Blast into Spring with Some Big Bluegills

With spring in the air and summer just around the corner, my thoughts naturally turn to walleyes, smallmouth and largemouth bass and forays into the great north woods to fish the glacial shield lakes for the wily northern pike.

However, spring would not be spring without a few catches of one of my very favorite species: the lowly and underrated bluegill. Prolific breeders, most ponds and lakes are full of the spiny little brats. Don’t take them for granted, they can be as finicky as any other fish. And just as good to eat!

My spring forays in search of ‘gills always begin in one or two of the several ponds my friends and family own and where I have permission to fish. As well, I own a small pond of my own that usually yields a mess or two of fish when I want them.

Spring is here and the spawn is on

In April, the warming of the waters stimulates the annual mating ritual of most finny creatures, including the bluegill. Spawning may not occur until May, but they will be feeling the urge, especially the females which are already laden with eggs. Concurrently, they also will be focused on feeding and keeping from being an item on a larger predator’s menu. Consequently, the fish will be in a bit shallower waters than they were when you were ice fishing. Therefore, this is where you should begin your search.

The males may well be shallower than the females at this point. The responsibility for fanning out nesting beds with their broad tails falls upon them. Depths of about 4 or 5 feet are probably appropriate.

Throw a tiger at them

There are no better baits at this time of year than wax worms and/or red worms, a.k.a. tigers. Select a light-action casting, spinning or spin-casting outfit, and spool it with 6-pound-test line. Choose a #8 long-shanked, light-wire hook and a small, round bobber or a slip bobber and you have the basics for catching a mess of fish.

Strikes in April should be pretty lively. The bobber will dip or go sideways violently. A hard hookset is not required. Wind the slack out of the line and quickly raise the rod tip. The fish should be hooked in the upper lip. Bluegills are notorious for swallowing the hook when live bait is utilized, so be sure to have a pair of needle-nosed pliers handy for retrieving the hook. If the hook is embedded too deeply, cut the line, tie on another hook and retrieve the hook later while cleaning the fish. It is a good idea to have an old rag in your back pocket to clean your hands after removing a hook.

Voracious bluegill on the feed will hit about anything. I have taken them on all sorts of fly rod “bugs” and poppers, spinner baits, jigs, wooden and plastic bass plugs and even on 6-inch plastic worms. The very fact that they will hit something this large shows just how aggressive they can be.

Locating a panful

So, where will they be found? Somewhere near where they spawned last year. Over sand or gravel beaches, on the edges of gravel points that taper down into the water or near any underwater humps that provide a suitable spawning ground.

As mentioned earlier, begin your search in about 5 feet of water. No takers? Adjust your depth by moving your bobber up and down. Gradually move shallower until you are in about 1 foot of water. Watch your bobber, check your bait for freshness and sooner or later you should be into some fish. Any of the above areas that are bordered by brush, downed trees or weed beds should be bluegill magnets.

As much as I enjoy catching bluegill, I enjoy eating them more. I’ll bet you do too. Catch a lot, take some pictures, keep enough for a meal or two and release the rest.