By King Montgomery
We approached quietly, the boat barely touching the water. "There," I half-whispered as fish shapes were visible in the fairly clear water, "about 11 o'clock and 25 feet."
A perfect cast, and the fly landed on target. "OK, wait," I said. Then, "Twitch it." Splat -- and the fish was on. A bonefish or permit on a pristine saltwater flat in the Bahamas or the Yucatan? No, Lefty Kreh was hooked up with a nice redear sunfish, and he was having a ball.
"I love that ‘splat' sound when they hit on top," I said. "It makes me laugh."
That's the way bluegill and their other sunfish cousins affect anglers. There's just something about them. And, no, it doesn't have anything to do with being a kid again or anything so complicated. It's just that bluegill are a familiar thing; they provide a secure little place where we can go to have fun. And they taste great too. In our catch-and-release world, it's nice to occasionally cook up some fresh fish.
Bluegill and their sunfish cousins are found all over Maryland, including the Baltimore reservoirs, and can be caught year round.
A fellow fishing editor C. Boyd Pfeiffer of the Baltimore Examiner fishes with me in my jonboat on occasion. Pfeiffer is another bluegill addict. Although we caught plenty of largemouth bass on poppers and streamers the last time we fished, we angled a lot for the accommodating bluegills and redears, too. Try it -- it’s addictive.
Bluegill and their relatives can be caught with a fly rod from spring through fall in most of the United States. They usually rise to dry flies or poppers, and will take nymphs and small streamers at almost all other times. A floating line is used most often and a sinking tip line for those times when the fish are deeper or not cooperating on top.
Try fishing for these little harlequins with a dry fly or popper and a nymph in tandem; two flies are often better than one. If you use spinning tackle and fly gear with sinking tip lines, you can catch sunnies all year round. In winter, bluegill usually are on deeper drops and around bottom structure. On warmer days, though, they’ll come in for some shallower water feeding.
The sunfish are particularly easy to catch in the spring and early summer when they move into the shallows to spawn. The large females and the aggressive males guard the redds and smash almost any fly placed near the honey comb-shaped spawning grounds.
While I won't fish to largemouth or smallmouth bass on their spawning nests, harassing a mess of bluegill and even keeping enough for dinner is not only acceptable, it's a good idea. The sunnies can overpopulate a body of water and it helps to thin them out a bit.
One time while fishing with Kreh, he told me of a phone conversation he had with an acquaintance. Kreh asked his friend if he knew where some big bluegill could be found.
"Where have you been? Tried to call you last week," his friend said.
"Florida Keys, catching tarpon," Kreh replied.
"Five over 100 pounds."
"Wow, then why are you so interested in catching little bitty bluegills?"
Recounting this, Kreh smiled and said, "You know, King, that guy just doesn't understand."
A bluegill slurped his bug. "Splat!" And we both laughed from deep inside.
Bluegill and their sunfish cousins are everyone’s fish. They usually are easy to find and catch, and there are plenty of them to go around so keep enough for a fresh dinner, preferably coated in House Autry seafood breading, deep fried, and served up with a fair chardonnay or cold beer.
Bluegills and other sunnies will hit worms, crickets, grubs, shrimp, small lures and spinners, and flies on top, in the middle of the water column, and on the bottom. If they aren’t biting, move to another likely looking spot and try again.
The Baltimore reservoirs and most of the freshwater rivers around have nice populations of these agreeable little fish. These are fish for children and other beginners, and, yes, for old pros like Kreh and me. Remember that old men are still really kids; our toys are just more expensive.
Fishing editor King Montgomery still pursues bluegill in ponds, lakes and reservoirs, and keeps enough for dinner. The fillets, though small, do freeze well, and can provide healthy eating over several months. Try them with red beans and rice, and corn on the cob. Yum!
Issue 2.44: November 1, 2007