Now's the time to start searching for bull bluegills in our state's premium lakes and reservoirs. Here are five to consider. (May 2008)
It's bluegill time and there's no better place to catch them than right now on the lakes and reservoirs of our state. No matter where you live, there's a water near you that contains bluegills. Generally, bluegill spawns are successful year after year; therefore, stocking programs are usually unnecessary, excepting in newly formed impoundments. The drought of 2007 probably didn't have much effect on bluegills. Fortunately, most were hatched before water levels dropped precariously low.
In fact, the drought may have helped in some areas. Weed and brush growth on exposed land was heavy in most parts of Indiana. As a consequence, there's likely to be plenty of springtime cover in 2008. That'll give these panfish countless places to build their nests. It'll also give anglers plenty of places to fish.
This article will examine five top bluegill lakes in our state. They're all public and for the most part big. However, as good as these places are, don't think these are the only suitable spots to bluegill fish. They aren't.
Bluegills live almost everywhere. Small municipal water supplies, farm ponds, borrow pits and golf course ponds are often overflowing with them. And they're frequently the places for big-time panfishing. (Keep in mind that the state record, a 3- pound, 4-ounce giant was caught by Harold Catey some 35 years ago in a Greene County farm pond.)
With all that in mind, let's take a closer look at five -- in no particular order -- of the best bluegill venues that the Hoosier State has to offer.
This sprawling 8,800-acre impoundment is in south-central Indiana in Dubois, Orange and Crawford counties. Patoka Reservoir is within easy driving distance of nearly every major city or municipality in the central and southern part of the state.
According to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Patoka is a great place to fish for bluegills. There are a fair amount of shore-fishing opportunities and at least 11 boat ramps that'll handle any reasonable sized fishing boat, including a fully equipped, modern bass boat.
Patoka bluegills spawn in stages from the middle of April through the last part of May, or in some years, the early part of June. That's usually the best time to catch them, the biggest ones anyway. Most successful local anglers fish two general areas of the lake at this time of year -- main-lake shallow humps and backwater areas in the creeks.
The humps are easy enough to find by using your depthfinder. Follow the main-lake channel and look for sharp rises anywhere that push up to form flats.
The backwater areas of creeks are another matter. To find them, you'll need nothing other than an eye on the shoreline. When you see a place with a cut into the hillside, or perhaps a place where a small inflow enters the water, you're in the right spot.
Keep in mind that it doesn't take much water to harbor bluegills. If you're careful, and don't bang around in the boat or shout too loudly along the shoreline, you can frequently fish all day in even the smallest of bluegill holding areas.
On the north end of the lake, try Painter Creek. A little farther to the east, you'll find Walls Lake and Kings Bridge, both of which account for more than their fair share of trophy-sized bull bluegills. If the southern part of the lake is more convenient, you should take a close look at Sycamore, Allen or Ritter creeks. Each of these creeks has countless small branches that flow to, and from, them. They can offer good fishing, too. Don't be afraid to move around a bit if the bite is slow.
No matter if you fish the main-lake humps or the backwater cuts of the creeks, water between 2 and 5 feet deep, with plenty of grass and wood, is your best bet at this time of year. Most of the bigger bluegills will be moving to or from their beds and this seems to be the depth they most prefer, at least when they're actively feeding.
The 800-acre Summit Lake is located about four miles north of New Castle. Summit is renowned across the state for its largemouth bass population. One reason for this is that their forage base is primarily bluegills. That's not only good news for the largemouths, it's good news for us anglers, too.
According to studies conducted by the DNR, bluegills have excellent spawning success in Summit and they grow fast, too. That's the good news. The bad news is that a combination of largemouth bass predation and heavy fishing pressure keeps the average size down somewhat. The most recent study found very few bluegills over 8 inches in length, though the number of bluegills present was good.
