Fishing for Panfish (Bream) in Florida

fishing for Florida panfish

Fishing for Florida Panfish!

This article focuses on fishing for Florida panfish and crappie. Panfish offer anglers both great sport on ultralight tackle and fine eating! Freshwater panfish are very popular throughout the entire United States.

There are quite a few different species of panfish in Florida. Bluegill, crappie, redear sunfish, warmouth, spotted sunfish, and red breast sunfish are just some of the different species. Crappie are the largest of the panfish and arguably the most popular. Just about every species of panfish is delicious! In Florida and the South, they are also known as “bream”.

fly fishing for Florida bluegill

Florida anglers are never very far from the closest spot to catch panfish. There is water everywhere here. Some species of panfish or another live in just about every body of water that is fresh. Most Florida waters are shallow and weedy which is prime habitat for catching panfish.

Fishing for Florida panfish and crappie

For many Florida anglers, fishing for panfish is a very simple affair. They grab a 12 foot cane pole with a piece of line and a hook. Some type of live bait such as worms or crickets is acquired and they head down to the local fishing hole. This type of fishing is very relaxing and is still productive to this day.

bluegill and panfish lures

While cane poles work fine, spinning tackle is much more versatile. Spinning rods allow anglers to cast very light baits and lures a fair distance. An ultralight spinning outfit is relatively inexpensive. A decent rod, real, and line can be purchased for around $60. Here is a link to a good, affordable spinning outfit.

Anglers can click this link to shop Amazon for an ultra light combo

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Florida panfish fishing using live bait

Live bait is very effective for targeting panfish. Most panfish eat insects, crustaceans, and small bait fish. Live worms are tough to beat for catching a wide variety of species. Crickets are very popular and are available at many freshwater bait shops. They are particularly good when targeting bluegill. Freshwater grass shrimp are a deadly bait for panfish! Few bait shops sell them however and anglers must catch their own with the net in the weedy vegetation.

fishing for Florida panfish and crappie

Most anglers fishing with live bait use a float of some sort. This allows the bait to be suspended over the weeds at the desired depth. It also gives anglers a visual indication of a strike. If the float disappears, a fish has taken the bait! This is a very practical rig since many Florida lakes and ponds are quite shallow. On deeper lakes and rivers anglers remove the float and add a small split shot a foot above the hook to get the bait down deeper.

While live bait probably accounts for most of the panfish that are caught, I actually prefer using artificial lures. I enjoy casting out a lure and reeling it back in, anticipating a strike. Lures also allow anglers to cover water much more quickly than live bait does. As an added bonus, largemouth bass often hit these tiny lures meant for panfish. A 1 1/2 pound bass will put up a tremendous fight on ultralight tackle!

Fishing for Florida panfish using lures

best panfish fishing lures

My go-to lure for Florida panfish is a 1/16 ounce black Beetle spin. It is basically a tiny spinner bait with a small grub body. Every angler has his or her favorite color. I have found the darker colors such as black and green to be the most effective in the tannin stained waters of Florida. In reality, just about any tiny in-line spinner or spinner bait will catch most species of Florida panfish.

Jigs are another very popular and effective panfish bait. Ultralight jig heads can be purchased as light as 1/64 ounce. However 1/32 ounce and 1/16 ounce baits are the most commonly used. Crappie anglers may bump it up to 1/8 ounce when fishing and trolling in deeper water.

One great thing about the jig and grub combo is that the grub body is easily replaced. The jig head is tied on to the line in some type of body adorns the jig hook. These little grubs come in countless colors and in several shapes. Twister tail and shad tail baits have great built in action and are probably the most popular. If I had to pick one jig and grub combo, it would be a 1/16 ounce jig with a chartreuse twister tail.

crappie fishing in Florida

Fly anglers are certainly not to be left out when it comes to Florida panfish. Since much of a panfish’s diet includes insects, fly fishing is a natural. A 3wt to 4wt outfit with a floating line is perfect. Any small buggy looking fly or tiny baitfish imitations will produce panfish. My favorite fly is a #10 black Wooly Bugger. That fly will catch just about every freshwater fish on the planet.

