Sorry to be so non-communicative lately, but the day after getting home from Misaw Lake, I drove north for a couple hours to hook up with the ubiquitous don of monster bluegills. That would be Dave Genz. (Who else?)
Barely had the flesh torn by toothy critters in Saskatchewan had time to fester before I was on the water with Mary Savage and Genz for two extremely hot days. Then I drove home and worked on my house for a couple days in equally hot, 90°F weather. And Sunday evening (when we ran out of paint), we went smallmouth fishing. (What else?)
Monday I was down for the count with a mild case of heat stroke. But I wouldn't trade a moment of it. We got a lot accomplished and the bull bluegills of northern Minnesota were massively accommodating. Our two days with Dave and his wonderful wife Patsy could be the highlight of the summer. Because, among other things, we learned stuff. I've been faithfully reporting on Dave's new summer techniques to the best of my ability for the past couple years, but I've never actually done it with him.
"We've got to rig a couple float rods like this," Mary said, while battling another pug-nosed, porcine pugilist over 10 inches long. "This is amazing."
Bluegills are amazing. Dave calls them "spinners." They tilt their flat bodies side up and circle into every cabbage stalk in the immediate area, pulling harder than a dog-sled team. Bass, trout, walleyes, pike, and muskies vie for everyone's attention this time of year — which just might be the reason why bluegill fishing is so spectacular. Concerning odds for trophy specimens, bluegills might offer the best bang for your buck under mid-summer's thunder dome.
If you look back through past summer issues of In-Fisherman (I know you've got them, because independent surveys don't lie), you'll see the method described in detail. Genz uses a 12-foot, European-style float rod and daps. His floats of choice are Thill Shy Bites and Super Shy Bites, like the one in the photo. He uses Lindy Fat Boy jigs of various sizes, depending on water clarity, depth, and wind conditions. (I preferred the 1/8-ounce Northland Eye Ball Jig you see in the photo above.) We tipped jigs with maggots or leeches from Vados Bait. Bluegills showed a decided preference for maggots the first day, while both baits worked well on day two.
After choosing a jig, Dave adds just enough Thill Soft Shot to the line (12 inches above the jig) to draw the float down to the black paint you see at the top of the float's body, creating a very sensitive rig that practically disappears whenever a bluegill breathes on the bait.
Dave would putz around or drift across a flat until we saw some particularly encouraging clumps of cabbage, at which point, down went the "hook" (anchor). Then we reached out and dapped around the thickest clumps, which were growing in 9 to 10 feet of water on the two lakes we visited, even though the water hardly seemed clear enough to allow weeds to grow that deep.
If you know anything about Genz, you know he's an ice-fisherman extraordinaire. He's good at it because he loves it and he loves it because he's good at it, but he wants to fish vertically and take complete command of what the jig is doing. He'd clip an ice-fishing plummet to his jig to decipher the precise depth of the spot. If it was 10 feet deep, his jig would be 9.5 feet below the Super Shy Bite (which slides on the line for easy adjustments). But, whenever you looked at him, the float would be a foot or so above the water while he manipulated the jig with the rod tip. "The cadence is the thing," he kept saying. "Find that and you can sometimes catch them for hours." Using wrist and fingers, he tricked the rod tip around, making the float dance and wobble above the water for several seconds, then he'd drop it back to the surface and wait for a few more seconds before starting all over again — imagining himself on the ice, no doubt, and doing the same thing with a much shorter rod from the seat of a snowmobile.
Skin burning from overexposure, we reclined in the Genz cabin and drifted off to distant claps of thunder and the dim flicker of far-off lightning. More on the Genz trip in tomorrow's post. (If the sun don't get me and the smallmouths won't bite, that is. It will be Friday tomorrow, after all.)
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.