Fly fishing for panfish is one of the most exhilarating and fun experiences that it’s possible to have! From bluegill to crappies, rock bass to yellow perch, panfish are commonly found all over the US. They’re curious, voracious, famously unfussy, and they put up a fierce fight.
Tempted to give panfish fly fishing a whirl? Here’s our Fly Fisher Pro rundown of the best panfish flies around to get you started!
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The 12 Best Panfish Flies
Elk Hair Caddis
The Elk Hair Caddis is a superb dry fly, first tied by a pioneer, Al Troth, in 1957. This fly works wonders in shallow water or for near structures in the water. Use this, and you’ll be amazed by how many fish you catch!
This flashy, bright pattern never fails to attract bluegill, perch, and even trout. Pan fish go crazy for the eye-catching chartreuse color and the realistic, lively action of the J’s Grinchworm. The jointed body and rubber legs create a convincing sense of movement in the water.
The Triangle Bug is another great dry fly pattern that sits high in the water. It’s subtler than a popper, but that’s sometimes just what you need, especially if the fish are spooky. The long, dangly, rubber legs give a tempting silhouette, making it like a plump and tasty bite to eat.
You’ll make plenty of catches with a Triangle Bug, and its unique design makes it ideal. The bulky, triangular shape prevents it from getting lodged too far down the bluegill’s tiny throat, allowing you to remove your hook more easily.
McGinty Wet Fly
Although the McGinty Wet Fly is a classic for trout, it also works wonders for pan fish. The McGinty started life as a largemouth bass pattern, which explains its impressive performance in warm water. This killer pattern has been around since 1883, and it won’t fail you now.
The striking black and yellow coloring of the McGinty Wet Fly makes it highly visible even in murky conditions, and sunfish just love to chase this wet fly.
A top streamer pattern, the Clouser Minnow is particularly suited to fish for perch and crappie. You’ll find that this is a very versatile pattern, however, so you can also use it for smallmouth bass, pike, catfish, and even saltwater salmon.
The shimmer on this underwater streamer is amazing. When you fish for bluegill and other sunfish, opt for smaller sizes so that the pan fish can get their tiny mouths around your fly.
Every fly fisher should have a Clouser Minnow or two in their fly box. You’ll be sure to reach for it time after time, and bring home a good haul of fish as a result.
Soft Hackle Wet Fly
Soft hackle is perfect for fly fishing for any type of pan fish. Spend some time mastering your presentation, and you’ll be wowed by how productive the Soft Hackle can be.
Admittedly, it’s not as exciting as on the surface. But if you want to catch fish and lots of them, tie a soft hackle wet fly onto your fly rod and it won’t be long before you feel the tell-tale twitch of a strike.
Soft hackle is extremely versatile, with many different variations around. Try experimenting with a variety of colors and sizes. You can even tie your own to match the local forage and get the fish biting.
Foam Spiders are awesome for bluegill and sunfish. They perform well in all types of water, and with their subtle but lifelike movement, they don’t fail to attract any nearby fish.
A top tactic for a Foam Spider is to cast out near submerged structures. Follow this with a twitch and pause, twitch and pause, and you’re almost guaranteed a catch.
Before the Woolly Bugger existed, fly fishermen had the Woolly Worm. It’s easy to see the similarities. The Woolly Worm (or variations of this pattern) has been around for centuries, imitating aquatic insects like hellgrammites and stoneflies. The Woolly Bugger was designed as a Woolly Worm spin-off to mimic baitfish, and it’s one of the most popular patterns around today.
That doesn’t mean that the Woolly Worm is inferior, however. It’s a superb, versatile fly pattern in its own right. You’ll quickly master this fly, and it will catch you loads of fish.
If you’re delving into fly tying, this pattern is a great one to get started with. The Woolly Worm is quick, easy, and cheap to tie – just check out a fly tying video online and follow it step by step to tie your own fly.
The Pan fish Wiggler is actually a classic steelhead fly that has been shrunk down in size to fit into a bluegill’s tiny mouth.
This bead head fly sinks down quickly into the strike zone and is a killer streamer for bluegill, perch, crappie, and more. You can add a lead underbody if you need any extra weight to get your fly to sink deeper and faster.
Green Eyed Damselfly Nymph
Green eyed damselfly nymphs are found in waters all over the US, making this an ideal fly to use for pan fish. Although there are a variety of different damselfly nymphs around, this is one of my favorites. It performs consistently and gets plenty of fish in the rubber fishing net. Give it a try on your next trip!
F-C Mackie Bug
While this subsurface sunfish fly looks a little odd, it’s a brilliant pattern that will catch you fish, again and again. The F-C Mackie Bug doesn’t imitate any particular insect or baitfish, but it is flashy, plump, and tempting enough to get the fish chasing it.
Poppers may just be simple, painted cork or rubber foam cylinders, but they sure do work! With a satisfying plop onto the water, all nearby fish are instantly aware of a floating popper fly.
If you see bluegill eating at the surface, you won’t go wrong with a floating popper. Cast it out, and you’ll draw in all the hungry fish in the proximity. You can even fish your popper with a streamer beneath it to double your chances of making a catch!
Want to know the basics or have some burning questions? You’ll find the answers in our FAQ section!
What are Pan fish?
Pan fish refers to a range of fish, including bluegill, yellow perch, pumpkinseeds, and white and black crappie. Bluegill, also known as sunfish, brim, bream, and shellcrackers, are the most common (and fun) pan fish to fly fish.
Pan fish are smaller (pan-sized!) fish that are found in freshwater streams, rivers, lakes, and reservoirs all over the US. They are common, abundant, give a good fight, and are tasty to eat.
What are the best flies for bluegill?
The best flies for bluegill include a range of smaller nymphs, poppers, and dry flies. Go for flies that have a good action in the water and resemble the insects that bluegill love to eat. Some top bluegill flies include the Clouser Minnow in size 12, the Black Elk Hair Caddis in size 14, and a white popper in size 10.
Is rock bass a panfish?
Rock bass is a type of pan fish that is often overlooked in favor of bluegill, perch, and crappie. However, fly fishing for rock bass is a great experience – they’re aggressive, found in waters everywhere, and delicious to eat. They also go by the name of creek bass or yellow-eye.
How do you fish a popper fly?
We love poppers over here. Popper flies are some of the most effective dry flies for bluegill, as that distinctive pop will draw curious pan fish straight up to the surface to eat.
Cast your popper near the bank, structures, or overhanging vegetation, and then give your fly a twitch with your rod. Next, let your fly sit on the water for a short while – this is when most pan fish will make a strike. It’s as simple as that!
How do you tie flies for panfish?
If you want to tie your own flies to chat pan fish, you need to stock up on some fly tying materials and tools. Then, get online and watch some fly tying videos.
You’ll find fly tying tutorials for almost every pattern imaginable, so just pay close attention and then have a go yourself.
Tying your own flies is fun, rewarding, and will save you money, too.
What is the best size fly for crappie?
The best size fly for crappies is between a size 8-10. You might have luck with a size 6, so don’t be afraid to try out different options. The most effective crappie flies have long, flashy, marabou tails.
The Wrap Up
Fly fishing for bluegills is a fantastic experience, and now you know which flies to stock up on for your fly boxes! From the Wooly Bugger to the Elk Hair Caddis and the Panfish Wiggler, these are some of the most effective flies for panfish around.
All you need to do is grab your fly rod and fly patterns, and you’re good to go! Pan fish are abundant and found all over, so there’s bound to be an excellent fishing spot not far from you. Drop us a comment or email to let us know how you get on, and which fly patterns work well for you!
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