Keys to Bluegills in Heavy Cover
June 10, 2013
When bull bluegills invade heavy cover, pulling them out means pure toe-to-toe infighting. In summer, anglers have always probed the edge of pads, fallen trees, and other shoreline-related cover to find bluegills, with little desire to investigate farther back into that big mess of pads and weeds near shore. And for years, In-Fisherman editors have instructed that finding the biggest gills, especially in highly pressured lakes, often calls for exploring offshore structure like rock piles and humps in deeper water, sometimes deeper than 50 feet, but more commonly 15 to 35 feet down in main-lake areas.
In most lakes, of course, a variety of patterns establish by midsummer -- some deep, some shallow, and some in between. Panfish also suspend at various depths in open water. In all likelihood, though, one overlooked pattern for bull gills remains -- heavy, shallow cover, aka the slop.
Bluegills in Heavy Cover
Bulls use heavy cover as bass do, hiding under pads and mats of algae, using reed stalks or cattails where heavy cabbage or coontail mixes in, to hide from the sun in water over 80F while making use of one of the most forage-rich areas in the lake. These are tough fish to extract. Fouled hooks on cast after cast and broken lines left dangling from reed stalks discourage anglers from invading the slop, which is one reason the bulls tend to live in that shadowy domain, away from direct sunlight and away from fishing pressure. There they remain, waiting for someone with tackle capable of taming saucer-sized muscles that swim through aquatic jungles.
Two principles point to general areas in most lakes. Most lakes can be divided roughly in two, with a shallow half and a deep half. Most bluegills will be in the shallow half, where most of the food is. Sometimes a lake drops off quickly into 15-foot depths or deeper all around the lake, but a few shallow bays hold most of the panfish. Sometimes the entire lake is dish-shaped and shallow, but a similar principle applies. Just look for the largest shallow flats (5 feet deep or less).
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Put the map away and zip over to those big flats. Start cruising along the shoreline, looking at the vegetation. Pass right on by long stretches where vegetation is thin. Keep going past long stretches of just pads or just reeds, where the vegetation is homogeneous. The best areas offer a mix of flora -- such as pads, cabbage, cane, and reeds all coming together in one spot. That's the second principle -- look for areas where a variety of weed types come together.
Diverse weed types coexisting in a relatively small area usually indicate a variety of substrates as well, where clay, sand, marl, silt, gravel, or any number of bottom types come together. All of this variety provides a more diversified forage base.
On huge flats with a number of good-looking spots, concentrate first on areas where deeper water (20 feet or so) bends in closest to the outside weededge. Remember, many patterns exist through summer, and bluegills can move deep or into open water. Having access to deeper water nearby is a bonus, especially for larger gills.
Sometimes these areas are smaller than a living room, but some key spots are expansive. One way to find the exact location of bulls in pads is to listen for them. Lots of leeches and insect larvae cling to lily pads, and the sound of a bluegill belting bugs off the underside of a hubcap-sized pad sounds like a cork popped from a champagne bottle. A tad muffled, perhaps, but distinct on calm days.
Bigger bluegills tend to position on the outside edge of the slop, but far enough in to feel safe, usually within 5 to 20 feet of the edge, depending on the size of the flat. Bull bluegills seldom push all the way into the slop, back under the heaviest mats of algae and junk weeds, as bass sometimes do.