Paradise for Spring Bluegills

Paradise for Spring Bluegills

Bluegills are (finally) prowling through shallow water in the small, local lakes I haunt in spring. When the winds die, and the incessant, ambient conversations of geese, cardinals, and red-wing blackbirds fill the air, it's pleasant, here, on a sunny day.

Paradise for spring bluegills is just that. Paradise for them. They love soft bottoms full of burrowing invertebrates that support weeds full of epiphytes next to rocks covered with tiny crayfish. We just get to find that paradise and participate in the bacchanal. The best time to do that is on the afternoon of a sunny day during a warming trend. They come alive, dimpling the surface as water temperatures broach 50°F. That particular temperature seems to be an important demarcation. For one thing, panfish leeches ball up in temperatures any colder than that, and it's hard to make them do anything else. And bull bluegills love panfish-sized leeches in the spring.

But 50°F also seems to describe the point at which bluegills actually pull the float down. At 48°F the bobber may never move at all when a bull takes jig and all entirely down its throat. When you can find 50°F water in a bay predominantly registering 48°F — you'll find yourself surrounded and circled by Midwestern piranha.



Today we were using Thill Shy Bites and (ironically) Red Wing Blackbird slip floats. The Shy Bite, weighted correctly, goes down before they can swallow the jig, and a good slip float becomes necessary when a slow drift in a slight breeze takes your craft in range of fallen trees. The smaller package pitches into tight spots best, and drops the rigging straight down for better efficiency around branches.


But the Shy Bite was the primary tool today. It was more sensitive and indicated light bites extremely well, but not only that. The big fish were in open water and depth was a fascinating part of the equation today. The porcine warthogs we truly cherish were out on the deep weedlines, outside the dead stands of last hear's cabbage, in 6 to 8 feet of water — nowhere near the shallow wood, inside weedlines, and grooves created by wind-driven ice they often inhabit this long after ice-out.

But ice-out came early. This has been a strange and eye-opening spring. The lessons are quite clear. Ice-out, temperature, and stable weather don't determine the timing of early bluegill movements so much as day length — also referred to as photo period. We often dismiss the "pea-sized brains" of fish, but those tiny brains hold an amazing amount of data. Biologists keep discovering parallels between the movements of fish and  the length of time between dawn and sunset. Certainly, nothing the panfish are doing this spring would conflict with those observations.

A better understanding of the amazing relationship between bait and jigs makes catches like this more consistent, and results more predictable. Grist for tomorrow's blog.


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, penrodsguides.com.

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.

Get Your Fish On.

Plan your next fishing and boating adventure here.

Recommended for You

Catfish is meaty, juicy and holds up well in this soul-satisfying fried fish recipe with homemade chips and tartar sauce. Fish Recipes

Catfish Dinner with Homemade Chips and Tartar Sauce Recipe

Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley

Catfish is meaty, juicy and holds up well in this soul-satisfying fried fish recipe with...

Which of the ten is the best? You decide. Bass

10 Best Bass Fishing States In America

Matt Straw - November 01, 2017

Which of the ten is the best? You decide.

In-Fisherman

Here is a way to calculate prop performance with different props, a formula Boats & Motors

Technical Notes: Calculating Prop Performance

In-Fisherman - May 01, 2019

In-Fisherman Here is a way to calculate prop performance with different props, a formula

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Mustad

Mustad's New Tungsten Weights

Long known as one of the world's premiere hook makers, Mustad's Reid McKinstry shows OSG's Lynn Burkhead that the company is now one of the leaders in making tungsten terminal tackle products for anglers.

13 Fishing Pathfinder Weedless Walking Bait

13 Fishing Pathfinder Weedless Walking Bait

Fresh off catching the biggest bass in ICAST Cup history, 13 Fishing pro Jessie Mizell shows OSG's Lynn Burkhead the new Big Squirm soft plastic worm and the company's unique Pathfinder topwater walking bait that is totally weedless in design.

Simms

Simms' Challenger Raingear

John Frazier of Simms Fishing Products details the warm and dry features found in the new Challenger raingear being brought to market by the Bozeman, Mont. company.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

Pole lines illustrate the paradox of catfishing. At a time when excellent rods, reels, and other Catfish

Catfish Pole Rigs

Richard Peterson with In-Fisherman - April 28, 2016

Pole lines illustrate the paradox of catfishing. At a time when excellent rods, reels, and...

Check out this Largemouth Bass Length To Weight Conversion Chart, a simple and accurate explanation from the In-Fisherman biologists. Bass

Largemouth Bass Length To Weight Conversion Chart

Dr. Rob Neumann - January 22, 2017

Check out this Largemouth Bass Length To Weight Conversion Chart, a simple and accurate...

Catfish are among the most popular groups of fish with over 7 million catfish anglers nationwide. Catfish

All About Catfish

Rob Neumann

Catfish are among the most popular groups of fish with over 7 million catfish anglers...

See More Stories

More Panfish

Nothing near shore. Nothing on the weededge. Braid whistled through the guides as I decided to Panfish

Big Baits for Big Crappie

Matt Straw - April 19, 2018

Nothing near shore. Nothing on the weededge. Braid whistled through the guides as I decided to

There are several reasons why spring is the season to invest most of your bull-hunting time: Fish Panfish

Finding Big Bluegill in Tall Corn

Matt Straw - April 02, 2018

There are several reasons why spring is the season to invest most of your bull-hunting time:...

Panfish opportunities are boundless during the Summer Period. Fish are active, moving and feeding Panfish

7 Summer Panfish Hotspots

Steve Ryan - May 18, 2018

Panfish opportunities are boundless during the Summer Period. Fish are active, moving and...

See More Panfish

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.