Read my article on fly fishing for bluegill

Fishing for panfish in Florida, top techniques

The fishing technique for panfish is basically the same whether you are using lures, flies, or live bait. Panfish prefer some type of cover, with vegetation being their primary hiding spots. Bluegill and other panfish love wood, so any fallen tree should be given extra attention.

Florida bluegill fishing charters

Panfish tend to group up in an area. The best approach is for an angler to move around while fishing likely looking spots. If the action is slow, keep it moving. Once a productive area is located, it is time to slow down and fish that area thoroughly. This is especially true when panfish are on the spawning beds.

Florida panfish like cover such as weeds and fallen timber

Anglers fishing with live bait in shallow water will generally have the float a couple feet above the float. They cast the rig out towards the edge of a weed line, over submerged vegetation, or near some submerged timber. The bait is allowed to sit for a little bit, giving the fish plenty of time to find it. When the float disappears the slack line is reeled tight and the hook is set.

Artificial lures and flies are cast out to the same spots. They are allowed to sink for a moment in the retrieved back in. The most productive retrieve when panfishing will be a slow steady retrieve. Anglers using spinners or spinner baits want to real just fast enough to turn the blade and keep the bait out of the bottom. Anglers jig fish in can give the rod tip a slight twitch to make the jig top and fall.

Florida panfish locations

Bottom composition can be a huge factor when targeting Florida panfish. Hard, shell bottom will be very productive areas if found. This is especially true for redear sunfish, AKA shellcrackers. They get their name because of their affinity for eating mollusks and crustaceans. But all fish prefer a firmer bottom over mucky bottom, especially when it’s time to spawn.

Florida crappie fishing

I really enjoy fishing Florida rivers for panfish. They are often overlooked by anglers. Here in Sarasota, Florida, we have the Manatee River system Braden River system, and the Myakka River system. The river inside Myakka State Park is beautiful with fantastic scenery and wildlife. It offers great pan fishing for anglers with small boats, canoes, and kayaks.

One advantage to panfish in rivers is at there is limited water. This makes finding panfish easier. This is especially true during periods of low water. Outside bends in the river almost always have deeper water and fallen trees. These types of spots are magnets for panfish and other game fish.

Trolling is another extremely effective technique for panfish. It is especially efficient on larger open bodies of water. Trolling a small Beetle spin or jig along a weed line is a great way to locate a school of panfish. Trolling is very popular among crappie anglers. It is a terrific way to locate a school of fish in deeper water.

Crappie fishing in Florida

Sarasota crappie fishing

Crappie are prolific and popular in the state of Florida. They are also known as “speckled perch” or “specks”. While crappie are known for being found around fallen trees, they also do well in aquatic vegetation, which Florida lakes have an abundance of.

Crappie spawn in the winter in Florida. The exact month depends on the part of the state one if fishing. Down south, it is January while up near the Georgia border, crappie spawn in March. They often school up in large groups in deeper water before moving to the banks to spawn. This is a great time to catch them!

Best Florida crappie fishing lures and baits

Crappie feed primarily on small bait fish. Therefore, live minnows and lures that imitate them are the best choices. Live minnows, usually Missouri Minnows, which are a hardy, commercial breed, are the most commonly used live bait for Florida crappie. They can be fished under a float on deeper on a bottom rig.

A jig is my favorite crappie fishing lure. These are versatile baits that can be cast, trolled, or vertically fished. 1/8 and 1/16 ounce jigs work well. Chartreuse is a top color in dark, tannin stained water that constitutes most Florida lakes.

