By: Kyle Boike, Trevor Hominick, and Blake Tollefson
Bluegills are among the most abundant fish species available across North America. If you grew up as an angler in the Midwest, there’s a high likelihood you cut your teeth in the fishing world by targeting bluegills.
Big bluegills are something truly special, and arguably some of the most important fish in an ecosystem. Trophy bluegills are no different than trophies of other species and should be protected. A 10+ inch gill should be treated and revered as if it were a 30+ inch walleye.
Not All Lakes Are Created Equal
In order to find big bluegills, you must find a lake that has the ability to grow fish of that caliber. Not all lakes are created equal. Nearly every lake in the Midwest has bluegills, but only a handful of lakes have the ability to grow true trophy caliber fish. The first step to finding these lakes is to do some research. Fisheries reports, available from the DNR, will provide some insight on which lakes historically have the ability to grow large fish. This research can help prevent you from ending up on a lake full of runt bluegills.
Which Neck of the Woods?
Once you’ve selected a body of water, it’s important to know where to look to find the fish. Electronics are truly invaluable when searching for fish of any species. Side imaging technology can help eliminate unproductive water in a hurry. If you have your settings fine tuned, you should be able to pick up beds, weedlines, and other pieces of structure very quickly. A pair of polarized sunglasses are also an important resource for locating big bluegills - especially in the spring when they are shallow. The proper eyewear can help you pick out the specific fish you want to target.
In the spring, bluegills in general are typically the easiest to pattern. Springtime and warmer temperatures will drive bluegills to the shallows to reproduce. The fish will typically seek out the areas where water will warm the quickest (ex. shallow bays). Male bluegills build nests (aka beds) in the shallows, and females lay eggs in the nests. The males will fertilize the eggs and remain in the shallows to protect the beds.
As the season progresses, bluegills will push to deeper water. They can typically be found adjacent to deeper weed edges. On certain bodies of water, they can also be found near mid lake structures, both natural (humps, points) and manmade (cribs).
Micro soft plastics are a top producer for bluegills year round. Plastics, as such, can be fished in several different ways. Casting, vertical jigging, and under a float are all extremely effective methods. Eurotackle’s Micro Finesse line has several plastics known to catch bluegills throughout the season. The Y-Fry and Eurogrub work well when paired up with a small tungsten jig. Vertical and float presentations of these micro plastics are proven methods throughout the season. If you’re using a float, ensure it is set at the proper depth so the lure stays above the fish. If you’re in fish and a float doesn’t drop immediately, giving it a series of “pops” can turn sniffing fish into biting fish. If covering water is more your style, the B-Vibe is an excellent cast and retrieve bait. The super soft paddle tail creates a lot of action even when rolled at ultra slow speeds. Rely on the lightest jigs you possibly can, especially when fish are shallow.
For larger and more aggressive fish, rattle baits, like the Z-Viber, are a top choice. Big bluegills have no problem eating these larger baits (1/16 oz and 1/8 oz). These lures can be fished vertically or via cast and retrieve methods and especially effective as the season progresses.
Protect the Resource
As discussed previously, big bluegills are a valuable resource and crucial to the systems in which they reside. It is vital to practice catch and release with these fish in order to ensure they will be available for future generations. Another note is the importance of preserving male bluegills. Large male bluegills have the biggest influence on the size structure of the entire population. As a result, these fish must be returned to the system.