Bluegill Fishing: Thread the Needle for the Long Bomb
August 05, 2013
Growing up in the nylon era meant training myself to fish jigs with monofilament line. I learned to watch line as it entered the water; to feather it with my index finger as I jigged for enhanced bite-detection. I wonder what sort of jig fishermen a lot of us would be today had we learned the art of casting and swimming a jig with the micro superlines available today.
In many bluegill fishing situations, mono rules over superline. Braid and fused microlines certainly transmit bites like a live wire. But I'm still inclined to believe that more panfish strikes are potentially missed with superlines because it's easy to react and set prematurely, before fish have fully ingested the lure. Fish are also slightly more likely to reject a jig that resists some level of "give" when they bite. Perhaps because you immediately feel them, fish also instantly sense an unnatural resistance in the opposite direction.
Maybe it's just that it has taken me a lot of practice to become comfortable, and finally deadly, with a jig tethered to a superline. Everything just feels different. Jigs sink at a different speed. Rod tip movements impart more actions to lures. And hooking fish rarely requires more than a short pop or raise of the rod tip.
For short-range casting to crappies and other panfish, mono still wins. But superlines play a significant role in panfishing. Thanks mostly to sage council from my friend Brian "Bro" Brosdahl, I've come to recognize that for throwing long bombs to panfish, micro superlines shine. Bro grew up in roughly the same era I did, a time when "fishing line" meant monofilament. But given that Bro dedicates dozens of guiding days every year to the pursuit of bluegills, crappies, and perch, he's developed a keen sense of when low-stretch micro superlines make more sense.
Nearly any long-distance presentation, Bro says, can be done with more precision and sensitivity with a thread-thin, low stretch superline. Like most panfish specialists, he casts and vertically jigs with small spoons, jigs, plastics, and livebait. And while he still prefers mono for shortline applications, he always spools spinning combos for guide clients with 4- or 6-pound-test Berkley FireLine, which has the diameter of 1- and 2-pound-test mono.
For clients or anglers less adept at detecting jig bites, he feels that FireLine's low stretch, high-sensitivity properties help hook more fish. Microlines are superior for inexperienced anglers who fail to property set a hook. "Any sort of rod reaction on the part of the angler," Bro says, "often provides enough torque to set a hook. These half-hearted hook-sets are usually better, especially with crappies, whose delicate jaws are easy to rip hooks through."
Micro superlines can be especially relevant in deep water. From late summer into winter, schools of crappies, large sunfish, and yellow perch all often occupy 20- to 50-foot depths where Bro employs vertical jigging with 1/16-ounce spoons or jigs and livebait. "It's clearly a superline thing," he says. Getting lures down fast, retaining a vertical angle, and feeling bites are all best accomplished with something like 4-pound-test FireLine or another thin microline, such as PowerPro Microline or Sufix Ice Fuse. "When I'm plucking fish from deep schools," Bro says, "I like to video-fish with my sonar. Drop the lure down to a school of fish that's showing on the screen. Thin lines plummet my jig down to their level in a hurry. I can watch the lure as it sinks, and observe fish peel off the school as they rise to eat the bait. If you aren't totally vertical, your transducer won't read your jig, and the presentation doesn't work."
"Nobody likes casting into a gale," Bro says, "but using a micro superline can be a great equalizer. So long as you're casting directly downwind or straight upwind, you can punch out potent casts using something like 4-pound FireLine and a 1/16-ounce jig. The wind often blows a bow in your line, but that's actually okay if you're using superline. The wind-borne slack acts as a buffer for fish that might otherwise feel the resistance of the low-stretch connection and reject your bait. With a premium graphite spinning rod, bites are transmitted through the line, all the way to your fingertips."
Regardless of wind, Bro also spends plenty of time casting baits to crappies, perch, and bluegills from long distances. "Throughout much of the year — especially summer — panfish spread and wander across large flats," he says. "Sunfish like middepth vegetated plains. Nomad yellow perch travel over silt and sand dunes. Crappies like to suspend over deeper water. In all cases, a great way to find scattered fish is to throw 'em a long bomb.
