As the bobber started to wiggle from the unmistakable bite of a fish, 2-year-old Henry Butler, my cousin’s son, shrieked with excitement.
I hoisted a plump bull bluegill into the boat, and little Hank, as I like to call him, paid me a much-appreciated compliment when he said to his father, “He caught another one, already.”
I challenge anyone to come up with a more enjoyable way to spend time outdoors with a child than sitting in a boat over a bed of bluegills, plucking them out one after another.
The excitement is nonstop, and the smile of a child sticking a finger out to touch the flesh of a fish is a trophy of the heart one can only hope to catch as often as possible.
The bluegill pre-spawn kicks off when water temperatures rise into the upper 60s. This typically occurs in late April in Indiana. Once the water temperature passes the magic mark of 70 degrees, bluegills will move onto their beds and begin laying their eggs on shallow spawning flats found mostly along the shoreline and in the back of coves.
In most Indiana waters, the bluegills are spawning now.
Farm ponds are one of my favorite places to fish for bluegill. If you have access to any private water ponds or small lakes, then there is a good chance you could do fairly well fishing for bluegills there.
My favorite public water place to bluegill fish in Indiana is the Greene-Sullivan State Forest strip pits. These pits range in size from less than an acre to several hundred acres, and some are better than others. The chance for finding a real honey hole exists if you actively move around and search.
During the spawn, bluegills are aggressive defenders of their nests. They’ll hit just about anything you drop on them. They’ll take worms, crickets, beemoth, minnows, leeches and basically anything else you throw at them that they can fit in their mouth. Bluegill can’t stand it if an intruder drifts down toward their bed.
Bluegills spawn in groups. Once you find a spawning location, chances are you won’t have to move for quite a while. Look for bluegill beds in the shallows near the back of bays, amongst stump beds, along weed lines and beside brush piles. Also, boat docks in bays are premier spawning locations.
Target water shaded by overhanging trees. If you can find a shaded dock with deep water nearby, and especially docks outfitted with brush piles, pay close attention. There could easily be bluegill beds there.
The ’gills will stay shallow until the water temperature rises into the high 70s.
By the time the water reaches 80, you can bet the bluegill have moved off the shore and into deeper, cooler water.
Bluegill are destined for a deep fryer.
In most Midwest lakes, their population is healthy. They multiply rapidly and grow fast, so pulling a few from their beds for a fish fry is acceptable. Never over-harvest, but don’t feel too guilty about keeping a cooler full once or twice a year.
See you down the trail.
Brandon Butler’s outdoors column appears Saturdays in the Daily Journal.