Ask any angler to name their favorite memory and they are likely to begin by telling a big-fish story. But after they pause a while to really think about the question, they may go on to tell you about their first fishing trip to catch bluegills.
It’s a small fish that can hook a kid on the sport for life! They offer fun and good eating for the kid in all of us well after that first Social Security check shows up in the mailbox.
There aren’t many more satisfying ways to spend the dog days of summer, when fishing for other kinds of fish may slow down, than to grab the light gear and head to a lake or farm pond to harvest some hand-sized ‘gills for a cook-out!
Catching big bluegills isn’t a cinch. You still must find the best ‘gills in the system and entice them to bite. Like any species, the larger specimens get that way because they have the instinct to avoid trouble. To be successful, we must use the same process we use to boat big walleyes, muskies or bass.
The Right Place
As always, in order to catch the best fish, we need to fish in places where the best fish live. Ask Department of Natural Resources biologists for suggestions on places to find the best bluegills. The best lakes are usually weedy with a variety of hard and muck bottoms. Good populations of predators, such as walleyes or muskies, help thin the numbers of bluegills, which may be stunted if they overpopulate.
Focus on remote lakes that others overlook. The harder a lake is to reach, the better the prospects.
Some bluegill lakes are very shallow overall. The presence of deep water near shallow bays where they spawn and eat is a plus. Check the lake map to find likely bays, and then search for weeds by sight in clear water or by using Humminbird’s side-imaging sonar. Cabbage beds are often the best producers. Submerged weeds 12- to 20 feet down near the transition areas between hard sandy bottoms and mud seem to hold the most fish. They can even be deeper in clearer water.
As with all fish species, bluegills will be on edges. Those include the outer edge, inner edge, and the weed tops and the edges created by pockets. If you have a GPS, motor slowly along the edge to “draw” a picture of it on the screen. Potential fish-holding spots become obvious. Wind also often ignites the food chain so look for places where a slight breeze stirs the weeds.
The Right Set-up
The most common error people make while fishing panfish is to use equipment that’s too heavy for the task. Stick with something like a 5- to 6-foot ultralight St. Croix rod. You’ll feel bites better with one if you are tight-lining a jig. And, the fight is so much more fun with gear matched to the size of the fish. Use light line such as 3- to 4-pound test.
Tie on a small Lindy Little Nipper, Quiver Jig, or Fat Boy. Best jig colors are orange or chartreuse. Add a small plastic bait or live bait such as a wax worm, or a piece of night crawler or a leech.
Move along the weed edges slowly using the electric trolling motor. Watch for marks on the screen to help you zero in on depth, but bluegills are usually somewhere within 4 feet of the bottom. Depths of 12- to 18 feet hold the biggest ‘gills. Locate long points or mud flats with deep cabbage weeds. Start deeper and work shallower, but shallower water may hold only smaller fish. Move if you’re not catching the bulls.
You don’t even have to anchor, and anchoring will often spook fish.
Slightly quiver the jig or hold it steady. The fish will let you know their mood in a hurry.
The Right Depth
If ‘gills seem to be holding at one specific depth, a small Thill slip-bobber can help get you back down to the productive area of the water column in a hurry. Line damage is something to avoid any time, but precautions are critical with line this light. Use a soft split-shot or a small rubber-core sinker to balance the float, and a bobber stop made of thread instead of plastic, which can cause friction and weaken line.
Casting into weeds is a waste of time unless you like spending time cleaning the green stuff off your hook. But, you can cast along weed lines to see if the ‘gills want a moving bait. Keep your eyes open for open patches in the weeds.
Add icons on the GPS to mark productive spots. Not only can you return all summer, but those same deeper spots can hold bluegills and other panfish when you’re ready to go ice fishing. A good hot-weather bluegill trip equals a great cold-weather scouting trip.
A word of caution — even with bluegills that always seem so plentiful, selective harvest is a good idea. Fisheries biologists theorize that in addition to overpopulation, bluegills also may be stunted in a lake if too many of the big ones are harvested. With the bulls gone, the smaller fish have nothing to push them to grow bigger to compete better. As the theory goes, they start to reproduce at a younger age. Because reproduction takes so much energy, growth rates slow when fish start to reproduce. The result is a smaller average size all around.
Go ahead — catch some bluegills to create some BIG memories!
Shop Sportsman’s Guide NOW for a fine selection of Fishing Gear!