Wednesday, February 1st, 2023
Wednesday, February 1st, 2023

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The big bluegills of summer

By Jeremy Smith

Angling Buzz

Big bluegills are one of my favorite fishes, and as the years roll by, I find myself chasing them more and more during summer. Most people focus on panfish in spring and maybe fall, but it’s fun to extend that season.

What type of water?

With lots of good online information available, you can research many bodies of water in short order. Something I look for is how much water clarity changes during the year. For example, if a lake has a Secchi disc reading that varies from 12 feet to 4 feet over the course of a year, that tells me it gets a good bloom in summer. That lake has fertility, productivity, and the ability to grow big bluegills.

Fertility is relatively high in agricultural areas, because the soil forming the foundation of the lake and feeding the lake tends to be loaded with nutrients. In those areas, not only can you find big panfish, but they also can grow big in less time than can fish living in less fertile environments.

Lakes get extra points for being off the beaten path. If you have to work to get to a place, you can find older fish communities. 

Beyond these factors, I listen carefully whenever somebody mentions a big bluegill they caught. I want to know where!

Finding big summertime ’gills

You can catch sunnies around docks and in shallow weeds all summer. But for bigger ’gills, look for primary structural elements: points, humps, shoreline breaks, weedlines.

If it’s a bowl-shaped lake – which a lot of good panfish lakes are – motor around the lake while using electronics to see how deep the weeds grow. Most good bluegill lakes I’ve found have a summer bloom, which reduces sunlight penetration, so a lot of times the weedline might be only 4 to 6 feet deep.

Also, key on bottom composition changes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten into big schools of bluegills and crappies along areas most people don’t fish. You’re going along, seeing a very weak sonar signal that’s indicating a muddy bottom. It’s mud, mud, mud, then your sonar shows a stronger return, indicating a harder bottom. Look carefully along that transition.

Drop-shotting is killer

If I want to find bluegills quickly on a new lake, a drop-shot rig is what I use.

(For a primer on drop-shotting, read our past two columns.)

With a jig, you’re probably using something around 1⁄16- or 1⁄32-ounce. It takes forever to sink. If you’re pulling a live-bait rig with the boat, you’re moving over the fish first. Not ideal.

But with the drop-shot rig, I’m working ahead of myself, making short casts with a 1⁄4-ounce bait. The sinker is heavy enough to drop into the zone quickly, yet it lands on the water with a surprising degree of stealth.

Rig with a little panfish leech, a small plastic, or a chunk of nightcrawler.

You’ll catch a lot of crappies along the way, too, and bass. It’s a great way to spend a fun day on the water.

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