Bedfishing bluegills can be ridiculously easy. Find the right nesting colony and you can rack up big numbers of spawn-minded sunfish by drop-shotting, float rigging and simply dragging bait along bottom. However, to efficiently target the biggest, baddest bulls on the beds, there is another way.
Bluegills are hard-wired a lot like larger centrarchids, namely largemouth bass. When a nest raider threatens, they take it out. As a result, techniques that work for bass often work for bluegills, albeit on a somewhat smaller scale. And what works better than a fake raider that swims into the nest zone, hangs there menacingly and then swoops down to peck at the eggs like a real cradle robber?
Bass pro Frank Scalish has the action down to a science with his hair bluegill (see “Hair Raid,” March 2006). But you don’t have to be a fly tier to create a pint-size, easy-to-fish replica that will fool bull bluegills. You just need imagination and a handful of tiny hardbaits.
Finding bedding bluegills isn’t rocket science. When water temperatures reach the mid- to upper 60s, they gather in shallow water over firm-bottom areas to spawn.
Sometimes these spots are near the fast-warming, soft-bottom canals, bays and coves that drew the first waves of winter-weary sunfish shallow to feed.
Other times, you’ll find spawning ’gills on the main lake. I’ve found them on south sides of mid-lake islands, outside bays and tributaries, and along sun-drenched south-facing shorelines.
During the spawn, even fertile lakes are often clear enough for sight-fishing. And that’s how I like it. A good pair of polarized sunglasses makes it easy to spot the honeycombs of beds, and even key on individual fish. Often the biggest bulls lie at the deep end of the colony, though, and can be difficult or impossible to see. You have to fish ’em anyway.
Hardbaits, both slender and fat-bodied, are among my favorite weapons for catching visible and hard-to-see bedfish.
The benefits are you can cover water fairly fast compared to float fishing, drop-shotting or dragging live bait. And, from my experience, you tend to pick off the biggest bulls of the bunch.
If conditions are right, some baits work well right out of the box. Shallow, aggressive bluegills will hit baits like Rebel Crawfish or XCalibur Ghost Minnow. In a bit deeper water, fish divers like Rapala’s MFR-3 Fat Rap, Cotton Cordell’s Wee Shad, Bomber’s BO3F Fat A and the Lucky Craft Bevy Crank 45DR. Fast-sinking lures can be tough to fish, unless the ’gills are really worked up and will hit a relatively fast-moving presentation.
The key is having the bait run at or just above the level of the fish. Ticking bottom in the bed can be a deal closer, as can pausing a suspending lure above a nest. If the fish bristle but don’t bite, or you want to thoroughly work deeper beds, it’s time to tweak your baits.
The goal is to create a lure that swims slowly with a seductive wobble, then rests nose down and tail up at roughly a 45-degree angle or steeper. Floating baits like the Bomber BO3F Fat A and Rapala FO3 Original Floater are perfect, as are a number of buoyant, 1 1/2- to 2 1/2-inch shad-bodied and minnow-imitating hardbaits.
On many baits, removing the belly treble helps produce the optimum tail-up posture at rest. It can also help suspending lures and slow-sinkers like the F49 Rebel Holographic Minnow float perfectly. Belly hook removal also reduces the odds of fouling debris.
Weighting is the next step, and while you can tinker with lead wraps, strips and dots, the simplest method is pegging a tiny bullet sinker ahead of the lure to create a miniature Carolina cranking rig. Pinching on a small shot also works, but it will pick up more junk.
Sinkers from 1/64- to 1/16-ounce are usually big enough. I like Bullet Weights’ painted bullet sinkers in 1/16- to 1/64-ounce sizes. Distance from weight to bait depends how high you want the lure off bottom; for finicky fish, lower can be better.
The final touch is adding a small plastic or live bait to the treble. I prefer a 1/2-inch chunk of angleworm or ’crawler on the top-facing barb. When the bait comes to rest, the wriggling worm mimics a baitfish’s fanning tail and draws vicious strikes. Similar-size bits of the tail section of a plastic curlytail are also good.
Using an ultra-light spinning outfit spooled with 4- to 6-pound test mono, cast the rig beyond the beds you want to fish and swim it into the honeycombs. Sometimes a slow, straight retrieve works best, but often, it pays to pause and twitch the lure on the edge of and just inside the nest. Even skittish fish that flare from the initial entry may return to peck at the intruder’s tail.
To fish beds that you can’t see, let the rig descend to bottom at the outer edge of visible nests, then work it along bottom in a similar matter, experimenting with pauses, twitches and retrieve speed. The same approach works for shallow beds in turbid water. In this case, watch for swirls on the surface to indicate bedding activity, and use hard-thumping, high-visibility baits with rattles. Con-versely, natural patterns are often the ticket in clear conditions.
One final note. Using hardbaits to target the biggest of bulls is extremely effective, and research has shown that removing too many mature, male bluegills can really hurt a fishery. To protect the resource, limit your harvest to a modest meal, or better yet, practice catch and release. While you’re at it, enter the NAFC’s Catch and Release Contest for a shot at great prizes and serious bragging rights.