By Vic Attardo
I doubt if you need me to tell you how to catch bluegills. While we’re enjoying the age of specialized trophy angling, most fishermen have caught bluegills at one time or other.
However, what you may like to acquaint you with – because I only recently taught myself – is how to successfully return scads of bluegills and pumpkinseeds after catching and keeping those you really want.
In other words, after putting together a nice stringer of ’gills and ’seeds for cooking, there is a way you can keep on fishing without needlessly destroying those you can’t use.
I’ve returned to the simple pleasures of live bait fishing, with one fairly modern addition – the use of circle hooks.
Eagle Claw, and likely other companies, offered circle hooks in size 8, 10 and 12.
Their effectiveness was shown to me recently at a Pocono lake where I fished with a friend for bluegills and pumpkinseeds. My friend was scheduled for shoulder surgery in a few days to repair a completely torn rotator cuff.
With that infirmity he could barely cast so we needed, and found, a dock where an easy lob put us close to both shallow and deeper water.
Since we had “pioneered” the use of small circle hooks for trout on this lake, we decided to give smaller circle hooks a try for panfish.
My friend likes a round plastic bobber (I hope to break him of that ineffective apparatus some day) while I used a cylindrical 1½-inch foam float, a fat pencil shape, with a ring of lead at the south end.
Two reasons for this: fat, round plastic bobbers are wind resistant, like trying to throw a beachball into a 30- mph blast, and when a bluegill nibbles they bob like shipwreck lifesavers and alert gills to something foreign.
The result is that constant pecking you observe. But with a cylindrical foam float, when the gill takes, the float dives and slides one end under the water, smoothly and surely.
You don’t see the float bounce, as with the round bobber. If the float has two push-out U-clips, only attach the line to one end, the non-weighted end of a weighted float and it works great.
The ring of lead around the float’s bottom is enough to make a decent cast, far better than with a plastic bobber. Initially I added a small drop-shot sinker to the bottom of the rig. I quickly removed it as unnecessary.
I threaded the red worm back and forth over the point of the circle hook; with all the curls and turns it looked sloppy, but it also made the ‘gills and ‘seeds return again and again. Sometimes three or four fish to a single worm.
Now here’s the thing: even if you have not used a circle hook, you’ve probably read that you don’t “set the hook” with circles; instead you let the fish take, then just tighten up the line.
Honestly, I don’t think that’s the case with these smaller hooks and the small mouths of ‘gills and ‘seeds. While a few sets went as advertised, I frequently had run-offs that didn’t connect.
So instead, I set the hook and the fish got the point. Together we caught over 40 panfish and we snapped the rod on most of them.
I sat there and tried to figure it out and couldn’t make up my mind. Was it the manner in which bluegills nibble? Was it the size of the hook, size 8? I honestly don’t know.
To experiment, I frequently let the ‘gill move off and slowly tightened the line as I’d done catching trout but a lot of ‘gills never got the point that way (believe me we could have landed a lot more than 40 if we hadn’t been experimenting) but that’s what I learned.
Later, just for kicks and giggles, and when the harassed ‘gills needed further enticement, I used a jig fly hook with an attached soft plastic hellgrammite, then added a worm piece on top of that.
Then I tried a Beadhead Wooly Bugger with a worm chunk, all beneath the weighted foam float. They were great offerings too. Even with those lures and bait, we returned so many fish unharmed, it was guiltless joy.
As a result of this testing I’m tossing out my old bait-holder hooks which the gills swallow deep and cause unwanted injury.
It was the new, smaller size circle hooks that got most of my and the ‘gills’ attention and my pleasure. I also enjoyed giving a dozen ‘gills away to the retired nurse whose dock we used. When she said she had cleaned fish all her life that was the clincher.