Now, a 6- or 7-inch 'gill isn't a trophy by any means, but it isn't a dink either. Fish in that size range clean and fillet quite well and provide excellent weekend angling opportunities for those who want to enjoy the outdoors and catch a few fish, too.
There are plenty of shore-fishing areas around this one, but you'd better get there early to get a good spot. A good spot here means a place near a grassy shoreline within a reasonable distance of the standing timber that still remains in the lake.
Try to target locations that look especially difficult to fish or those that look like "nothing" spots. These areas receive the least amount of fishing pressure and so, despite the fact that they might not hold the highest numbers of fish, will often produce the highest numbers of harvested fish.
Another place that's largely overlooked by serious bluegill anglers is the three nature ponds that are connected to the lake by means of drainage pipes. True, they're shallow, don't look all that inviting and sometimes suffer from low-water levels. In this case, however, looks are deceiving. Several good fish are taken from these ponds each year, especially during the heavy rains of spring. Summit Lake is a great one-day fishing venue.
Southeast of Bloomington, you'll find Lake Monroe. At almost 11,000 acres, Monroe is huge, at least by Indiana standards. It's also a changing body of water. At one time, it was deep, dark and clear. Now silt has begun to take a toll on this flood-control reservoir. The clear water is now dingy and areas that were once deep channels are now so silted that anglers have trouble getting a john-boat through them.
But while this has been happening over the past decade or so, weed growth has also taken hold. The silt provi
des a footing for the plants. And so, those areas that are silted are also choked with weeds, including lily pads in many spots around the lake. That's helped the bluegill population by giving them acres and acres of prime bedding grounds.
That population is scattered around the lake and can be found in nearly any cove or cut. Still, some areas have produced for years and show no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Two of the best are the Crooked Creek and Pine Grove Slew areas.
Both are located at the upper end of the lake and are closed until early April at waterfowl resting areas. That might hurt some fishing but not the bluegill fishing. In fact, it helps it in some ways. First, it gives the fish an opportunity for several months of peace and quiet. It allows them to return to their normal living patterns, unaffected by anglers and angling pressure. Second, it allows them time in the early spring to move, unfettered by human activity, into their spawning grounds. It's a great place to fish!
Another hotspot on this lake is north of the dam, on the east side of the lake. Local anglers call it Moores Creek. It's a long creek, located in a major bay. If the weather's good, it can get crowded on the weekends with pleasure craft from the marina and bass anglers fishing weekend tournaments. But like most creatures that live around humans, the bluegills get used to all the commotion.
The trick to fishing either of these places successfully is to find small holes in the shallow-water grass flats and lily pad fields that cover these areas. Fish every nook and cranny you can find. Bluegill fishing on Monroe is about fishing slowly and carefully, not running helter-skelter around the lake looking for the honeyhole of a lifetime.
Mississinewa Lake was profiled last month as a great place to crappie fish. It's in the spotlight again because of its bluegill population. The double coverage is well deserved.
Located in north-central Indiana, a short ways from Fort Wayne, this U.S. Army Corps of Engineers impoundment was designed as a flood- control project. Water levels vary widely from season to season. In May, assuming normal weather patterns, it'll cover approximately 3,000 acres.
As the water warms in April and May, it also rises and floods submerged brush, grass and other forms of structure and cover. It can become surprisingly thick and twisted during the fall and winter drawdowns and so, much like the crappies, the bluegills follow that water up the bank looking for food and a place to build their nests.
The best bluegill fishing can usually be found around any grass that has sprouted on the dry ground from last fall. Green is better than brown, but brown is better than nothing. The fish will typically conceal themselves in the heavier patches. If there are a few willow bushes or other forms of wood in the vicinity, so much the better.
If spring comes a little early in 2008, or if it's been especially hot of late, the best bite is usually early in the morning or late in the evening. If you must fish during the heat of the day, try to find shade in deeper water. And make sure your bait hangs in the strike zone just a little longer.
