April 19, 2012
By Matt Straw
I want the fish that tried to eat this one. While not a big 'un, this 'gill fell for that color I've been writing about that inspired questions in recent posts — a metallic green nail polish that mimics some of the surface skimmers in this particular lake. The color is Maybelline Express Finish #900 and it's called Go Go Green. (Nail polish colors always have weird names.)
Few folks have the time to make comments on these blog posts. Or maybe I write well enough that everyone always understands what I'm trying to communicate?
Nah. Probably not, and that's one reason I love getting comments — it demonstrates where I skipped over things or went too fast. Comments often point out where I was simply being vague. I hate being vague and I'm repentent about it.
For instance, Dan (last names omited to protect the innocent) writes in with this question regarding "the elevator," that sharp drop between winter and spring habitat that tends to collect fish after a front: "When you talk about sharp drops into deep water, how steep of a drop are we talking about? The lake I fish is manmade but pretty much flat with depth changes measured in inches and no major drop-offs. The sharpest drop is from the bank into the water, and from there it pretty much slopes gently downward into the deepest water."
Good question. I've fished lots of lakes like this, both manmade and natural. Location late under the ice and after fronts can be really problematic. Where you can find a slope even one degree sharper than the surrounding area, it tends to become "the spot." But, where slopes are truly gradual and barely distinct, other factors can become more important. Like bottom transitions. To narrow the search, consider the water clarity and compare it to other area lakes, reservoirs, or ponds. What depths do bluegills and crappies retreat to after a front in those bodies of water? Narrow the search to those contours and start hunting. Crappies are easier to find than bluegills because they tend to suspend more while 'gills hug bottom after fronts. Slow down and combine the search with a slow backtroll using a small Lindy rig or split-shot rig with a leech on light line.
Sometimes you can't find a steep drop, but if you can locate a spot where the depth quickly changes by just a foot, fish will use it. Generally the key is finding an area where the 10- to 18-foot contours (depending on the maximum depth of the lake and the distance to the deepest basin) are closest to shallow spring foraging areas. You may not be able to distinguish a sharper drop, but fish know where the straight line is — the shortest distance between point A and point B — and they'll use it to travel back and forth. Even when plenty of fish inhabit the shallows, you should check out "the elevator." Sometimes the beluga blues go back to those spots when done foraging.
Another clue is spawning habitat. Bluegills will be immediately adjacent to their spawning areas in most cases both before they move up in spring and after a front. Find them and here's betting they'll be on a transition between soft and hard bottom, or at least between soft and harder bottom.
I have more questions to answer and I'll cover them in the next post.
1 Clear Lake, California
The largest lake in California (43,000 acres near Lakeport) is known for lunker largemouths, but houses overlooked giant 'gills, yielding the 3¾-pound state record last year, along with others over 3. The bite by docks and at the edge of tules is strong from mid-April into September. Nearby Collins Lake, renowned for trophy trout, also produces massive sunnies — 2 to 3 pounds. The best bite starts in April and lasts into the spawn in May and early June. Contact: Clear Lake Information, lakecounty.com; Clear Lake State Park, 800/444-7275, parks.ca.gov
; Collins Lake, collinslake.com
6 Deep Creek Lake, Maryland
This impoundment in the northwestern corner of Maryland yielded the state record 3-pound 7-ounce 'gill, giving evidence of its productivity. With a deep basin, the Prespawn and Spawn periods are protracted, with prime action from mid-April into early June. Contact: Fish Deep Creek, 240/460-8839, fishdeepcreek.com
; Guide Ken Penrod, 301/937-0010,
7 Coastal Impoundments, Virginia
Four reservoirs near Norfolk and Suffolk, Virginia, are regular producers of big bluegills and shellcrackers. Fertile lakes Cahoon, Western Branch, Prince, and Burnt Mills have a history of trophy fish production. Western Branch (1,265 acres) reopened to public fishing in 2010 and is known for outsize redear, with certified specimens approaching 3 pounds. Boating permits required. Contact: Burnt Mills Reservoir Manager, 757/441-5678; Chesapeake Bay Office, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, 757/465-6812, dgif.virginia.gov
5 Kentucky & Barkley Lakes, Kentucky-Tennessee
These massive impoundments — Kentucky Lake on the Tennessee River and Barkley on the Cumberland — are joined by a canal and offer outstanding fishing for big redear sunfish, as well as bass and crappies. Contact: Jack Canady, Woods and Water Guide Service, 270/227-2443, woodsandwaterguideservice.com
2 Lake Havasu, Arizona-California
Lake Havasu, impounding about 45 miles of the Colorado River, has become redear central after producing the all-tackle record 5-pound 7-ounce fish, along with many others over 2 pounds. The record was 16¾ inches long and boasted a 19-inch girth. Best action runs from April through June, when fish gather in coves to spawn. Locals fish livebait but small spinners and cranks catch some monsters. Contact: John Galbraith, basstacklemaster.com; Captain Jerry's Guide Service, 760/447-5846, havasufishingguide.com
; Havasu Fishing, havasufishing.com
3 Pelican Lake, Nebraska
Nestled in the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge in the Sandhills region of Nebraska, Pelican Lake consistently produces the biggest 'gills in the region, many over a pound and occasional 2-pounders. Blessed with abundant and diverse large invertebrates, growth is fast in this shallow waterway. Abundant vegetation provides habitat for bugs and a sanctuary for big sunfish. Most giants are caught through the ice or in early spring. Contact: Valentine National Wildlife Refuge, http://www.fws.gov/valentine/
4 Reelfoot Lake, Tennessee
Labeled 'Earthquake Lake, ' a mighty tremor of the New Madrid Fault in 1811 diverted the Mississippi River, backing up this highly productive 11,000-acre waterway in northwestern Tennessee. Big bluegills and shellcrackers roam the shallow lake's cypress forests and lily pad fields, yielding prime pole-fishing opportunities all spring and summer. Contact: Bluebank Resort, 877/258-3226, bluebankresort.com
; Eagle Nest Resort, 731/538-2143, eaglenestresort.com
9 Richmond Mill Lake, North Carolina
Located near Laurel Hill, North Carolina, Richmond Mill likely offers the best shot at a 2-pound bluegill, truly a rare animal. This pay-to-play waterway, owned by the Kingfisher Society, is managed to ensure balance between bluegills and largemouth bass and habitat quality. After refilling in 2000, it's approaching prime productivity. Giants sometimes require finesse presentations, such as tiny jigs tipped with a bit of 'crawler. Contact: Kingfisher Society, 910/462-2324, kingfishersociety.com
10 Santee-Cooper, South Carolina
This lowland jewel produced the former world record shellcracker and continues to yield amazing numbers of platter-sized bluegills as well as redears, not to mention big catfish, bass, and crappies. Spring comes early and a fine bedding bite starts in late March, lasting into May, but recurring on a monthly basis until September. Anglers also take jumbos in the Diversion Canal between the paired impoundments in fall and winter. Contact: Santee-Cooper Country, 803/854-2131, santeecoopercountry.org
8 Tidal Rivers, North Carolina
Flowing into Arbemarle Sound in the northeastern part of the state are a series of blackwater rivers that represent the northernmost range of the coppernose bluegill, the southern subspecies known to attain large size. Panfish expert Jim Gronaw picks the Pasquotank, Yeopim, Perqimens, and Chowan rivers, with loads of 9- to 11-inch fish and some over 1½ pounds. Local expert Jeffrey Abney scores with hair jigs tied in a grass shrimp pattern. Contact: bigbluegill.com
; Pembroke Fishing Center, 252/482-5343; Bethel Fishing Center, 252/426-5155.