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.

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