Because of this pattern, Mississinewa bluegills don't pack into tight schools like they do in many other reservoirs. They tend to scatter here and there as conditions dictate. Panfishing is a moving proposition on this body of water.
That's not all bad, however. When you catch a big bull from a spot, make sure you mark it with your depthfinder or make a note of it somehow. It's likely that another one will move into the same spot within hours, sometimes within minutes. On some days, you can load the boat by simply moving back and forth over a 100-foot stretch of good bank.
There are four improved ramps, along with several other unimproved ones, on Mississinewa that'll handle fishing boats.
SALAMONIE RESERVOIRSalamonie is a flood-control reservoir on the Wabash River in the northeast corner of the state. At normal pool, in the spring, it'll cover around 2,700 acres. Water levels on Salamonie vary dramatically, however. Fluctuations of 25 feet or more are common. In the spring, water levels are more stable and more or less reliable.
The bluegills grow big here. Recent reports have them averaging between 8 and 9 inches with the biggest pushing the 11- and 12-inch mark.
Most of the bigger ones are caught around the flooded bushes and brush that populate the shoreline. Frequently, there'll be some flooded grass or vegetation and that'll make the fishing even better.
Many local anglers will follow the water in spring as it rises. Every few feet of rising water will cover more brush and greenery. And it'll attract more bluegills, too. Look for places that are close to deep-water drops and channels, but don't fish in deep water, fish the areas near deep water.
Nearly every creek, slough and backwater cut on the lake will hold a stringer of keepers. Because of the extreme water fluctuations, there's never a shortage of wood, drift, stumps and greenery to attract and hold bluegills. What's important about fishing Salamonie is not so much where you fish, but how you fish.
Don't fall into the trap of fishing where everyone else is fishing. That won't do on this lake. Try to find spots with rising water, near channels and cuts that offer the bigger bluegills a suitable place to spawn. That'll take some time, but it's time well spent. The fish tend to scatter here. It's not a place where you can park your boat and catch fish all day long.
One of the easiest ways to do this is to scout likely fishing spots several days or weeks before you go fishing. That way you'll know exactly what's along the bank before the water covers it and how the fish are likely to respond to it.
If you're new to Salamonie, a good place to start is Rush Creek. It's well marked on most maps and not at all difficult to find. It's also heavily pressured. Still, it's responsible for many bluegill dinners each year.
Work your way back into this tributary fishing any grassy stumps, laydowns or drift you can find. And don't be afraid to fish behind another boat. The bluegills, especially the big ones, move in and out on Salamonie. They may not be there when one fishing crew passes but may arrive just in time for the next.
Ways To Catch 'Em!
Regardless of where you fish for bluegills this spring, there are three good ways to catch them.
1. Float And Bobber -- Tie a hook to the end of your line and attach a bobber 2 to 5 feet above that. Bait with a worm or maggot, toss it out and wait for a bite. That's really about all there is to it, except that some anglers put a lot of stock into the style of bobber they select.
An old-fashioned round red-an
d-white model is good enough for most of us, but there are some anglers who believe this scares the fish away. They prefer a thin, natural-colored quill-style bobber. There's no doubt they're less visible. There is doubt if that matters.
2. Dead Line -- All you need here is a small hook on the end of your line held down with a split shot sinker pinched on a few inches above it. Let your bait -- usually a worm -- fall naturally to the bottom and drag it along as slowly as you can stand it.
Line size often matters with this style of presentation. Thin is good; thick is bad. Use 2-pound-test if you can. If not, go with something heavier but never more than 6-pound-test.
3. Learn To Fly-Fish -- Ounce for ounce, bluegills might be the hardest fishing fish living in fresh water. Give fly-fishing a try. It really isn't all that hard and isn't all that expensive, either.
Small nymphs will load your stringer anywhere you have room to cast and work them properly. And tiny topwater bugs will generate convulsive strikes in the first hour after daylight and the last hour before dark. No matter how you slice it, bluegill fishing is just plain fun!