Last post we discussed a reader's questions regarding the search for bluegills in early spring. Specifically, we talked about "the elevator," that last sharp drop between winter and spring habitat that acts as a pivot point, where bluegills progress back-and-forth after cold fronts and again as weather stabilizes.
This year we're finding them farther from the bank than ever before during this period between ice-out and spawning. We think it's because the mild winter left so many healthy, bright-green cabbage stands on the shallow flats in depths of 4 to 6 feet. The tricky part is hauling them out of there. One reader asked how we go about that. We've been using 7- to 8-foot fast ultralight sticks and 4-pound braided line with tough, abrasion-resistant, 6- to 8-pound fluorocarbon leaders. A 4-pound braid like Berkley FireLine has the breaking strength of an 8-pound mono, but it cuts through weeds better. Added length on the rod, combined with almost zero stretch in the FireLine, allows us to reel down to the fish, lift the rod high overhead, and pull them right through the tops of the plants after they bury themselves.
The ultralight sticks have the right amount of give. In combination with low-stretch lines, they give you all the leverage you need plus the forgiveness required to keep hooks from ripping free and to keep leaders from breaking.
Another reader asked me to explain my comments about "grooves created by wind-driven ice." Up in the North country, we take it for granted that people understand how much force can be generated by big sheets of ice on big lakes in spring. When the ice starts to break up, open water forms. Those remaining sheets of ice now have room to move behind wind-driven currents. The ice might only be moving at a couple miles per hour, but it has tons of mass and weight behind it. Meaning nothing is going to stop it anytime soon.
When these sheets of ice hit the shoreline, it's a classic "irresistible force meets immovable object" scenario. Something's gotta give. Sheets of ice can slide up on shore and slowly, inexorably, sheer telephone poles and push houses off foundations. That's an extreme case, but "sublimation" is pretty common, wherein a moving sheet of ice slides underneath a stationary one near shore. The moving ice hits bottom and eventually stops, but usually not before creating a new groove or trench in the bottom of the lake. Because these troughs tend to occur near shore they can be very important to panfish seeking a little extra security when they move back-and-forth from shallow areas where they're visible to birds, raccoons, humans, and other predators. In summer these trenches continue to provide shaded cover after the weeds come up where fewer bass, pike, muskies, and catfish can find them — so it pays to note the position of these spots in spring when it's easier to see them. Some of the biggest bluegills move deep into the slop in summer, and chase the smaller fish out to the fringes where bigger predators lurk. Troughs cut into the bottom by ice create key hiding places for those ever-challenging slop bulls.
Keep those cards and letters rolling in. Meanwhile, Master Shoggie and I have been on some impressive crappie bites we'll bring to the table next time around. Or not. I have a comment or two on one of Ned Kehde's recent blog posts we all need to chew on, but we'll get around to those slabs soon enough.
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.