Catch some mid-summer blues
No, not those kind of blues. I’m talking bluegills — pound for pound the hardest-fighting fish in freshwater.
And when it comes to good eating, nothing, not even the revered walleye, can top a platter of golden brown bluegill fillets in my book.
Bluegills are very popular here in our walleye-crazy state. In fact, some of the best bluegill fishing in North America can be found on lakes in central and northern Minnesota. While the lakes here in our part of the state cannot compete with some of the gems up north, lots of lakes over in the Mankato-Faribault-Waterville area have good numbers of fair-sized bluegills.
If really big bluegills are your thing, head the other direction. The Mississippi River is home to some true giants. Most anglers think that the backwaters are the best place for bluegills, and in the spring, when the fish are spawning, this is the case.
But when the spawn is over, many of the largest bluegills move back out to the main river. Wingdams are the best place to find them. Sure, there are big bluegills scattered here and there all up and down the river, but wingdams are the structures which concentrate numbers of the largest bluegills.
A bluegill weighing over a pound is as rare as a 10-pound walleye. Most places, you will never see one that size. But if you learn how to fish bluegills on the wingdams, you will catch several that size each summer.
Crawlers are a traditional bait with bluegill fishermen, and you won’t hear me arguing with anyone who fishes them, but whether I’m fishing the river or a lake, I prefer leeches. I don’t know if small leeches are a regular item on a bluegills menu or not, but I do know that they find small to medium-sized leeches nearly irresistible.
Bobbers and bluegills are like cake and ice cream or love and marriage — they just go together. In the spring and early summer when bluegills are shallow, I will usually use a bobber. But at this time of the year, when the bluegills are holding in deeper water, I have found that I catch more fish if I go bobberless.
On a windless day on the lake, I might go with nothing more than a few split-shot six inches above a No. 8 eight long-shanked hook tipped with small leech. On the river, where current is always a consideration or when I am fishing in rougher water on a lake, I go with a three-way rig for bluegills. Simply tie a three way swivel to the end of your line. To the bottom swivel attach a foot to eighteen inches of six pound test monofilament. Tie a one-quarter to one-half ounce bell sinker to the tag end of the monofilament leader. To the other loop of the swivel tie a six to twelve inch length of ten to twenty pound test fluorocarbon leader and tie a size six or eight long shank hook to the tag end.
No, you do not need 20-pound test line to land a bluegill, but fluorocarbon in that poundage range is stiff enough that the baited hook will stand out away from the main line and not tangle with the main line or your dropper. It is a slick, easy-to-use and absolutely deadly rigging for bluegills.
I use this same rig when fishing over a carpet of weeds. If you have sandgrass or junk weeds growing a foot off of bottom, an 18-inch dropper will keep your baited hook just above the weeds and right in the bluegills’ strike zone. Just adjust your dropper length according to the height of the weeds on the bottom and you can fish weed-infested bottom areas with relatively little hassle.
A side benefit of this three-way rig is what I call "bottom thumping." This works well for both bluegill and perch. It will work on any type of bottom, but is best on clay or sand. To bottom thump, just lift the tip of the rod a foot and let the sinker drop and thump the bottom. Do it three or four times in succession and then wait. Usually a fish will bite.
I suppose what happens is that any fish in the vicinity hears the thumping and then sees the little puff of sand or mud caused by the thumping sinker and comes to investigate. I’ve also caught quite a few "incidental" walleyes and bass while thumping bottom for bluegills.
Interestingly, I have yet to catch my first crappie while bottom-thumping, even though the lakes in the Faribault/Waterville/Mankato area where I often fish, as well as the river, typically have decent numbers of both bluegill and crappie. I suspect that the reason for this is that crappies are often suspended, which puts them above the bait to begin with. Then too, crappies tend to look up, not down, for their food.
Many fishermen ignore bluegills after the easy fishing of the spawn is over. But for fishermen who enjoy both catching and eating bluegills, mid-summer and early fall provides very consistent action anywhere you can find deep weedlines established.
On most lakes in southern Minnesota, you can expect the deep weedline to be relatively shallow, usually between eight and 12 feet. The further north you travel, the clearer the water, the deeper the sunlight penetrates and the deeper the weedline.
If you are looking for near-guaranteed action and some great eating to boot, give bluegills a shot either on natural lakes, the river or on Rochester-area reservoirs.
Gary Clancy has been a full-time freelance outdoor writer for 25 years. He writes for many national publications, is a long-standing columnist for the Outdoor News and has written eight books. For a list of titles, go to www.garyclancy.com.