Fresh, golden-brown bluegill fillets are bound to bring a smile when you lay them on a plate beside baked beans and coleslaw at the cookout.
Bluegills are a summertime favorite for a lot of good reasons;
* They are abundant and nearly everywhere;
* Their populations can stand good harvests, within reason, and in most systems;
* They are generally easy to find and to catch;
* They are lots of fun on ultra-light equipment, and;
* The action they provide is a great way to hook kids on fishing.
Catching Big Ones Takes Work
That doesn't mean catching decent-sized 'gills worthy of the livewell are a cinch, however. Sure, small ones come easy, but getting the big bulls takes some research and work to find them.
Bluegill lakes do have some characteristics in common. For one, they usually relate to weeds, and the bottom content they prefer consists of a variety of hard and muck bottoms.
Some bluegill lakes are very shallow. In fact, small, shallow, fertile farm ponds provide some of the best action in areas of the lower Midwest. But in general, the presence of deep water near the shallow bays where they spawn and feed is a plus.
A strong predator base is a second critical factor. Bluegills have a tendency to overpopulate and remain small unless predators such as largemouth bass, walleyes or muskies are present to thin their ranks. Most biologists say a lake known to have large numbers of 2-pound largemouth may harbor big panfish. Biologists will also tell you that angling pressure can impact whether big bluegills are present. More on that later.
Get A Lake Depth Map
Hunting big 'gills begins with a lake depth map. Look for shallow, weedy bays with deep water nearby. The shallow weed edges may hold fish. But, once on the water, use an Aqua-Vu underwater camera or your sonar to search for the deeper submerged weed beds of cabbage.
The best vegetation is cabbage 12 feet to 20 feet down near transition areas between hard, sandy bottoms, and mud where the food chain is most varied and abundant. Depending on water clarity, productive beds can even be deeper.
Every weedbed has inside edges, outside edges and a top edge. Ignore one or more at your peril. Add to your understanding of the layout of the weeds by slowly moving around the edge, watching the sonar and GPS. Note the turns and points that serve as fish-holding areas. A Humminbird side-imaging locator unit can help pinpoint details.
Use The Wind
A slight breeze blowing into the weeds is good because it stirs the food up, triggers fish to feed, and doesn't spook the fish as you motor around.
The general rule is that bluegills move to the spawning beds during the first full moon of June. However, not all 'gills spawn at the same time. Some will move into the shallows during the full-moon phases of July and August, or earlier in southern climates.
Start with a sensitive rod such as a 5-1/2- to 6-foot St. Croix ultra-light. Light bites are telegraphed more noticeably by using a good, high quality rod. Spool up with 2 pound Gamma line. Gamma is so strong that 2 pound will be sufficient.
Try targeting shallow targets by casting and swimming light jigs, or use a slip bobber rig. Best jigs are the Lindy Little Joe Quiver jig or the Little Nipper. The Queen jig features tiny wings, which create a slow fall that keeps it in the strike zone longer. Experiment with colors. If things get tough, try downsizing your jig by using a micro-sized ice jig, such as a Fat Boy or Genz Bug. Your odds of success will always go up by tipping your jigs with a small chunk of a night crawler, wax worm, or a few maggots
Cast Parallel To Weedlines
Cast parallel to shoreline weedlines. Once fish are found, switch to a slip-bobber rig. Use a threaded bobber stop to avoid damage to light mono. Add a small Thill Pro Series float. The weighted version lets you cast into the wind so the bobber floats back to you over the top of the weeds. Avoid line damage by using a small rubber-core sinker or soft split-shot to balance the float so the rig will do its job and detect light bites.
If you happen upon a spawning ground, the larger bluegills tend to be at the heart of the colony where it's harder for egg-predators to reach. But, be careful about taking too many of the biggest bluegills from the system.
Some biologists think stunting may occur, not from overpopulation, but when the biggest male bluegills in a lake are removed. As the average size of the mature males decreases, younger males have no biological reason to delay spawning until they reach a size when they can compete for the prime nests nearest the center of the colony.
Why Undersized Fish?
A fish's growth rate slows when they mature and begin spawning. As a result, some biologists wonder if taking too many big bluegills can lead to undersized fish in years to come. Research to confirm the theory is underway in some areas of the country.
Although the results are inconclusive, it's still a good practice to take medium-sized males and free the big males and females.
Many anglers ignore deeper beds, where the best bluegills often can be found. Vertical jigging works best along deep weed lines and over the top.
Vary the action, and let the fish tell you want they want. Afraid you're missing bites? Add a spring bobber to the line just as you did for wintertime.
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Ted Takasaki and Scott Richardson write a weekly column for sportsmansguide.com. Ted has many fishing achievements, including a victory at the 1993 Mercury Nationals and the 1995 Professional Walleye Trail Top Gun award. He reached the pinnacle of both angling and business when he was named PWT Champion in 1998 and president of Lindy Little Joe, Inc., of Brainerd, Minn., a year later.
(Ted's sponsors include Ranger Boats, Mercury Outboards, Pinnacle Rods and Reels, Bottom Line Electronics, Minn Kota, Stren, Normark, Flambeau, Master Lock, Gamakatsu, Aqua Vu and Nautamatic TR 1.)