Deep structure can be relative, but the location is often reserved for walleye or perhaps lake trout. So often, anglers targeting panfish, sunfish in particular, often focus on basins but the search is so often concentrated on transitions that correlate with inside or outside turns. These classic spots are definitely worth the exploration and often hold fish. Sharp breaks featuring good weed growth that cut along a basin are another classic top pick for panfish.
One of my favorite locations for panfish, however, if it exists, is any type of mound or hump that exists within the basin. These basin humps or rolls don’t have to be big or obvious, sometimes they are no bigger than twenty square feet. They are usually best if they are soft bottom, that is no rocks or harder substrate. Just a bump on the bottom that sticks up from the basin. Some of these sweet spots only poke up a foot or two from the bottom so they are not always obvious on a contour map.
Finding these locations can be difficult. Many lake chips offer one-foot contours but many lakes have vague contour mapping with five-foot contours. Reading basins with existing contour maps first means understanding how contour maps are often made. When a lake is surveyed, a boat basically drives a grid pattern across the lake mapping the sonar data. This data is then converted into a contour map with a computer program. The wider the grid, the less accurate contours. On more popular and heavily fished bodies of water, the grids are tighter and more time is spent to create the most accurate map.
Smaller, less fished bodies of water don’t create the demand to spend the time to create the best map, simple economics. The best way I have found these small soft bottom humps is to spend time scouring a map zoomed in all the way looking for anything irregular. Remember that a hump might not look like a hump, could be a finger or turn on the contour. What you will also find are locations that look like a hump does exist on a map but finding that no such rise exists. Finding these locations can be frustrating and takes some work and a little bit of luck but they are worth the work.
What I like about these hard-to-find locations is the fact that they often hold big fish and they also seem to recharge. That is, they hold big fish and attract other roaming fish in the area. You can sit over these spots because they just seem to pull in new fish that are in the surrounding basin. When you find these sweet spots, save the coordinate.
Typically on these types of locations, we find panfish simply hovering around the bump. As a rule of thumb, the more stained the water, the closer these fish seem to ride to the bottom but even with clear water, we typically find fish within ten feet of the bottom when they are on these locations. Especially the larger fish. Because of the depth involved with many basins where an angler might be fishing as deep as thirty or more feet, presentations that cut through the water column fast are important.
Tungsten jigs like the Northland Tackle Tungsten Fireball teamed up with three pound Bionic Flourocarbon is a solid combination. Another sometimes overlooked presentation for deep panfish are small spoons like the Forage Minnow. On tough bites, the Forage Minnow with a hanging treble hook can sometimes work better than the small horizontal jigs often associated with the finesse required to catch fish that are off. The reason being is that with a tough bite, the fish will suck and spit more and sometimes bump the wrong end of a jig.
For deep panfish, I like the hook set response and leverage of slightly heavier rod blanks because it does take more leverage to set the hook fast in deep water. If you are using a spring bobber, combine the spring with a stiffer rod action. Our Meat Stick line up of glass noodle rods are extremely popular with anglers because of the fast hard backbone that enables you to snap a solid hook set.
With the small spoons, no matter how the spoon is turned and no matter how the fish approaches, there is a hook facing the fish. There are pros and cons of every presentation and picking the jig or lure is often a result of efficiency. Spoons shine whenever you need to pull fish in from greater distances and need more visibility. They work great on tough bites if the fish are not giving you that second gulp. They can work against you if you are on a better bite where it takes longer to unhook a deep treble hook versus a single hook or if the fish won’t approach the larger profile.
Tungsten jigs and small spoons however are a good one-two punch because the mood can often change and vary through a typical day. Some of the deeper basins seem to fish much better with some sunshine overhead. You will often get windows of activity where you mark fish and pull your hair out, fighting for every bite. A good bite will often come in spurts and is usually ignited by catching a fish. This is why spoons and tungsten jigs work so well, you need to get back down fast before the activity dies.
These types of patterns or locations are a favorite of mine because they usually are hard to find and don’t get fished much. These spots also usually hold larger fish. We often find smaller fish scattered throughout the basin all through the water column but the larger panfish seem to claim these small pieces of structure for their own. This winter, make a point to analyze your favorite panfish holes further and be observant as these basin locations might not jump out at you. Sometimes, we have stumbled on to these spots with dumb luck. When you can find these main basin bumps, however, they typically do hold panfish.
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