Ask most folks what’s the first fish you have ever caught? The bluegill will most likely be the answer. Many anglers first love affair and introduction to the sport of fishing were through fishing for panfish. The gill is native to North America and lives in streams, rivers, lakes, and ponds. It is commonly found east of the Rockies. If I had to choose one of my favorite fish to eat you would hear me mention species like a perch and walleye, but at the top of the list I would have to say the bluegill. Those tasty fish belong in a cornmeal jacket in my opinion, but I also practice conservation. When targeting large summer or fall schools of fish, always keep conservation in mind. When catching large gills, keep in mind that the size of the female plays a large role in how many eggs she will produce. A smaller female could produce as few as 1,000 eggs and a large, healthy female can produce up to 100,000 eggs. Release the larger females to keep the fishery intact for future generations and feel free to keep the smaller ones for a delicious fish fry.
The savvy anglers who are in search of trophy gills sometimes have fits on trying to locate them within any given body of water during the hot summer months. Big gills move deeper this time of year and suspend in open water just below the surface to feed on plankton and other aquatic creatures. During the day they tend to lounge on the bottom. Bluegill try to spend most of their time in water ranging from 60 to 80 fahrenheit. Contrary to belief, bluegills enjoy the heat but shy away from direct sunlight. They typically love deeper water but will linger near the surface in the morning to stay warm after a cold night. Early and late in the day, the school may move up to 8 to 10 feet deep, but as the day goes on they move deeper.
A school size of 10 to 20 fish or more are pretty typical and will use all of the water column and structure to their advantage. Aquatic insects mostly live in vegetation, and coontail and milfoil weeds are my favorite weeds to target for big gills. They can hide and hunt for food at the same time. I look for differences in cover like thinner patches, or points. Find deep water weed edges and you should connect with the biggest gills the lake has to offer. When the sun gets high and the temps go up look for fish in deeper water. When fish are on beds early in the season it’s easy to locate and catch them. You just cruise the shallows with some polarized glasses and look for beds and fish. Not so easy when the fish choose to go deep, right? Finding them can be easier than you think, and the right equipment can make all the difference in the world. A good depth finder, whether it’s a fixed or portable model, is indispensable in helping you find these fish. First, look for the right depth and structure. Deep water humps, sunken islands, and deep weed edges are usually productive. Use of your spot lock trolling motor, anchor or even a simple marker buoy can help you stay on fish once located. Once fish have been found, the action can be fast and furious.
Most have heard about drop shotting for bass; how about drop shotting for bluegills? This technique can be deadly on deep open water gills. It’s so easy to do and so effective for deep water panfish. I find it tough to try anything else. First, you must start with the right panfish rod when fishing deep water, especially when fishing around 20-30 foot depths. The right rod will help you land more fish. A longer fast action rod is my favorite because the extra length helps to pick up slack line when a strike is detected. The rod is limber enough to handle light leaders and still have the power to get those big gills out of weeds. My favorite rod length would be in a 7-foot range. Once I have my rod picked out I use braid for my main line. I love to use braid in a 4-8 lb. diameter and tie on a 3 -7-foot piece of fluorocarbon or monofilament leader.
When fishing deep water, the braided line helps in getting a great hook set. Braid has less stretch than mono. My leaders are typically anything from 4-6 lb. mono or fluorocarbon for cagey bluegills. If I’m fishing in heavy weeds or structure I will bump up to an 8 lb. leader. For the most part, the lighter the leader line, the more bites you get in my opinion. Tie a Palomar knot to a small hook in a size 6-10 long Aberdeen hook and leave the tag end at least a foot long. It’s important that the hook is facing up after tying your knot. Sometimes I will vary how long I make the tag end so it will vary how far my bait is from the bottom. I will fish it sometimes just 3 inches off the bottom. The goal here is to get the bait in their face by keeping it at eye level with the fish and you will connect.
Pass the tag end through the hook eye to make the hook stand out horizontally and affix a small snap swivel. I like to use a snap swivel and then attach my weight. This is so I can change out the weights easily based on conditions. This rig is great for pitching under docks too. By having the weight below the hook, it enables anglers to suspend a bait off the bottom perfectly. It also works great when presenting bait over a weed edge, or other types of structure. Sometimes I will add a dropper line when drop shotting. By presenting the bait with this stealthy presentation, it minimizes those big bluegill wariness. It’s accomplished when the fish grabs the bait but doesn’t feel the weight. By the time they do, it’s too late because you have already set the hook.
By using a large weight, you can get the bait down very easy. Especially when the action is hot and heavy, trying to get a soft plastic bait down on a light wire hook 20 feet down could take forever. This rig is deadly with its ability to get in the action fast and accurately. Drop shotting will deliver a bait to eye level without compromising the lure or action. The rig can also be pitched up under boat docks or cast near structure and slowly retrieved back to the boat. I even use the rig as a search tool by drifting when trying to find fish schools. It’s a very versatile rig that can cover a lot of water and help you find fish.
Some of my favorite baits to use would be worms, crickets, grasshoppers, wax worms, small flies, and even American cheese pushed on to a hook. Good colors for gills are orange, yellow, red, but my favorite color is green. Their natural diet consists largely of small invertebrates and aquatic insects. Another favorite with drop shotting is the use of soft plastics. I love tiny plastics as it gives the panfish less time to scrutinize and less to be wary about. The small plastics in the half-inch range creates a reduction in weight. This allows the gills time to inhale baits easier. The last thing you want is for them to fail to suck the bait in, and they turn and swim away. Big cagey gills will sometimes just sit there and suck on a bait.
I also love the Berkley Gulp products for panfish. I’m no scientist and can’t tell you what’s in the stuff, but the fish love it that’s for sure. If I had to choose my top baits for large bluegills, I would go with a cricket, leaf worms or pieces of crawlers. Your Bait choices or rigging need not be complicated. It’s all about getting the bait in front of fish. If you do that, you’re cooler won’t be empty. I must say when it comes to big bull bluegills in deep open water, the fight is great. Those fish turn sideways and look like a big pie plate coming up to the boat. On light line and tackle those fish pull so hard. It’s a lot of fun and a great way to introduce someone to fishing. So, get out this summer and enjoy the thrill of a Big Boss Bluegill. You’ll be glad you did.