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Fish in a Barrel

After a week of pursuing stripers, Spanish mackerel, and bluefish, among other salt species, in river and Bay waters, I had a calm Labor Day holiday followed be a week of “quick hit” freshwater trips for panfish. During the unofficial end of summer weekend, who wants to contend with the yahoos on the water? (Wave-runners zipping 30mph in a 6-zone…seriously?!) I digress. With the kids back in school and everyone back to work, I turned my attention to some easy fishing at the local impoundment—a freshwater basin footsteps from commercial development that once served as the City of Annapolis’ drinking reservoir. You can read about this once-functional-turned-fun park in our Reel Adventure story here.

I’ve been fishing this water for almost 20 years and feel that I have a handle on easy targets, particularly the panfish. There’s largemouth bass, too, but they can be finicky as they’ve seen almost every lure mankind can throw at them. The panfish are stupid easy to catch though. Look for laydowns along the shoreline, cast out beyond them, let lure sink to bottom, and lightly jig back on the retrieve. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

My go-to panfish spin setup is a 6′ St. Croix Triumph rod paired to a Pflueger President reel (size 2000 equivalent).

My setup is simple—a 6′ ultralight St. Croix Triumph spinning rod paired with a Pflueger President reel (20 class size) that I’ve owned for about two decades. The reels Pflueger made in the early-2000s have stood the test of time….for me at least, and I’ve fished them hard. I spool 10# Powerpro braid as a mainline and run a 3′ leader of 8# Seaguar Basix flourocarbon. On the business end I tie on a 1/16 jighead with a loopknot and tip it with a 2″ Mr. Crappie lightning shad. Multiple colors of this little plastic work. I had fish hit salt/pepper, tuxedo/chartreuse, and white/chartreuse.

When retrieving lures around cover, such as large tree laydowns, you’re apt to run the exposed hook of the jig into branches and snag. To help avoid this, hold the rod tip high in the 10 o’clock position and keep a tight line to the lure. When snags do occur, I try two things to free the lure. First, the old bowstring method of “shooting” a lure out from cover. This guy put together an quick, effective demo of this method on YouTube. If that doesn’t work, then point your rod tip directly at the lure, retrieve the line until its taut, and everything is in a straight line to the lure. Gently walk back the entire setup until the hook bends out and the lure is free OR it breaks off. The lighter jigheads I use (again, 1/16oz) will usually bend out and free themselves on the gentle but assertive tug. Bend hook back into place and you’re good to go.

Yellow perch are a fun surprise catch in this Annapolis freshwater impoundment.

On the three trips I made this past week to the reservoir, I hiked to my preferred spot along the western shoreline to a compelling laydown nestled between overhanging tree canopy. Casting the lure beyond, around, and into the structure yielded catches on nearly every cast. Crappie, bluegill, and even yellow perch hit the tempting little lure and made for consistent, easygoing fun. The perfect fishing fix until I return to the river to hunt for larger species. See y’all on the water again, real soon!

Bluegill hold tight to shoreline structure in this impoundment.