a combo fly rod starter bundle, you can rest comfortably that the reel and rod are correctly matched.
Sunfish aren’t known for being line-shy, so there’s no need to use a very light line (although you can often get away with it). I usually use a 5lb Leader (Amazon Link) for panfish, but if I think there’s a good chance of hooking into a bass, I switch to an 8lb leader. A lighter line aids the presentation of the fly. If you use an excessively heavy tippet, the action of the fly will be reduced.
Variety of Panfish
The sunfish family (Centrarchidae) is commonly referred to as panfish. There are several different sunfish species in the sunfish family, and these fish have a wide range of distribution across North America.
Bluegill, Pumpkinseed, Black Crappie, White Crappie, Rock Bass, Warmouth, Redear, Coppernose, and Green Sunfish are all sunfish family members. The most prevalent species differ depending on geological area and waterbody. As previously said, bluegills are one of the most common sunfish species.
Sunfish includes largemouth, smallmouth, and other sport bass species. However, no one considers a bass to be a sunfish when it comes to sport fishing.
Finally, some thoughts. If you’re seeking to introduce someone new to fly fishing, panfish are an excellent choice. They’re numerous, ready to strike, and commonly appear in easy-to-reach areas.