One of the biggest mistakes bluegill fans make is writing off the dog days of summer as being unproductive. It’s true that heat-wave bream may not feed in places convenient for the people who want to catch them. But in mid to late summer, bluegills continue feeding voraciously. If you learn to pinpoint fish concentrations, the payoff can be big.
Look deep. That’s the first rule of dog-days bluegill fishing. Many anglers expect these panfish to stay in the same shallow-water haunts they occupied when spawning, but the biggest bluegills typically move to deep “blue-water” areas when the heat is on.
To catch those deep-water bluegills, you need to understand the thermocline. Think of a lake as a triple-decker sandwich cookie – two thick layers of cookie with a thinner layer of cream filling between them. In summer, many lakes are like those cookies, with three distinct layers. The warmest, oxygen-rich water is on top, cold oxygen-free water is on bottom, and a middle layer of cool, oxygen-rich water is in between.
That middle layer is the thermocline, and like the filling in the cookie, it’s the best part, because that’s where deep-water ‘gills are likely to concentrate. Of the three layers, this one usually best satisfies the fish’s needs for dissolved oxygen and water temperature.
The depth and thickness of the thermocline will vary from one body of water to another. In some small lakes, it may be 10 feet down and only a foot thick. In extremely large, deep lakes, it may be 30 feet down and several feet thick.
Regardless of its location and size, though, the thermocline is where nearly all sizeable bluegills reside during periods of temperature extremes. And though the thermocline doesn’t occupy the deepest part of the lake or pond, it’s still far deeper than the thin layer of surface water most panfish anglers usually fish.
The key to using this information is being able to locate the thermocline. You can easily accomplish this using one of two methods. There are submersible temperature gauges that will show you, by temperature, exactly where the thermocline is. Or, you can use an electronic fish-finder to locate the correct depth.
On many fish-finders, the thermocline will show up as a foggy band across the paper or display screen. Sensitive graphs and sounders will pick this up because of the increased density of water around the thermocline.
Even if the thermocline doesn’t show up on your equipment, you will still notice the bulk of the fish are suspended in a distinct band of water. That is the thermocline, or at least the depth zone for which you are looking. When you start fishing, start at that depth.
If you’re fishing from a boat with a fish-finder, use the unit to locate cover or structure in the thermocline where bluegills might gather – a channel drop-off, an underwater hump, the edge of an inundated pond, deep weed beds or perhaps a cluster of tall stumps beneath the surface.
If you don’t have a fish-finder, look for topside features that may continue underwater to the desired depth – bridge or dock pilings, long steeply sloping points, rocky ledges, toppled trees or the outside edge of a weed bed.
When you’ve found such areas, you’re ready to fish. And when fishing deep water, nothing can beat an ultralight rod and a tiny reel filled with 2- or 4-pound-test line. This rig exhibits sensitivity not found with larger tackle and permits you to detect the most delicate nibbles.
It also turns every fish you hook into a whopper. Fighting a 3/4-pound bluegill up out of 30 feet of water on 2-pound line and a mere switch of a rod isn’t as easy as it sounds.
A tightline fishing/live bait set-up is the best choice for taking bottom-feeding bream in areas where the thermocline touches the lake bed. Thread a slip sinker on your line, and below it, tie on a barrel swivel just large enough to keep the sinker from sliding off. To the swivel’s lower eye, tie a 2- to 3-foot leader of light line tipped with a small, long-shanked, light-wire Carlisle hook.
Add your favorite live bait – worms, crickets and larval baits like mealworms are excellent choices – then cast the rig and allow it to settle to the bottom.
Bobber watchers may be a bit uncomfortable with this technique at first. The bait isn’t going to plop down then swing immediately to the preferred depth. You have to wait, watching the line closely all the while. When it twitches, stick the fish or risk having the hook inhaled into the bream’s nether reaches.
If fish seem persnickety, do away with the sinker altogether. Without any weight except that of the hook, a cricket or worm sinks very, very slowly, providing an almost irresistible allurement for blue water bluegills. Watch the line very closely as the bait sinks, looking for any slight movement indicating a hit.
Fly-rod anglers also can score on blue-water bream. Wet flies resembling insect larvae and nymphs are especially effective. A sinking fly line can carry these patterns down where big ‘gills are feeding and produce pleasing results.
Work the flies in short hops. The sight of such a fidgety tidbit is certain to tempt even the most jaded piscatorial taste buds.
If bluegills are suspended, try fishing a small jig under a bobber. If the fish aren’t deeper than the length of your rod or pole, you can merely clamp a clip-on bobber on your line and dangle the jig below it at the proper depth. When you cast, the jig sinks to the right depth and stays there while you retrieve it with twitches that lend a lifelike action.
If bluegills are deeper than your rod is long, rig a sliding bobber above the jig to make casting easier. To do this, tie a bobber stop or short piece of rubber band around your line at the depth you want to fish. When the bobber hits the water, the weight of the jig pulls line through the bobber until the bobber stop or rubber band abuts the float. Your jig is automatically at the depth you selected, and you can easily adjust the depth by moving the appliance up or down the line. The knot will easily pass through your line guides and winds onto the reel spool. It’s simple and effective.
If you’re tired of catching scrawny little bluegills or none at all, stay away from the tepid shallows in summer. The big boys are out there in deeper water, waiting for those anglers who know their secret and how to catch them.