By Dan Johnson

Fishermen are creatures of habit. We all have our favorite fishing spots that we return to as faithfully as the swallows at Capistrano. Often this means we bypass potential hotspots on our way to the lake, and it’s especially true during the spring panfish season.

In fact, sometimes we don’t just drive by fish-holding sweet spots, we drive right over them. Case in point: culverts.

These flowing water conduits come in many shapes and sizes, from old-school concrete tunnels the cows can walk through to long, narrow tubes of steel or plastic. But no matter their form or function, they have one thing in common, the areas around them attract fish in the spring.

Panfish (and other fish species) gather around culverts for various reasons. Often it’s to soak in sultry creek or canal water that’s warmer than the main lake. An abundance of forage ranging from clouds of minnows on their spawning runs to scads of emerging insects also adds to the attraction. Sometimes, low water or strong current inside a culvert can block upstream fish migrations, stockpiling fish just below the obstruction.

Fishing culvert areas is a simple process. While panfish such as crappies and bluegills typically shun strong current, they willingly venture into incoming tributaries with slack flows and plenty of current breaks. If there are plenty of shallow, dark-bottomed areas where the main channel widens, so much the better. In fact, these areas are always worth fishing with a straightforward bobber rig, such as a Lindy Ice Worm or Frostee jig tipped with a worm or chunk of crawler, suspended beneath a Thill Mini Shy Bite, Crappie Cork or Pro Series Slip Float.

Washout holes below culverts often provide a deep-water sanctuary where fish can rest and feed. These areas are also worth fishing with the same bobber tactics, or by fancasting a 1/8-ounce Lindy Watsit Spin and slowly retrieving it through the hole and around the edges.

I’m as guilty as anyone of overlooking such fine springtime opportunities. In fact, I drive over one all the time on the way to my favorite lakes. But I’ve promised myself to stop more often and check it for panfish this season, and recommend you do likewise wherever a culvert crosses your path.