When I first got started fishing, I began with a small Scooby-Doo spin cast combo and some very small lures such as tubes, jigs, and some 1/24 oz. to 1/16 oz. Rooster Tails. At the time, if I caught a one pound fish, I felt as if I was the most successful fisherman in the world. To this day, I still get a lot of excitement out of catching smaller fish; but in a slightly different manner.
Now, I like to target big Largemouth Bass in rivers using medium-heavy action rods and 50 lb. braided line on a bait casting reel. I never would have thought of casting into weeds with a top water frog, or even using a spinner bait that is the size of some of the panfish I used to catch as a youngster and to this day. However, this is the truth. I have large top water lures, big crank baits, and of course some big spinner baits. Even though I get a great amount of excitement from catching some trophy sized Largemouth Bass after navigating my kayak or canoe through rapids, rocks, grass, and some occasional portaging, I get just as much excitement from catching a beautiful little fish that is typically no larger than my hand. There is something to be said about the incredible detail of such vivid and vibrant colors that emerge from sunfish. The combination of a vivid orange with a blue that seems to have no description is sometimes what keeps me casting a line into the water. The good thing about sunfish, or panfish, is that there is a large variety of them and large quantities so that anglers both young and old can reel one in. Nearly anywhere in the U.S. you will find some sort of panfish be Crappie, Rock Bass, or a wide variety of sunfish. What is the best way to catch them though?
For those of you who read some of my articles quite often, you will most likely know where I am going with this - a Worden's Rooster Tail. To me, there is no lure that is more capable or versatile for just catching fish that a Rooster Tail. I can honestly say that there is not one lure that I have caught more fish on, or a larger variety of fish on than with a Worden's Rooster Tail. For panfish, I like to use light line, approximately 4 pound test but sometimes 2 or 6 pound test on occasion. Monofilament seems to work best for me, but fluorocarbon can be the ticket if you find yourself in some clear water. As for rods, I like to use a light action spinning rod around 5' 6". A 7' rod can be the way to go if you want some super far casts, but a 5' 6" rod is what I like the best due to its short stature, travel capability, and ease of transport. A 1/16 oz. Rooster Tail is my favorite weight to throw with particular a coloration called Firetiger. I am not sure why I have had so much success on this lure, but the chartreuse and green configuration with a brass blade must be panfish gourmet or something. Occasionally I will go to a heavier configuration at 1/8 oz. or even a lighter configuration at 1/24 oz. but both are for particular situations.
I have had a lot of success casting under trees with sunfish, as I believe that the large amount of bugs that fall from the trees and the shade that a tree gives sunfish is the perfect habitat. Structure is also a key component, but it has to be the right structure. Largemouth Bass love structure, so if there is Largemouth Bass in a particular structure, there is most likely not going to be many panfish. I like to cast as close to the riverbank or shoreline as I can and retrieve almost as soon as the lure hits the water. If the fish are a little sluggish, I will let the lure fall a bit, but typically I will use a different lure if I need to go deeper. One thing that I really like about a Rooster Tail, is its ability to run extremely shallow. I love to cast right and some flooded timber and retrieve the Rooster Tail right above almost like a top water lure as it is just a few inches below the surface. Sometimes an erratic approach of retrieving and pausing can be successful, but most definitely a constant retrieval seems to be the ticket.
Although I always seem to start and end with a Rooster Tail on my line, I do like to throw some other lures if the occasion is right. Some lures being small crank baits, small top water baits, and jigs. My second in command behind a Rooster Tail would either be a Strike King Bitsy Pond Minnow, or a 1/16 oz. tube jig. Both have their merits, but a Bitsy Pond Minnow can be very effective at times. What I like about the Bitsy Pond Minnow is its square bill. A square bill on a crank bait allows the lure to bounce off of logs and rocks so it doesn't get hung up as much, and you can take my word that it helps tremendously. Jigs are also very productive, as they give the slower and deeper approach. As for top water lures, small poppers and torpedo baits such as a Heddon Tiny Torpedo are great, but should be used in cloudy conditions, in shade, or during the early and late hours for the best results.
As for the setups that can be used for catching panfish, there is probably nothing more iconic as a cane pole with a bobber above a grub or worm. No doubt this is extremely effective and fun due to its simplicity, but I love the challenge of artificial lures and casting around objects. One thing will always remain true though, no matter how you catch sunfish, it will always be an enjoyable and memorable experience.