Sunday, January 29th, 2023
Sunday, January 29th, 2023

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Target late-spring bluegills for throwback experience

By Freddie McKnight
Contributing Writer


Many memories have been made fishing for bluegills. For many of us, it was the first fish we ever caught. There are no shortages of this fish species across the state, and it is impossible to think how many bluegills of all sizes are caught in a year’s time from commonwealth waters.


However, if you want to target the bigger fish of this species, you need to approach the waters with a different mentality. Other than the spawn, when the fish are in shallow water and are easy pickings, taking the approach to catch bluegills over the 10-inch mark consistently requires something more than tossing in a worm below a bobber.


When bull bluegills reach a certain size, they are no longer the desired prey of gamefish species. Once reaching this stage of their life, they tend to act more like bass than their smaller kin that roam the shallow waters. 


These fish will feed better during the low light periods of the day, and with just a few exceptions, be found in deeper waters of lakes and impoundments.


When fishing larger bodies of water, look for the bigger bluegills to be cruising along the edges of weed lines. The proximity of weed growth to shallow waters or a channel can enhance the location, but just like many other fish species, you have to probe an area to find out its true value.


When targeting bigger bluegills, go with the big bait big fish theory. Try using larger lures or baits such as curly tailed soft plastics. Pick the 2½-inch or 3-inch versions, but rig them on light jig heads.


You want a slow fall on light line as a faster fall can actually spook the fish.


When picking your rod for this approach, make sure it has a super-sensitive tip. A bluegill can inhale and exhale bait faster than you can blink so at any point if you think you are getting bit, set the hook!  


It is also not a bad idea to spool your reel with fluorocarbon line for lower visibility to the fish.


You may also want to try using crankbaits run parallel to the weed line as a different approach. Scale down the size from what you would throw for bass, but keep your patterns in natural colors. 


These bigger panfish are predators in their own right and will often target young-of- the-year fish as their prey of choice. Mimicking the hatch of whatever swims in the water you are fishing may allow you to connect with a few of these.


If shad are present, try using a ¼-ounce Rattle Trap in any of the shad patterns. The fish seem to be attracted to the sound of the rattles, especially when they are found in and around rock structure.


A popular bass technique, drop shotting, is also a good way to catch the bigger bluegills. The bait may differ a bit, as you can choose from a variety of soft plastics to put on the hook, but the technique is much the same. 


Again, go with a lighter weight and don’t snap the lure as fast as you would for bass. The bluegills won’t chase the bait as far as the larger predator fish and may be just lurking off to the side watching your offering. A subtle shake will often get more bites.


Live baits will work as well, but if you want to keep from getting pestered by littler fish, go with something aside from worms. Bull bluegills are suckers for smaller crayfish. 


Look for rock outcroppings in the deeper water spots as a potential area for deploying these baits for them. Minnows and leeches will work as well, but they tend to be better in areas of weeds or downed timber for attractants.


Regardless of your choice of bait or lure, treat these bigger fish the same as you might a bass. During the warmer weather period of late spring and into summer, these fish are most active in the lower light periods of the day. 


An exception to this may be when the fish are suspended under docks, fishing piers or other manmade structures that provide shade. The bluegills may be attracted to these areas, but keep in mind to fish deeper so that you are not constantly catching the smaller ones that tend to be near the top. 


Another manmade structure to look for is bridge piers where current and shade can position the fish. They may move during the course of the day with the shade, but once you find their holding depth, it is a bet they will be there all day.

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