by Jeff Weaver
To some serious walleye anglers pulling high priced leeches, or a plumb aired up crawler, the constant rattle of a sunfish pecking at your bait, trying to get a meal is about enough to drive one crazy.
Fast forward to the middle of winter, with a foot of snow and three feet of ice, the site of a sunny coming through the hole is to many a trophy in itself. So how can a fish which has entertained kids for hours and provided some excellent table fare for folks forever still have a reputation of a hero or a zero? It’s all about the timing.
Now is the time to hit the water in search of some of those big bull gills. It’s also a great time to get the kids out for some fast and furious action which only a sunny can provide.
The simple rule of thumb I like to use for finding those larger sunnies is to go deep off the weedlines.
A typical location you may want to search for is some type of inside corner leading out to an underwater point. Many of these corners will have a heavy vegetative cover which will act like a magnet for the larger sunfish.
A real easy presentation is to anchor up just out from the corner, and use a pan-fish jig under a slip bobber. Bait of choice would be a real lively pan-fish size leech, but an old reliable angle worm dug up in the garden will always get the job done.
Another prime location to look for larger sunnies is off the edge of the weedline on smaller wind-swept, sunken islands. Wind hitting the edges of these types of structure can really put the larger sunnies, walleyes and bass into a feeding frenzy.
My preferred presentation is to backtroll the boat very slowly against the wind and pitch back small jigs tipped with leeches. Another presentation which also works while backtrolling is to use a light-weight Lindy Rig with a panfish leech. Any one of these presentations can be extremely productive.
Another location to look for larger sunnies is in the deeper water bull rushes. In some lakes which have good clear water, you may find bull rushes out in water as deep as 10-12 feet deep.
If this scenario is one you may know of, look for thicker clumps of bull rushes which may have some submergent vegetation in the mix. This is a prime spot for some good sunny action.
As a kid, my aunties would take a pile of kids on an old pontoon to such a location. We would anchor up and fish with cane poles, red and white bobbers, and hook and a split shot.
Angle worms were the bait of choice, or if we got lucky while digging the worms up, a big old white grub would be thrown into the bait bucket.
One would be remiss not to recognize the most tried and true tactic for catching numbers of sunnies. A good dock, a five gallon pail, a bucket of bait and a rod and reel has kept kids and adults entertained for hours upon hours.
As for table fare, there is nothing better than panfish. As a kid, we would scale them, cut out the dorsal fin, pull the entrails and cut off the head.
When it was time to eat them, we would coat them with some flour and put them into the frying pan with butter and fry them up to be golden brown on each side.
With a larger sunny, filleting them works well. There is nothing better than a potato chip size fillet battered and cooked in some hot oil.
Sometimes it’s those simple things in life which can make a difference. Without question, the sunfish is one of those staples which are part of the fabric of life as we know it. They are plentiful, they are easy to access and they provide an inexpensive way to enjoy the outdoors.
Get out there and take a kid with you.
Jeff Weaver is a frequent contributor to the Outdoors page.