Outdoors column: Catching suspended pan fish during midsummer

As water levels are beginning to drop and return to normal, so are the crappies and bluegills.

I have noticed on the water lately that the schools of crappies and sunfish are now moving to their midsummer haunts and that includes staying suspended over deep water.

This is a phenomenon you see during the warmer months where these pan fish are suspended out in deeper water to loaf and rest without being bothered. Oftentimes this is a temperature thing, and sometimes it is a food source thing.

Here is a primer on finding these fish and how to make them bite. These deep water fish are plentiful and right there under your nose.

Huge crappie caught on crank bait trolled through suspended crappies in July. Submitted photo
Huge crappie caught on crank bait trolled through suspended crappies in July.
Submitted photo

Believe your electronics

For years, I went over school after school of suspended pan fish in my boat and never realized what they were. It has taken years of on-the-water experiences to finally figure out the puzzle. Many anglers believe their electronic units are showing interference and don’t believe what they are seeing.

A good rule of thumb is to look for the color red inside the grey marks of the fish on your unit. A good school will have dark red color indicating a large grouping.

It also makes sense to have your interference and surface clutter settings properly adjusted to give you that good reading.

When the electronics are properly set, believe what you see.


Once you happen to run over a suspended school of either crappies or bluegills, expect most of the time to see fish about halfway down over the water you are traveling.

If you are in 30 feet of water, expect those fish to be suspended at halfway down, say 15 feet.

Once I determine I have just run over a school, I back off and drop my electric motor and hover on top of the school. Never anchor as this is too time consuming. Drop down a slip bobber with a small leech right smack into the school and watch for results.

You can also utilize your favorite metal blade bait that also works well vertically fished below the boat. The idea is to keep your boat above the groupings and drop the bait right into the school.

Run right through them with crank baits

This is my favorite technique as my collection of crank baits are able to be trolled precisely at the depths I have spotted the crappies and bluegills.

If you spot the suspended fish at 7 feet, troll through the school with a shallow running crank bait for best results. If you see them at 15 feet, grab one of your favorite deep-running crank baits and troll right through. This technique tends to trigger the bite and actually forces the active fish in the group to strike.

Remember, these are loafing and relaxed schools of crappies and bluegills that never get bothered. This is an untapped group of fish that never sees any pressure. They are there for those willing to expand their fishing horizons and experiment with something new. Next time on the water, abandon the shallows and strike out for those deep water suspended pan fish – they are waiting for you.

Steve Carney is a contributing writer to the Outdoors page.