Targeting panfish from a plastic boat

kayak panfish
Look for crappie and bream species to begin staging for the spawn by first of March.

Set up for crappie, shellcrackers, bluegill as spawn arrives

For many kayak anglers, early spring ushers in panfish season. As soon as waters begin to warm and daylight begins to stretch later into the evening, panfish, notably crappie and bream species, begin making preparations for the upcoming spawn.

Kayak anglers have a unique opportunity when it comes to tackling panfish in the shallows. No navigable water is off limits. That gives wood and sandy bottom nesters no place to hide.

To specifically target panfish from a kayak, anglers can make the pursuit much easier with a few rigging tips. The beauty of kayak fishing is that a plastic boat is very similar to a Mister Potato Head. Parts are interchangeable, giving the paddler the option of rigging the same boat for different species.


More than other panfish species, the multiple-rod approach has long been a stand-by for powerboat crappie anglers. And it’s making it’s way into the plastic-boat set. A set of track rails, available as accessories at most finer kayak retail outlets, can assist with temporarily positioning rods by pairing rod holder mounts with track feet that slide in and slide out of the rail when not needed.

Metal rod holders are an option. But most kayak-mounted rod holders tend to be of the positional plastic variety from manufacturers such as Scotty, Ram, Yak Attack and Railblaza.

Anglers can position rod holders to troll forward for tight-line fishing or positioned to long-line troll behind the boat.


Shellcracker fishing can present an either/or option when it comes to number of rods. Fishing with baited lines fan-cast around the boat requires a number of rod holders, while also necessitating the use of an anchoring system.

For stationary, fan-casting lines around the boat, it’s important to anchor both ends to keep the kayak from swinging over your lines in the wind. A combination stake-out pole, bottom-anchor set or Power Pole will work in water up to 8 feet deep. Deeper than that, and the options become more dual-bottom anchor systems.


Fishing for bluegill, more commonly known as bream in the Carolinas, is typically more of a single-pole operation. But one or two anchoring systems are advisable to keep the boat stationary once an angler locates a concentration of bream.

Sonar capabilities are useful for all types of panfishing. Knowing the bottom depth gives you an advantage. Being able to read bottom density and structure  does too. Panfish often prefer wood structure and/or sandy, hard-packed bottom for staging and spawning.

Slabs: 1 pole or many

Early in the spring, crappie move along traditional routes on their way to spawning grounds. And spawning will begin to take place by the end of March and into April in both Carolinas. One of the best ways to catch crappie during the prespawn migration is by trolling, either pushing baits forward or pulling multiple rods behind the boat. For this, your kayak needs rod holders.

Rod holders can be positioned either along each gunwale or across the front. Rigging for tight-lining, aka spider rigging, allows the angler to push baits forward. This requires using 12- to 14-foot, light-action rods to dangle the baits out in front of the boat.

“We have designed rod-holder systems for kayaks that let you tight-line or long-line troll same as you would from a power boat,” said David Baynard, owner of Driftmaster in Manning, S.C.

Allow room to paddle

If using a paddle versus a pedal-driven kayak, be sure to allow room on each side for the paddle to clear without hitting the rods. Typical tight-lining speeds are slow, less than 1 mph. So a deep, easy paddle stroke is sufficient to propel the kayak when chasing panfish.

The same setup also needs to be adjustable to spread rods to each side to long-line troll behind the boat. Make sure rods extend far enough to the right and left so you aren’t paddling into your lines. Another tip is to stagger the lengths of rods so lines are spread out. And angle each rod holder successively, higher to lower so one rod does not bend back into the next rod when a fish is on.

Once crappie move to the backs of creeks to spawn, it’s time to ditch the multiple rods and go with one jigging or shooting rod. That dead-end cut that was full of undergrowth last summer is now full of water and crappie. A road that crosses a culvert between the main lake and one of these sloughs will be an excellent place to dump a kayak to fish an area no powerboat can reach.

“There are areas in the drainage creeks so shallow you can’t get an outboard in there. But a one-man boat slides right through,” said angler Whitey Outlaw of St. Matthews, S.C. “Not only that, but sometimes the bigger, spawning fish will be on nests only a foot deep and I can ease up within a pole length and pick them off.”

Best Bets


WHAT —  Crappie

WHERE — B. Everett Jordan Lake

HOW — Trolling 1/16-ounce jigs behind your kayak

LAUNCH — A list of public access sites can be found at

INSIDER TIP — Jordan’s predominantly white crappie population prefers larger profile baits. To create a more appetizing bait, use larger 2- to 3 inch jig bodies and/or tip your jig with a medium minnow.


WHAT — Bream

WHERE — Lake Moultrie

HOW — Target offshore brush piles in 12 to 15 feet of water using worms and crickets

LAUNCH — Public launch areas on the lake can be found at

INSIDER TIP — If you don’t know the locations of any other brushpiles, a map of public fishing structures can be found on the SCDNR website at

Lew’s bream stick

Lew’s Bream Sticks were the original bream poles that took the panfish market by storm back in Lew’s earliest days. There have been some improvements in materials and construction, but those good ole’ fish-catching actions are like they used to be. They are perfect for kayak panfish anglers.

Bream Sticks are light but strong, sensitive but tough, and priced to fit the wallets of even the most budget-minded anglers. They feature a telescopic, multi-section blank with a built-in hook keeper that extends easily to full length and collapses to a compact size for easy storage.

Bream Sticks come in 10- and 12-foot lengths.

MSRP is $12.99 to $14.99.

Available at

Power-Pole micro

When you’re getting up close and personal in your small vessel, there’s nothing better to have onboard than the Power-Pole Micro. This little anchor system offers big stopping power with a silent and secure hold. The all-electric Micro is ultra-compact and designed to deliver while you’re fishing in your small craft.

The Micro features a lightweight, compact design with virtually silent operation, including an adjustable mounting bracket, 2-button key fob remote and an advanced dash switch.

The Micro will hold john boats and small skiffs up to 1,500 pounds, perfect for kayaks and paddleboards. The driver unit is easily-removable, making storage or transfer simple.

It also includes an adjustable mounting bracket. The anchoring system includes a 15-foot power cable for a 12V battery; if no on-board battery is available, add the Micro battery pack & charger and go wherever adventure takes you.

MSRP is $599.99

Available at

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Phillip Gentry
About Phillip Gentry 769 Articles
Phillip Gentry of Greenville, S.C., is host of “Upstate Outdoors,” a weekly radio show that can be heard on Saturdays at noon on WORD 106.3 FM.

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