Freshwater Fishing: Catching Catfish, Bass, Crappie, Perch, Bluegill and Other Panfish

Tips and tricks for landing a delicious dinner of smaller freshwater fish such as bluegill, crappie, catfish and more.

| August/September 1995

Have you checked prices at the fish market lately? Fresh-caught swordfish, halibut, salmon, and shrimp of significant size cost the better part of 10 bucks a pound. Even once-dirt-cheap ocean whitefish such as fillets of cod or haddock go for double the price of red meat, and several times the cost of poultry. And by all reports, prices will continue to rise. Deep-sea fish stocks around the world have been decimated by over-harvest, weather changes, and pollution. And, belatedly—but better late than never-the U.S. and Canadian government regulators are reducing the catch further by closing major fishing grounds so the huge factory ships with their otter trawls, drift nets, electronic fish locators, and on-board flash-freezers don't gobble up the last of the breeding stocks and make Atlantic cod and Pacific salmon truly endangered species.

However, there is a wild fish resource that's both self-renewing and so abundant that the lack of exploitation can be a problem. It is also free for the taking and easy for anyone to catch.

I don't mean "Government Fish": hatchery-raised rainbows, togue, or lake trout, nor do I mean lunker black bass, landlocked salmon, or walleyes, tacklebustin' Northern pike, or muskies. These are all properly deemed gamefish—a public natural resource that, like ducks, deer, and other wildlife-is husbanded by sportsmen's groups such as Ducks Unlimited and B.A.S.S., and managed by relatively beneficent government agencies for the benefit of recreational sportsmen ...who willingly underwrite their friendly Fish & Game wardens, hatcheries, and stocking programs through license fees, stamps, and taxes on bait and tackle.

I refer to the abundant, easy to catch panfish that are seldom sought for sport, but are left to kids with cane poles and bent pins ...if they're fished for at all. An intermediate link in the freshwater food chain, these mostly foot-long-or-under species feed on bugs and minnows and in turn are eaten by bigger game fish, raccoons, fish eagles ...and by you and me. Indeed, they got the name "panfish" because they fit so well into a hot frying pan.

First come the bottom-dwelling catfish that can be caught in any water: both the big blue channel cat (that prefer faster moving rivers and clear lakes and can grow to almost four feet and 60 pounds in big water) and ordinary mudcats found in more sluggish waterways, and often called bullhead, madtom, horned pout, yellerbelly, of whiskers, and other regional names of gustatory affection. They all shuck out of their skins into succulent fish sticks that demand to be blackened with Cajun spices, or pan fried and served up with hush puppies and Cole slaw Tom Sawyer-style. Then there are the free-swimming schools of white and yellow bass and crappie that are best caught in open water from boats.

For shore fishing, the continent hosts more than 30 species of brightly colored, slab-sided sunfish variously called rock bass, cracker, pun'kinseed, bluegill, sunny, red-ear, or green-ear. All of 'em are called bream (pronounced brem) in the South. One or another can be found in preternatural abundance along rocky shores, under docks, overhanging trees, and undercut sod banks. . . and lurking at the edges of shallow weed beds, under snags, and along drop-offs in practically every lake, pond, deep puddle, river, stream, creek, bayou, branch, ditch, slough, swamp, marsh, bog, and backwater of the land.

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