Ask most folks what’s the first fish you have ever caught?
The bluegill will most likely be the answer. Many anglers first love affair and introduction to the sport of fishing were through fishing for panfish. The gill is native to North America and lives in streams, rivers, lakes, and ponds. It is commonly found east of the Rockies.
If I had to choose one of my favorite fish to eat you would hear me mention species like a perch and walleye, but at the top of the list; I would have to say the bluegill. Those tasty fish belong in a corn meal jacket in my opinion, but I also practice conservation.
When targeting large Summer, or Fall schools of fish, always keep conservation in mind.
When catching large gills keep in mind the size of the female plays a large role in how many eggs she will produce. A smaller female could produce as few as 1,000 eggs, and a large, healthy female can produce up to 100,000 eggs. Release the larger females to keep the fishery intact for future generations and feel free to keep the smaller ones for a delicious fish fry.
The savvy anglers who are in search of trophy gills sometimes have fits on trying to locate them within any given body of water, during the Hot summer months.
Big gills move to deep this time of year and suspend in open water where they suspend just below the surface and feed on plankton and other aquatic creatures and go deep during the day and to lounge on the bottom. The bluegill tries to spend most of their time in water in temp ranges from 60 to 80 °F.
Contrary to belief blue gills enjoy the heat, but shy away from direct sunlight - they typically love deeper water but will linger near the water surface in the morning to stay warm after a cold night.
Example: early and late in the day, the school may move up to 8 to 10 feet deep, but as the day goes on they go deep.
A school size of 10 to 20 fish or more are pretty typical and will use all of the water column and structure to their advantage.
Tip: Aquatic insects mostly live in vegetation. Coontail and milfoil weeds are my favorite weeds to target for big gills. They can hide and hunt for food at the same time. I look for differences in cover like thinner patches, or points. Find deep water weed edges and you should connect with the biggest gills the lake has to offer. When the sun gets high and the temps go up look for fish in deeper water.
When fish are on beds early in the season it’s easy to locate them, and catch them. You just cruise the shallows with some polarized glasses and look for beds and fish. Not so easy when the fish choose to go deep right? Finding them can be easier than you think. But the right equipment can make all the difference in the world, such as the use of a good depth finder.
Whether it's fixed or a portable model, its indispensable in helping you find these fish. First look for the right depth and structure. Such as deep water humps, sunken islands, and deep weed edges. Use of your spot lock trolling motor, anchor or even a simple marker buoy can help you stay on fish once located. Once fish have been found, the action can be fast and furious. Now that we covered some biology of the fish and use of electronics to find them let’s talk rods and rigging.
Most have heard about drop shotting for Bass, how about drop shotting for Blue Gills? This technique can be deadly on deep open water gills. It’s so easy to do and so effective for deep water panfish. I find it tough to try anything else.
You must first start with the right rod when fishing deep water. Especially when fishing let’s say anywhere from 20-30 foot depths. The right rod will help you land more fish. A longer fast action rod is my favorite because the rod helps by picking up the slack line when a strike is detected. Yet the rod is limber enough to handle light leaders and still have the power to get those big gills out of weeds. My favorite rod length would be in a 7-foot range. Once I have my rod picked out I use braid for my main line. I love to use braid in a 4-8 lb. diameter and tie in a 3 -7-foot piece of fluorocarbon or mono in.
When fishing deep water the braided line helps in getting a great hook set. Braid has less stretch than mono. My leaders are typically anything from 4-6 lb. mono or fluorocarbon for cagey bluegills. If I’m fishing in heavy weeds or structure I will bump up to an 8lb leader. For the most part, the lighter the leader line, the more bites you get in my opinion.
How to Rig it Up:
Tie a Palomar knot to a small hook in a size 6-10 long Aberdeen hook and leave the tag end at least a foot or more long. It’s important that the hook is facing up after tying your knot. Sometimes I will vary how long I make this tag end so it will vary how far my bait is from the bottom. I will fish it sometimes just 3 inches off the bottom. The goal here is to get the bait in their face, by keeping it eye level with the fish you will connect.
Pass the tag end through the hook eye to make the hook stand out horizontally and affix a small snap swivel. I like to use a snap swivel and then attach my weight. This is so I can change out the weights easily based on conditions. This rig is great for pitching under docks too.
By having the weight below the hook, it enables anglers to suspend a bait off the bottom perfectly. It also works great when presenting bait over a weed edge, or other types of structure. Sometimes I will add a dropper line when drop shotting. By presenting the bait with this stealthy presentation it minimizes those big bluegills wariness. It's accomplished when the fish grabs the bait it doesn’t feel the weight. By the time, they do it’s too late because you have already set the hook.
By using a large weight, you can get the bait down very easy. Especially when the action is hot and heavy trying to get a soft plastic bait down on a light wire hook 20 feet down could take forever. This rig is deadly with its ability to get in the action fast and accurately. Drop Shotting will deliver a bait eye level with the fish without compromising the lure or action like no other presentation.
The rig can also be pitched up under boat docks for example. Or cast near structure and slowly retrieved back to the boat. I even use the rig as a search tool by drifting when trying to find fish schools. As you can see it’s a very versatile rig that can cover a lot of water and help you find fish.
Some of my favorite baits to use would be worms or crickets, grasshoppers, wax worms, small flies and even American cheese pushed on to a hook. My favorite colors for gills are orange, yellow, red and my most favorite color is green. Their natural diet consists largely of small invertebrates and aquatic insects.
Another favorite with drop shotting is the use of soft plastics. I love tiny plastics it gives the pan fish less time to scrutinize and less to be wary about. The small plastics in the ½ inch range creates a reduction in weight. This allows the gills time to inhale baits easier. The last thing you want is for them to fail to suck the bait in, and they turn and swim away. Big cagy gills will sometimes just sit there and suck on a bait.
I also love the Berkley Gulp products for panfish. I’m no scientist and can’t tell you what’s in the stuff, but the fish love it that’s for sure.
If I had to choose my top baits for large bluegills? I would go with a cricket, leaf worms or pieces of crawlers. Or wax worms that have been dyed in a product called Krazy Dust.
My favorite again is green sometimes fish want a certain color. Your Bait choices or rigging need not be complicated.
It’s all about getting the bait in front of fish, if you do that you’re cooler won’t be empty.
I must say when it comes to big bull bluegills in deep open water the fight is great. Those fish turn sideways and look like a big pie plate coming up to the boat. On light line and tackle those fish pull so hard. It’s a lot of fun and a great way to introduce someone to fishing. So, get out this summer and enjoy the thrill of a Big Boss Blue Gill you’ll be glad you did.
- Written by Roger Hinchcliff
Outdoor Writer, Sales Rep & Rod Designer for Lamiglas