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Think Giant Bluegills All Summer Long

Unbeknownst to many, bluegills will spawn all summer, and bulls viciously guard the beds.

Think Giant Bluegills All Summer Long
Bluegills spawn according to water temperature, and the magic number is 70 degrees. Males are tasked with guarding the spawning beds and do it all summer. (Photo courtesy of Z-Man Fishing)

As summer arrives, Northeast anglers are transitioning to the glory days. Smallmouth and largemouth bass are in various stages of the late spawn, good pike fishing can still be found in and around shallow bays and tidal river fishermen are in the end stages of the American shad run. However, amid all the excellent angling options available now, don’t overlook the endless shallow lakes and ponds that dimple the region as the bluegill spawn continues. In fact, biologists have discovered that bluegills will spawn throughout the summer and up to five times a year depending on water temperature. For my money, catching a truly giant bluegill is substantially harder than catching any 6-pound bass.

NARROW DOWN THE OPTIONS

Bluegills, of course, can be found in pretty much any lake, reservoir, slow-moving river and pond in the Northeast. However, if trophies are your game, location gains importance. Contrary to logical thinking, a major factor in the development of big bluegills is the predators that share the same system. In most areas those predator species include bass and pickerel, while at more northern latitudes, pike play a significant role. In the absence of large numbers of predators, you will often find fisheries with a surplus of stunted fish, which are great fun for youngsters, but nothing that will get a seasoned angler off the couch. When in pursuit of true giants, bodies of water where you can consistently catch large numbers of bass should be the target. In the upper reaches of the region, find locations chock full of “hammer handle” northerns.

When on the hunt for trophy ’gills, look for water that is largely devoid of fishing pressure. The lake where you can always count on filling a pail for a fish fry during the ice season is not going to fit your needs. For this reason, many panfish nuts have a few backwoods locations under proverbial lock and key. Now’s the time to finally visit that remote pond that always seems to catch your eye when perusing Google Earth.

GET TO THE SPOT ON THE SPOT

Once you have selected a location, it’s time to break down the water. Generally, bluegills will spawn once water temps reach the low 70s. Areas to key on are shallow, soft-bottom bays and backwaters that have vegetation like lily pads and bullrushes.

Male bluegills take on the role of construction workers as they craft shallow, disk-shaped nests and keep them devoid of debris. It is a tough time to be a male bluegill, as they fiercely compete to spawn with top females, all the while keeping an eye out for predators. Once the eggs are laid, the males are tasked with protecting the young crop. For this reason, these fish become extremely aggressive, often chasing away baitfish and smaller bluegills.

A small johnboat, kayak or canoe is the best way to reach them and can be helpful for covering water, though a pair of worn-out sneakers and swim trunks will do the job while wading the shoreline. Spawning males don’t spook easily, as they are intently focused on the task at hand.

GEAR FOR THE GRIND

Simple is often better when it comes to panfish. Keep things light and fun with 500- to 1000-size spinning reels and light- to medium-light-power rods. A rod with an extremely slow action to fully feel the power of big bluegills is ideal. A light, thin-diameter braid is perfect, as you likely will be fishing around vegetation, which can chafe monofilament. From there, opt for a fluorocarbon leader for a bit of stealth and limited stretch. It is never a bad idea to bring along a heavier casting setup if a large bass or pike is spotted cruising the area in pursuit of a big meal.

When it comes to baits, both natural and artificial options have their place. If your goal is an action-packed outing, the timeless nightcrawler suspended below a slip float can’t be beat. A pail of freshly trapped chubs or river shiners can produce hours of excitment—bedded males view baitfish as threats and will scarf them with pleasure.

If live bait is hard to come by, a favorite lure for the task is the 1/16-ounce Mimic Minnow Spin from Northland Tackle. The flash and vibration from the blade does a great job of catching the attention of the feisty males. In clear water, breeding males, with their bright blue coloring and orange throat areas, can be easily spotted. Once identified, it is up to the angler to make enough casts in the general area of the nest to illicit a strike. It normally doesn’t take long. Other great lures are spinners, such as the Mepps Aglia, and smaller spoons like the Thomas Buoyant. Color is generally not as important as flash and vibration.

When encountering a lackadaisical fish, be sure to change up your retrieve and the location of your cast. Often, there will be one specific spot on the nest that is of utmost importance to the fish. Intruded upon it enough times to earn a bite.

SIZE FACTORS

Bruce Condello is a serious giant bluegill aficionado who travels the country consulting on various fisheries projects centered around large bluegills.

According to Condello, “There is a delicate mix of natural factors and harvest habits of anglers that will allow fish to reach a top-end size.”

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“High-quality, well-oxygenated water conditions that persist for the bulk of the year are critical,” he says. “Low oxygen creates massive amounts of stress and can even add to the risk of infections and disease throughout a bluegill population.”

A thriving and diverse forage base is rarely an issue. There are very few forage options for bluegills, but prey is always available. In addition to baitfish varieties, invertebrates are very important for bluegills to reach their maximum size potential.

Anglers likely play the biggest role in producing true trophy bluegills. When fishing the spawn, avoid harvesting the larger-class paternal males. If those fish are left untouched, it will trigger the younger males to feed heavily to better compete during the upcoming spawn. Also, in smaller bodies of water, consider harvesting smaller to medium-sized females, as it does not take many females to keep a pond well-populated.

While bluegill fishing, always be sure to practice proper fish-handling procedures. Especially in warm-water periods, the risk of fish mortality can be extraordinarily high. Keep the fish wet and out of the water just long enough for a quick picture, if desired. Doing all we can to create the next round of trophies is important, but ensuring the health of the big bulls we have just taken is equally critical.

5 SUPER SPOTS

Top Northeast waters for magnum bulls.

  • Southern Lake Champlain, Vermont/New York: The section of the lake below the Crown Point Bridge takes on the look and feel of a swampy river system. The myriad hard-to-reach backwaters and sluggish tributaries hold the habitat necessary for productive bluegill spawns. Bowfin can often be found sharing the same spawning zones. These tackle busters are a ton of fun on light tackle.
  • Hinsdale Setbacks, New Hampshire: A portion of the Connecticut River, this nutrient-rich backwater is a true New England panfish mecca. Expansive flats and endless forage hold the key to large specimens in quality numbers. Be sure to check river flow charts before planning a trip. Heavy rain and flooding can cause swings in water temps that lead to temperamental fish.
  • Lake Rohunta, Massachusetts: This 400-acre reservoir located in western Massachusetts is extremely shallow and fertile, offering the forage to support a booming bluegill population. During the spawn, focus efforts on the north end of the lake, where wadable spawning habitat is readily available.
  • Burr Pond, Vermont: While it might not look like much, Burr Pond is known for producing big panfish. Large populations of largemouths and northern pike inhabit this bowl-shaped body of water, keeping small specimens to a minimum. A deep main basin paired with lengthy weed edges gives bluegills all the structure they need to thrive.
  • Stump Pond, Rhode Island: The Ocean State might not leap to mind as a top bluegill fishing destination. However, Stump Pond should be on all panfish enthusiasts’ lists this season. With shallow coves and ample spawning habitat, the potential for trophy bluegills is well above average.

This article was featured in the June-July issue of Game & Fish magazine. Click to subscribe.




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