Bluegills.  Unusually prolific, doughty fighters, easy to catch, and excellent on the table.  It’s no wonder they’re one of Ohio’s most sought species, and while these little panfish will bite 12 months of the year, the top time to make a serious catch is when they’re on their spring spawning beds.  And that’s usually sometime during the month of May.

Bluegills move in close to shore then, and the brightly colored males begin to brush out small circular nests on the bottom, fanning hard to remove mud and debris, cleaning diligently down to gravel or hard pan bottom.  Then when all is ready, they hover almost motionless over their nest waiting for a duller colored, egg laden female to join them.

 The female selects one of the impatient males, and urged by nudges on her flanks, drops a cloud of eggs which the male immediately fertilizes, then she swims off to greener pastures while her temporary husband remains to stand guard and chase off any intruders.  It’s a togetherness business, and where one male nests, usually 50 to 100 or more others will join him, so walkers or boaters along the shore of a lake or farm pond see a broad pattern of nests about one foot apart, each with a waiting male.  These males are not only highly visible in reasonably clear water, but very hungry and extremely easy to catch in numbers.  Which is why spawning season is a great time to take as many as you wish to clean.

There are lots of ways to catch these fish.  Once you’ve  traveled around that farm pond or small lake, and located a spawning bed (or perhaps several), then stand well off so the fish won’t spook, and cast a pencil float, splitshot, and No. 6 hook baited with worm into their midst.  That float will sink with astonishing regularity.  In larger lakes, travel the shoreline in a small boat looking for clusters of beds, and do the same thing.

A refinement used by some is to trade the hook for an ice spoon in red, yellow. white or green, and use waxworms instead.  That float will sink even faster.  And often I’ve found a bed and tied two, even three small flies to a fly leader, one on lines end, and two more on short side lines above about a foot apart.  The kind of fly doesn’t matter much, since these aren’t brown trout, but I prefer small, nondescript nymphs in black, brown or green.

Then cast into the bed, wait for the line to twitch, and strike gently, then wait again.  You’re likely to get a second twitch, even a third, and fight it out with two fat bluegills, even three for your efforts.  A nice bluegill on a light fly rod is a good fighter, prone to turn sideways and give it everything he has, but two or three will put a bend in your rod that’s memorable.

For those seeking larger fish, keep in mind that the bigger bull bluegills will nest in slightly deeper water, so work the outside edge of the bed hardest and avoid the smaller males in very shallow water.  You’ll pick up the dull colored females in this deeper area too, and some love their twin egg sacs breaded and fried crisp.

Keep in mind one more point about spawning ‘gills, they’re an ideal kids fish, so when my youngsters were both pre-teen I routinely took them after bedding pansters.  I never fished on these occasions, spending my time clearing tangles, showing how to bait hooks, and removing fish, then stringing them.  It’s a fast paced type of fishing with almost constant action, and kids LIKE constant action and big catches that they can take home and brag about.  A good way to get them started.

Does fishing for spawning panfish hurt a pond?  Not at all, unless it’s an unusually small pond.  There are almost always too many bluegills, and only a certain amount of food available.  Remove a fair number and the remainder will eat better and grow large more quickly.  You’re actually helping a pond most times by removing a good catch, and that’s another reason to do so.

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