Deep Thinking Will Catch the Biggest Bluegills
Learn how to find the biggest fish in your lake.
June is a peak spawning period for bluegill on most lakes and their bedding behavior provides opportunities to catch some of the biggest bluegill of the season.
But the truth is that not all bluegill beds are created equal — some beds hold bigger fish than others. While on any nest the big “bull” males guarding the beds are usually much larger than the female bream laying the eggs, a wide disparity in sizes of bluegill is common on different beds, even on the same lake.
Searching for and finding spawning bluegill usually results in super-fast action on quality fish. For me it was most difficult at first to change where and how I was fishing when I was catching a male bluegill on nearly every cast. But over the years I’ve become more intrigued by the idea that larger fish are available.
One piece of good news is that the largest bluegills are often near beds with smaller, more numerous bluegill. I first learned this by employing the “happy accident” formula, discovering that deeper water near obvious beds could produce a significant size quality bump over the fish I was catching.
Overall, the bite was slightly slower than in the shallow water, but it was worth the wait.
Since I first found big bream on a deep bed, checking deeper water became my go-to technique for finding the biggest bream on the beds and it has consistently worked.
It is crucial to understand that in addition to deeper water, bluegill need the right bottom substrate to make beds. That pattern also morphed into simply looking for bluegill beds in water deeper than I traditionally targeted, whether another bluegill bed was nearby or not. And the result was the “super-sized” bluegill beds are not necessarily related to other bedding fish. While the beds with the biggest bluegills are not always found in deeper water, based on many years of research it has proven to be a dependable pattern.
For the vast majority of anglers looking for bedding bluegills, the shoreline out to a specific depth of water is the primary target. The depths searched will naturally vary by lake and water color and conditions.
Shallow lakes with some water color will have bream shallower than will lakes with steep-sided shorelines and very clear water. Keep this relative depth factor in mind.
Another option for finding the biggest bedding bluegill is working areas away from the shoreline, including mid-lake humps and the shallow ridges on the outer tips of long, shallow sloping points.
The key here is prime bluegill bedding substrate will attract bream regardless where that substrate is found. You’ll find plenty of bluegill beds around the shoreline, but when you find one in any of these shallow, offshore areas, the potential for catching really big bluegills is significantly higher. And you’ll typically have it all to yourself.
But not all bluegill bed at the same time and even during times when beds are common in shallow water, often the biggest bluegill will be found in deeper water. They may be singular or clumped together in smaller groups I refer to as “bachelor groups.” They are analogous to the bachelor groups that whitetail bucks form prior to the rut.
I often find these fish when searching for deep beds. The result is essentially the same — catching really big bream, in smaller numbers, but huge sizes. One plus is I’m not restricted to fishing ideal bedding substrate. I’ll target big rocks, stumps or logs in deeper water as targets. Deep holes can also be great, as are points otherwise not suitable for bedding.
Finding these fish does require a bit more effort, but for bluegill addicts it’s a labor of love. With the arrival of June, bluegills are bedding almost everywhere. They’ll typically bed around the full moon each month, even into July and August. It’s not a one-and-done deal for bluegills. But you can find some bluegills bedding anytime of the month, with the dark of the moon another peak time.
Tactics for taking bream in all the above situations are varied and, again, the specific type of lake fished has a great influence on which techniques will be most successful.
One common technique for working the shallow water around the shoreline is using spinning or spin-cast equipment. A common denominator for bluegill fishing in terms of bait are crickets and worms, but mealworms are productive as are small spinners. Fly rods with sinking sponge-like spiders are lethal on big bluegill.
Most anglers have go-to tactics for catching bream on their home waters, but when fishing new waters for the first time a good technique is to use maps and motor around the lake identifying potential bluegill bedding areas. Then begin a process of fishing these areas by casting in front of the boat on a 45-degree angle until you find a bed. Stop and fish the spot, then move until you find the next bed. Often you can develop a pattern and move quickly to similar areas.
Catching bluegill on the beds is great fun for anglers of any age and it also affords access to some of the biggest bluegill of the entire year. But targeting the biggest specimens often requires some innovative thinking and some adjustments to where and how you fish.
Go ‘Naked’ For Big ‘Gills
Huge bluegills on the bed typically are on a very aggressive bite but situations occur when they become extremely cautious. I’ve seen bluegill beds filled with huge fish that would not bite traditional presentations. The best way to combat this issue that I’ve experienced is to get “naked” in the presentation of your bait.
Simply put, “going naked” is using solely the hook to hold the bait and using as light line as possible for the situation and maybe sizing down on the hook as well. Use no additional terminal tackle – no bobbers, no splitshot, nothing. This is a big-bream tactic.
This technique works whether using crickets or worms. First, get as far away from the bed that you can and still reach the target, keeping in mind you have no weight other than the hook and bait to cast. Position your boat so you’re not backlit by the sun, since you’ll likely be closer than normal.
I prefer a 12-foot or longer lightweight pole and use wrist motion to “flip” the bait to the target. Rigged naked, the bait will fall very slowly down the water column. You must be a line watcher too, since no bobber is used. A subtle twitch of the line while the bait is sinking usually means you have a bite.
A slightly morphed version of this is great for searching for deeper beds. Use a tiny splitshot, as small as you can find, about 8 inches above the hook. Cast this to potential targets and very patiently let it flutter down the slope, working it in a fashion similar to how a bass angler bounces a soft plastic lure.
And when you find one bedding “bull” bluegill, you’ve likely found a bunch.