Part Fifty-four

Redbreast Sunfish

More Bluegill Fishing [Bream]

By Tom Keith
Excerpt from: Fly Tying and Fishing for
Thanks to Frank Amato Publications!

There are several sunfish that people lump together under the name bluegill, like the pumpkin seed, green sunfish, and redear sunfish, to name a few. Though some other sunfish species look like the bluegill, and some may even be hybrids, there is only one true species of bluegill.

The bluegill's Latin name is Lepomis macrochirus. He is wide, thin fish with a mouth so small that it severely limits the food he can eat. That information is important to the fly fisherman because it also limits the size of fly used to catch him.

The male is quite colorful, especially in the spring before and during the spawn when his iridescent colors are especially bright and deep. Though there are some color differences between fish in different parts of the country and from waters of varying quality, his back is usually a deep dark olive or dark emerald green. His sides are lighter in color and are usually marked with dark verticle bars. His belly is a dusky white and his breast is a combination of various shades of yellow and reddish-orange. When seen in the sunlight his sides reflect shades of purple, blue and green. The lower part of his gill cover and chin is blue and the entire ear flap, located at the top portion of the gill, is black.

The female's colors are lighter and less striking. She usually has a dark area on her back, and her sides range in color from shades of light yellow and dusky white, and have hints of greens and blues. She also has the distinctive all-black ear flap.

Bluegill aren't large by any means, in fact, the average gill is about 9 1/2 inches long and weighs around 12 ounces. The world record bluegill tipped the scales at only 4 pounds, 12 ounces and was 15 inches long. It was caught by T.S. Hudson, who was fishing Ketona Lake, Alabama, on April 9, 1950.

The bluegill is the must abundant of all sunfishes. He is found in ponds, lakes, reservoirs, and slow moving warmwater streams, creeks and rivers across the country. He prefers warm, clear waters where there are lots of aquatic plants and other kinds of cover, but he can also tolerate waters with high turbidity and siltation.

One of the reasons he is so popular is that he always seems to be hungry and ready for a good tussel. A bluegill is primarily a sight feeder, which means he depends more on his sense of sight to locate food than his sense of smell. His mouth is small, and that means a fisherman will have a better chance of hooking him if he used a small fly. In most situation bluegill flies should be no larger than size 8 or smaller than size 14. Sure, there are a few stories about a one-half pound bluegill trying to tackle a huge bass plug or a king-sized spoon someone was using to catch northerns. The bluegill is usually hooked on one barb of the treble hook and it does look like the fish really tried to swallow a lure as large as himself, but I'll guarantee you'll catch more bluegill, more often, on small flies.

Young bluegill feed on microscopic zooplankton, tiny water fleas and some types of aquatic vegetation, while adult bluegill can handle bigger prey like nymphs, small crustaceans, mayflies, damselflies, crickets, grasshoppers, worms, and an occasional small fish, though they aren't known to be voracious fish-eaters. They will also occasionally eat a bit of vegetation, especially during summer when finding minnows and insects is a bit more difficult.

Bluegill are daylight feeders. Rarely, if ever, will you catch one at night. In the spring and fall when water temperatures are moderate, a fly fisherman can catch 'gills from shallow coves during most of the day, but during the hot summer months fishing is best in the early morning and in the evening until dark. Evening fishing begins as soon as the sun no longer shines directly on the water and a slight drop in temperature occurs.

Mid-afternoon may provide some good fishing on cool or over-cast summer days, but as a rule-of-thumb, bluegill fishing pretty much shuts down during the hot part of the day.

On those scorching summer days when the temperature climbs well into the 90's by late morning, the fisherman should be on the water early, ready to intercept the 'gills as they move from deeper, cooler water into the shallows to feed. That feeding activity starts shortly after sunrise and may last to mid- morning, depending on when the rising water temperature drives them back to deep water again.

The same movement into shallow water occurs again in the late afternoon or early evening and lasts until dark. A tip for evening fishermen - be sure to carry a can or bottle of insect repellent with you while you're fishing. The bluegill may be biting better than you've ever seen before, and you can bet your float tube the mosquitos will be even more ravenous. Be careful to keep the repellent away from your flies and your reel - it may damage the reel's surface and give your flies an unpleasant odor that might be detected by the fish. Use a spray repellant or wash your hands thoroughly after using the liquid, cream or lotion.

Like largemouth bass, bluegill are very cover (structure) oriented. Very seldom will you find them in open water except over a submerged weed-bed that can't be seen from the surface. To find bluegill look for some kind of cover - a thick weedbed, an area of stick-ups, a boat dock, or a pier. Sometimes a submerged brush pile, a bush or tree growing in the water along the shoreline, a point where willows and reeds grow near shore, or an area where there are logs and broken timber in the water will hold fish. The Golden Rule in finding good bluegill fishing is "look for cover."

Some of the most important types of cover are areas of aquatic vegetation, like weedbeds, stand of reeds and cattails, lily pad fields, and submerged areas of thick grass. Aquatic vegetation is very important to bluegill because it provides places for them to hide and escape from predators - places where they can find food, like insects, crustaceans, small minnows and the plants they sometimes consume - and is an excellent source of dissolved oxygen, all necessary for the fish to survive. ~ Tom Keith

More next time!

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