Sarasota crappie fishing

Crappie will be in shallow water close to the bank during spawning season. Anglers cast jigs or a live minnow under a bobber towards weed edges and fallen timber. During the rest of the year, crappie are often located in deeper water. They will relate to structure such as channel edges and submerged trees. Some lakes have artificial reefs to attract crappie.

Florida panfish species


top freshwater species

Crappie are the largest member of the panfish clan and grow to several pounds. Anything over 12” is a decent fish. Crappie school up in fall and winter. Many anglers troll in deeper water for them. As it warms up in spring, they move to the shallow banks. Crappie prefer small bait fish, so live minnows and artificial lures that mimic bait fish work best.


bluegill fishing

Bluegill are probably the most abundant and prolific species of fish in the panfish family. Many southern anglers call them “bream”. It is pronounced “brim”. No matter what name you give them, they are great fun to catch and put up a good fight for their size. The running joke is that if bluegill got to be 5 pounds, you would never be able to land it!

Bluegill are fairly aggressive and can be caught on just about any live or artificial bait and while fly fishing. They prefer shallow weedy areas with sandy bottom and are very much attracted to wood. This would include trees and docks. Florida bluegill spawn around the full moons and summer.

Redear sunfish (shellcrackers)

redear sunfish fishing in Florida

Redear sunfish (shellcrackers) are the largest members of the bream family. They prefer slightly deeper water than most other panfish. While they will hit artificial lures, anglers targeting redear sunfish will have more success using live worms.

Spotted sunfish (stumpknocker)


Spotted sunfish or “stumpknockers” are another popular Florida panfish. They get their name from their affinity for woody structure. Spotted sunfish mostly feed on vegetation, but due to their aggressive nature are easily caught using lures. They do not grow quite as large as bluegill, but have a firm, white meat.


fishing for Florida warmouth

Warmouth are very aggressive and more solitary than other panfish. They are broad and put up a very good fight. They tend to prefer smaller bodies of water such as streams and swampy areas.

Fishing for Florida crappie

This section will focus on fishing for crappie in Florida. Crappie are an extremely popular freshwater fish, right up there with largemouth bass bluegill. They are a bit larger than most freshwater panfish and are available throughout much of the United States.

Florida fishing gets a lot of attention, though not as much is directed towards crappie and other panfish. However, Florida offers anglers excellent crappie fishing! Crappie are locally known as “speckled perch”or “specks”. They are most often targeted in medium-sized to larger lakes.

Best times to fish for Florida crappie

While crappie can be caught year-round, the prime times are from middle of October till the middle of March. Crappie will start to school up in slightly deeper water along the edges of channels and and other deeper holes. As the weekly cold fronts begin to descend on Florida, these fish will move up to the banks to spawn. By April, most fish will have spawned out and migrated to the deeper water for the summer.

The two most productive techniques for crappie fishing are trolling and casting. Many successful anglers use a combination of the two. Early in the season when the schools are staged out in deeper water, trolling can be very effective. This allows anglers to cover a fair amount of water in search of fish. Once located, anglers will often slowly and thoroughly fish that area.

Most anglers choose to troll with artificial lures. However, live minnows can be trolled very slowly as well. Jigs are the preferred lure when trolling for crappie. A jig is a hook with a weight at the front near the eye. Jig heads come in many different weights and anglers can use the proper weight to get down to the desired depth.

Jigs produce crappie

The jig is then adorned with some type of plastic body or hairdressing. Marabou jigs have been popular ineffective for crappie fishing for a long time. Many anglers choose for soft plastic bodies for several reasons. They are inexpensive, effective, and it is very easy to change the colors and styles of the tails. Grubs come in many different styles and colors, and all of them will produce fish at one time or another.

The Blakemore Road Runner is a very productive lure for trolling in deeper water. It is basically a jig like described above except that it has a little spinner coming off the head. Many of Florida’s lakes are dark and tannin stained. The extra flash of the spinner can prove to be the difference between success and failure when trolling for crappie.

