By Brian Haines
The dreaded-by-some dog days of summer are here. Waking hours are hot, nights are warm, and if you love catching giant bluegills, the lake looks more inviting with each passing hour.
Few things beat the sensation of a nice bluegill on the your fishing line, especially a thick rod-bender that fights by swimming in tornadic circles as you pull it to the surface. If you ask me, catching a big sunfish is one of the most enjoyable experiences of summer.
Whether you’re a seasoned fisherman, a greenhorn, or a kid with a superhero- or princess-themed fishing pole, the fish nicknamed “sunnie” is a willing biter and is typically caught with minimal effort.
For many of us they’re the fish for which we first fished, and even as we age and our quarry evolves to bigger game fish, catching a big sunnie still brings back that same magical feeling as it did when we were kids.
During spring and early summer, big bluegills frequent the shallows and can be easily caught from the end of a dock. Not only are they there to spawn, but they also like the warmth of the soft afternoon sun in springtime.
What they don’t like, however, is the direct heat that radiates through the shallows in July. When that happens, those big sunnies that bit so eagerly in the spring move to deeper water. Put simply, the easy fishing for the year is over.
Finding for bluegills in deep water can be a challenge, but it doesn’t have to be. Just as they were in June, big sunnies are still willing biters, and getting them to grab a bait takes minimal effort. What’s difficult, however, is finding the right deep-water structure that holds a school of big sunnies.
Just like in springtime, midsummer bluegills like warm, but not hot, water, and deep water offers both. A school of bluegills can come near the surface to feed in the softer sun of evening and early morning, then descend to a comfortable depth when the hot sun shines bright in midafternoon. Simply dropping a bait in deep water, however, isn’t enough.
As with any other fish, schools of bluegills cling to structure, and because they are a species of prey, that structure is most often weedlines.
The best midsummer weedlines are found where shallow-growing cabbage is overtaken by deep-growing iodine weeds. The depth of these weedlines will vary from lake to lake, but typically you can find them in 6 to 15 feet of water. It will depend on the water clarity of the lake you’re fishing.
Trolling while using an electronic depth finder can be a good way to find submerged weedlines, but it’s not always necessary. If your lake is semi-clear, the tops of deep iodine weeds can usually be spotted with the naked eye or with good polarized sunglasses.
The best weedlines are those adjacent to spawning areas where the fish bit in June. Find the edge of the weeds, drop a line, and try your luck. Ten minutes is usually enough time to determine if a school of sunnies is near.
Schools typically consist of 10 to 20 fish, and one hungry sunnie will typically trigger the rest of the school to feed. If you catch one, keep close to that area. If you don’t, move down the weedline and try again.
Though finding midsummer bluegills can be tough, catching them remains somewhat simplistic. Bait and tackle don’t need to be too complicated, and any small fishing pole will do. You can ditch the bobber and try trolling weedlines with small spinning rigs, or you can simply drop a line alongside the boat and jig from the bottom up.
Hook color might be more of personal preference, but I find a white hook with a dash of green or orange works best. If you’re someone who likes using a bobber, or if you’re fishing with kids, a lightweight slip bobber is a good tool that lets you cast around without having to deal with 10 feet of line dangling from your pole. Just like in spring, sunnies love leeches, fat nightcrawlers, and are always willing to bite a wax worm.
If you’re not having luck along the deep weedlines, it can sometimes pay to head back to the spring spawning sites. Although the peak of spawning activity has passed, bluegills are known to spawn into August, especially in areas where lily pads, deadfalls, or shaded shorelines can offer some shelter from the sweltering sun.
There’s no doubt that fishing for bluegills in midsummer presents some challenges, and there’s no guarantee you’ll head home with a limit of fish, but catching a meal may not be as difficult as it may seem.