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Fishing for Panfish

Typical bobber and worm rig


Fishing rod: ultra-light to medium/light rods are best. The lighter the action of the rod, the more you will feel the fight of a fish.

Reel: use spinning or spin casting reels with a good drag. The reel action (for example, ultra-light) should match the action of your fishing rod.

Hooks: sizes 6 to 10 are best. Using a long shank hook such as a Aberdeen style hook may help in removal of a swallowed hook.

Line: 6-8 lb. test. Use stronger line in weedy waters to prevent fish from breaking the line against the weeds.

Bobbers: use the smallest bobber you can. There is a trade off. A larger bobber allows you to cast further and to see it better; however, a larger bobber can be felt by the fish and cause it to ignore your bait.

Sinkers: small split shot, slip sinkers, and egg sinkers are most commonly used when fishing the bottom. When using a lot of weight, use a slip or egg sinker so the fish will not feel resistance when it takes the bait.

Typical bottom rig
Example of a bottom rig.

Tips for Catching Panfish

Fishing for panfish is fun. Panfish can be caught easily by beginners and are excellent to eat. While most panfish use some kind of cover, eat similar foods and can be caught using similar methods, there are differences between species. The following tips will help you become a better panfish angler. Remember, you can help maintain good quality panfish populations in your favorite lake or pond by only keeping the fish you intend to eat.



Sunfish (bluegills and pumpkinseeds) can be found around all types of structure, including weeds, rocks, brush, docks, and overhanging branches. Smaller sunfish form large schools and will bite quickly. Larger sunfish (8-10") usually are loners or may form small groups. They tend to be deeper than the smaller ones and are a little more finicky. A good rule of thumb is if you do not get a bite in 5 to 10 minutes, move to another area. Many bait and lures are used to catch sunfish. Live baits; such as crickets, grasshoppers, earthworms, grubs, and waxworms; work very well. These baits can be threaded onto a #8 or #10 hook and fished just over or next to structure. Small spinners, flies, poppers and jigs are all good choices for catching larger sunfish. Jigs and live bait can be fished slowly under a bobber over weeds or under overhanging limbs. Fishing slow is the key to catching sunfish. They generally bite better in the morning and evening, but they can be enticed to bite all day long.


Black Crappie
Black crappie

Fishing for crappies can also be very enjoyable and productive, provided you do it in the spring before crappies spawn. At this time they can be caught easily around weeds and brush. The best way to catch crappies is to fish in 3' - 6' of water with small jigs or minnows suspended under a small bobber. Worms, spinners, flies and small topwater lures will also work. Live bait can be used on a #6 hook. Fish all baits or lures slowly. Once a crappie is hooked, the line should be kept tight because their mouths are soft and tear easily. If slack line is given, you may lose the fish. During the heat of summer, crappies tend to suspend over deeper water. They may come to the surface to feed at dawn, dusk, or even during the night. When this happens, fishing is very good for a very short time until they mysteriously disappear.

Yellow Perch

Yellow Perch
Yellow perch

Yellow perch do well in a variety of waters. However, lakes with a good predator population and a few weeds will produce larger perch than lakes with many weeds and few predators. Perch can be caught on small minnows and worms fished on a #6 hook or on spoons, jigs, spinners and flies. The key to catching perch is keeping your bait near the bottom. Bobber rigs work well, but you may also want to try using a bottom rig with two hooks or vertical jigging. Castmasters and Swedish pimples tipped with waxworms work well for jigging. Once they start biting, get your line back in the water quickly because the increased action will create a feeding frenzy. Perch school by size. If all you catch are little ones, try moving to a different area or deeper water.


Brown Bullhead
Brown bullhead

Bullheads, unlike most other panfish, are bottom feeders and are generally not associated with structure. Spring and summer are prime seasons for bullheads. The best way to catch bullheads is to use doughballs, nightcrawlers or chicken livers on a #4 or #6 hook fished on the bottom. Best fishing tends to be in the evening or at night. There are three basic techniques used for bottom fishing. If the bullheads are close to shore or in shallow water, just add a couple of splitshot to the line. Another set-up involves tying the sinker on the bottom and the hook 8" - 12" above the sinker. The third way is the slip sinker method shown on the front cover.

Filleting Fish

  1. Make initial cut behind pectoral fin from backbone to stomach. Be careful not to puncture internal organs or sever backbone.
  2. Cut along the backbone down to rib cage.
  3. Continue cutting down and over the rib cage until entire fillet is free of fish.
  4. Take fillet and place skin down on fillet board. Insert knife between flesh and skin. Holding knife at an angle and using a sawing motion, remove fillet from skin.
  5. Place fillet in clean water. Turn fish over and repeat process.

See Care of Your Catch (PDF) for help filleting fish and photos of the process.

Cleaning Bullhead/Catfish

  1. A freshly caught fish will skin easier. Cut across the top of the back to the backbone between the head and dorsal fin. A short cut toward the top fin helps tear skin.
  2. Pull skin toward the tail with pliers; one pull on each half should tear off the skin. The second side will pick up the skin that is missed when tearing off the first side.
  3. Push head downward, breaking backbone at the point where the knife made a cut across back, removing the entrails, belly flesh, and front fins along with head in one motion.
  4. If desired, the remaining fins and tail may be removed before cooking. Large catfish need more of the skin cut around the head, along the back, and belly before skinning.

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