As it cools off in the fish move up to the bank, many anglers switch over to casting lures and live baits. The same jigs used for trolling work fine when cast and retrieved towards the bank and other likely fish holding structure. Crappie love submerged trees and downed timber. Tiny spinner baits such as the beetle spent work very well on crappie and other panfish. Tiny plugs will produce as well, and will normally catch larger fish.

Crappie fishing with live bait

Live bait is often used in the circumstances well. The number one live bait by far is a live minnow. Most tackle shops that service freshwater anglers keep these on hand. The Missouri minnow is commercially raised and is very hardy. A couple dozen will live just fine in a small bucket of water. Most anglers fish the minnow several feet under a bobber. Red worms and nightcrawlers will also produce crappie.

Anglers can still troll when crappie move into the banks. In fact, this is a terrific way to locate a school of fish. Since the water will be shallower, very light jigs, small spinner baits, and tiny plugs are the best choice. As with the deep water trolling, once a school of fish is located anglers should turn back around and fish that area thoroughly.

Crappie are a very mild flavored fish with white flesh. They are fantastic eating! During these periods when crappie school up, it is easy to catch a bunch in a few hours of fishing. While they do freeze well, I encourage anglers to be judicious in the size and number of fish that they keep. I personally let the very big ones go and of course the smaller ones as well, keeping the chunky fish and the tenants to 12 inch range to eat.

Best Florida crappie fishing lakes

Lake Okeechobee

Lake Okeechobee is world-renowned for its bass fishing, but offers anglers excellent crappie fishing as well. Winter and early spring are the prime times to target crappie in Lake Okeechobee. While any part of the lake can be productive, many anglers focus on the north end where the Kissimmee River comes in. Vegetation is the primary cover and anglers will do well to move around until fish are located.

Lake Arbuckle

Lake Arbuckle is a 3800 acre lake in Polk County. It is a very productive lake for crappie year-round. There are three deeper basins in the lake which tend to concentrate crappie. As in most Florida lakes, trolling is productive in the cooler months while anglers target fish in the shallower grass in the spring. There is a park, but ramp and campground there. The area is gated, so anglers fishing early and late would do best to call ahead. The phone number is 863-534-4340.

Lake Istapoga

Lake Istapoga is another lake known more for bass fishing, but offers excellent crappie fishing as well. This is a 28,000 acre lake in the south-central part of Florida. Traditionally, the best crappie fishing spots are in the deeper areas east and north of Big Island along with the west side of Long Island. Vegetation is fairly thick and Lake Istapoga. Anglers tend to concentrate on the deeper areas in the winter as opposed to fighting the heavy vegetation they encounter by mid spring. There are several boat ramps offering crappie anglers access to this lake.

Lake Talquin

Lake Talquin holds the Florida state record crappie at nearly 4 pounds. It is an 8800 acre lake near Tallahassee, Florida. Anglers troll the channel area in fall and winter, then concentrate on the shallow water vegetation and spring. The lake is full of submerged stumps, trees and other structure and obstructions. Lake Talquin is also a very good lake for bluegill.


Lake walk-in water is an 8000 acre lake in Polk County. This lake has less vegetation than many of the other Florida lakes do. This lake has plenty of deep water for anglers who prefer to troll. Also, seven fish attractors were placed in the lake to help concentrate the crappie in the deeper water. These are well marked with orange and white buoys. There is one boat ramp on the western side of the lake off of Walk-in-Water Road.

Lake Monroe

Lake Monroe is part of the St. Johns River chain of lakes. It is close to 10,000 acres and lies between Orlando and Daytona Beach. Lake Monroe is known to give up good-sized fish in the cooler months. Anglers will do well to troll as it allows them to cover a lot of water. Lake Monroe is large and the crappie can be difficult to locate. However, once they are located, anglers can expect larger than average catches.

