Forget the live bait and dig out the small soft plastics for Spring time panfish—especially crappies.  Don’t get me wrong, live bait is deadly on all accounts when it comes to any fishing, but plastics are far more efficient in putting numbers of fish in the boat quickly.

There are multiple downfalls to using live bait for shallow spring panfish. One of them is that the small minnows used as bait (typically under a float) will almost always entangle themselves into the exact cover (such as weed stalks or brush) that an angler is placing the bait near or in. Of course the minnow can be anchored with a split shot or jig head, but then some of the luster of the bait’s action in lost. Another downfall is after each caught fish, or a missed strike, is the need for fresh bait. Digging in a minnow bucket and re-baiting every 5 minutes is not efficient and wastes valuable fish catching time—especially if the fish are hot. If there are 3-4 anglers in the boat this wasted time adds up fast!  This is where small plastics come in to play.

I prefer Berkley Gulp or Berkley PowerBait due to the scent, softness, and natural colors of the baits. There are a ton of styles to choose from. Just keep it natural, simple and 2 1/2” long or shorter in length. I like to rig the plastics “wacky worm” style. Grab a number 6 red Gamakatsu Octopus hook and place it right through the middle of the bait so it hangs horizontal like a real minnow swims. I personally like plastics rigged this way that have a curly tail of some kind so as it is drifting along or being twitched—it has swimming characteristics. Fish the presentation as you would any live bait presentation. 

It’s about that simple, give it a try on your next fishing trip, and don’t be afraid to break all the rules—because there are no rules in fishing. Captain Josh Hagemeister, Minnesota Fishing Guide Service.,, 320-291-0708 • 218-732-9919

About The Author

Josh Hagemeister

Captain Josh Hagemeister has been making a living as a professional fishing guide for 31 years. With a passion of fishing that started at age 4, Josh took it to the next level by starting Minnesota Fishing Guide Service ( while still in high school. Throughout college and throughout his adult life Josh has guided over 5,000 trips in the boat alone--and countless ice fishing trips as well. Due to spending nearly 300 days year on the water, Josh has become known as one of the most versatile and efficient multi-species guides throughout the state known to catch fish anywhere at any time. Hence the famous “Guaranteed Fish” associated with Minnesota Fishing Guide Service. While his specialty is walleye (due to demand), Josh enjoys all species of fish including salt water. While most of Josh’s time is spent in a boat knocking out nearly 200 trips or more a season (yes that’s 3 a day much of the time lol), during the “frozen period” he is scouting and moving fish houses for his ice fishing rental/guiding business— Helping people learn about fishing and catching more has been in Josh’s blood since the days he worked at In-Fisherman Magazine’s Camp Fish as an instructional fishing guide. Josh’s most recent endeavor has included the re-creation of Camp Fish ( partnering with Troy Lindner and other former Camp Fish Staff to get the job done. Josh is married and has 3 boys who also love to hunt and fish.