Crappie on a bead head scud.
Put something in front of a panfish that looks more like what they normally eat and you often don’t need bait.
Panfish live in a wonderful underwater world. A world that consists of plants, wood, sand, muck, rock and other natural things. Steel, rubber, and concrete are introduced when people build things. Some of it ends up there as junk. All this stuff is habit that will support life. Nymphs, larva and worms will be found crawling around underwater. You’ll find small baitfish darting about or tad poles wiggling near the warm shallow shore. The surface will hold insects that rise from below or fly in from above. Beetles, grasshoppers, and crickets will drop in from bank side vegetation and trees. Worms and bugs will wash in from a good rain. I can only touch on the huge variety of food crawling, walking, swimming, flying, hopping and scurrying about. As panfish go about their lives they find many things to chomp in their watery world. It all can be imitated with a good selection of flies.
You can buy flies from tackle shops, but you’ll do better by checking out a fly shop. Usually they have a much larger selection. The other option is to tie your own. Your free to tie anything that comes to mind, the possibilities are endless. You can find classes at fly shops and maybe a school or community center. You might be able to learn from a friend or just have at it like I did.
When I was ten I got my first fly tying kit. I tied flies exclusively for ice fishing panfish. It was not until a couple years later that I took up fishing with a fly rod. Those early ties where not much to look at. Hackle and thread on a hook. We fished them on a tandem rig with a teardrop and waxy. When the fish refused the bait they would go for the tiny fly instead. These days the flies look better, but I still try to keep them simple.
The fly in the photo above was tied to imitate a fresh water shrimp or scud. I believe it also passes for a small baitfish. There’s a small bead on the front for weight and the hook eye was bent up for vertical jigging. On the day the photo was taken a good number of crappies and bluegill were caught. All with an imitation of something they normally feed on. To entice a bite all you need is a little imagination. No bait necessary.