"For bluegills on coontail and sandgrass flats, I like to use a small slipfloat to suspend a tiny ice jig, such as a Northland Mud Bug, tipped with a baby ribbon leech. Sometimes I fish from an anchored position and let the wind peel line from the spool and carry the float across a portion of the flat, say about a 50-yard drift. You can do the same for perch or crappies. In cover, I use 6-pound FireLine, and in open water I sometimes drop to 4. While my clients are doing long drifts with floats and jigs, I make downwind casts with just a jig, slowly swimming it back to the boat.
"You can't work these long-distance presentations effectively with stretchy monofilament, especially when float-drifting. Slack line created by wind, and the sheer distance to the lure, make sensitive, low-stretch superline critical for detecting bites and hooking fish. It's why long casts with FireLine are at least half of my game plan during much of the season," he says.
Examining Bro's rigs up close reveals that although he's spooled with microline, every one of them terminates with about a 2-foot leader of monofilament. His straight jig-casting combos are 5-foot 6-inch St. Croix Avid spinning rods with Shimano Stradic reels. To connect FireLine to the leader of 3-pound-test Northland Bionic Panfish mono, he uses either back-to-back uni-knots or a blood knot (check netknots.com for animated knot-tying instructions). He likes a knot that slides easily through rod guides, and tied right, both knots accomplish this goal.
The blood knot is a good choice for connecting superline to mono or fluorocarbon of similar diameter. The back-to-back uni-knot is easier to tie than a blood knot, and works great for making any superline to mono or fluoro connection. It travels through line guides well and works for lines with different diameters. The surgeon's knot is fast and easy to tie for light applications, but has a tendency to occasionally slip with ultrathin lines.
Bro's float rigs also end with a mono leader and adorn 6- to 61â„2-foot ultralight St. Croix rods. With float-rigging, he makes the micro-to-mono connection using a new type of clear swivel. "I've become a fan of InvisaSwivels for any connection that needs line-twist prevention. This new swivel is made of a type of fluorocarbon material, which is said to be less visible than metal swivels. The swivel material also flexes."
He says that like his InvisaSwivel, the mono leader is less visible to panfish, too. "It's a confidence thing. The Bionic leader I use is camouflaged. The line alternates between several shades of blue, green, gray and clear, blending into the underwater environment — perhaps even better than fluorocarbon." Finally, Bro believes that the mono leader may provide some degree of shock absorption. This isn't to protect line from breaking, but rather to provide a bit of stretch, which prevents hooks from ripping free from delicate mouths.
Another dimension in distance presentations is trolling. One top approach for big perch and sunfish, as well as white bass all season, is to pull tiny spinner rigs tipped with livebait behind a sinker. Similar to the drift-float approach, slow-trolling with a trolling motor often becomes a longline affair. For trolling in 15 to about 30 feet of water, run 30 to 60 feet of line beneath and behind the boat. Bite detection and hook-sets are greatly aided with superlines. Likewise, the thin diameter of 4-pound PowerPro or 6-pound Spiderwire Stealth cuts deeper than mono, allowing for a more precise trolling presentation on a relatively shorter line with less weight.
I often troll to locate bluegill and perch schools, and find it to be among the deadliest of all summertime approaches. The presentation employs a moderate-to-slow action, light-power 9 or 10 foot graphite rod, such as a Shimano Clarus CSS90ML2A. The soft, 9-foot rod couples brilliantly with low-stretch line, fish frequently hooking themselves as the boat moves forward. At the end of a 4-pound-test PowerPro mainline is a 1/4-ounce egg or bullet sinker, stopped by a #12 InvisaSwivel attached to a 3-foot leader of 4-pound-test fluorocarbon or Bionic Panfish mono. A #8 or #10 Gamakatsu octopus hook, attached to the leader with a uni-snell knot, runs behind two BB-sized colored beads above a tiny clevis and #00 to #2 Colorado spinner blade. A baby minnow, piece of crawler, or small leech decorates the hook. When tiny panfish pilfer livebait, I use a micro softbait, such as a 1-inch Gulp! Alive! Leech or Minnow. When small panfish pester these baits, pull the bait away from them with a sweep of the rod tip.
A late-game touchdown often calls for the long bomb. Like a Montana-to-Rice bullet, micro superlines thread the needle every time.
In-Fisherman Field Editor Cory Schmidt lives in the Brainerd Lakes, Minnesota, area, and is a top-notch panfish angler.
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 'œEarthquake 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.