Lochloosa Lake

Lockloosa Lake in Alachua County is best known for numbers of crappie. Many anglers limit out on fish in the 10 inch range. Again, as with most Florida lakes, anglers fish the deeper open water in the cooler months than concentrate on shoreline vegetation as it warms up. This lake is also known for some very large bluegill. There is a county ramp located near the post office as well is a couple of fish camps. There are tagged crappy in this lake, anglers to catch one can call the number on the tag to claim their prize.

Lake Monroe

Lake Monroe is part of the St. Johns River chain of lakes. It is close to 10,000 acres and lies between Orlando and Daytona Beach. Lake Monroe is known to give up good-sized fish in the cooler months. Anglers will do well to troll as it allows them to cover a lot of water. Lake Monroe is large and the crappie can be difficult to locate. However, once they are located, anglers can expect larger than average catches.

Lochloosa Lake

Lockloosa Lake in Alachua County is best known for numbers of crappie. Many anglers limit out on fish in the 10 inch range. Again, as with most Florida lakes, anglers fish the deeper open water in the cooler months than concentrate on shoreline vegetation as it warms up. This lake is also known for some very large bluegill. There is a county ramp located near the post office as well is a couple of fish camps. There are tagged crappy in this lake, anglers to catch one can call the number on the tag to claim their prize.

Lake Griffin

Lake Griffin is a 10,000 acre lake in Lake County near Leesburg, Florida. It is part of the Harris Chain of Lakes. There are several marked fish attractors in the center and southern parts of the lake. There is a 10 inch minimum size for crappie on Lake Griffin. This has resulted and good numbers of ten inch plus fish. There are ramps at Herlong Park and out Lake Griffin State Park.

Mosaic fish management area

There are 12 lakes in the Mosaic Fish management area, ranging from 10 to 200 acres. The Mosaic Fish management area is 1000 acres and is located in Polk County near Fort Meade, Florida. These are reclaimed strip pits and are deep for Florida lakes. These lakes very and offer crappie anglers a wide variety of structure. They have a mix of brushy weedy shorelines and deeper water. SP 12 N SP 12 S and Hall Road are perhaps the best crappie lakes. These mosaic lakes have special regulations. There is a 10 inch minimum and a 10 fish per person fish limit. These lakes are only open Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday from 6 AM until 2 PM. These restrictions result in some excellent fishing for crappie.

Newnans Lake

Newnans Lake in Alachua County was very low in 2017. However, heavy summer rains and Hurricane Irma brought the water level up quite high. There is an excellent population of crappie with a high percentage of quality fish as well. 16 inch fish are not uncommon. The same pattern of fishing deeper open water in cooler months and shoreline vegetation and cover and spring and summer holds true to this lake as well. There are tagged crappy in this lake. There are a couple boat ramps allowing anglers to access Newnans Lake.

Top Florida panfish spots

Florida is blessed with countless ponds, creeks, rivers, and lakes that have excellent panfish populations. Most Florida residents live withing a couple miles of panfish that are just waiting to be caught. Some of the top panfish lakes in Florida are Lake Kissimmee, Lake Toho, Lake Talquin, Lake Istopoga, Lake Panasoffkee, Winter Haven Chain of Lakes, Lake Weohyakapka (Walk-inWater), Lake Pierce, Lake Seminole, Lochloosa Lake, Lake Okeechobee, and Everglades Conservation Areas #2 and #3.

In closing, this article on Fishing for Florida panfish and crappie will help anglers catch more fish. Anglers can find Florida fishing regulations on the FWC site.

Jim Klopfer

Capt Jim Klopfer has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. He grew up in Maryland, fishing the Chesapeake Bay waters. Capt Jim has been creating an writing articles about fishing for decades, contributing to many regional and national publications. He also lives part time in the North Carolina mountains where he fishes for trout and other species. Capt Jim Klopfer is a wel rounded angler with 50 years fishing experience, and he loves to share what he has learned with other anglers!

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