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Bluegill fishing gets back to basics

Larry Woody, Outdoors Writer • Dec 17, 2015 at 6:40 PM

The little red-and-white bobber twitched a couple of times, then plunged beneath the surface and disappeared from sight. I set the hook and my lightweight spinning rod bowed.

After a short but spirited tussle a chunky bluegill, sides glistening black-and-blue and a bright orange slash on its throat, was lifted into the boat and deposited in an ice chest with a couple dozen others.

It was springtime, and the bluegills were biting.

You can catch bluegills year 'round in Tennessee, but from mid-May through mid-June there is a bluegill bonanza when the fish move into the shallows to spawn.

On a recent trip to Percy Priest, fishing accomplice Bob Sherborne and I caught over 200 bluegills. In one spot we caught two dozen without ever lifting the anchor.

There is no size limit or creel limit on the scrappy little fighters. In most lakes over-population, not over-fishing,  is the bluegills' biggest problem.

I suspect that most angler's First Fish was a bluegill. They're found everywhere, from small farm ponds to huge lakes, from major rivers to trickling creeks, which makes them accessible to virtually everybody.

They're easy to catch -- just toss out a baited hook -- and they require no expensive, elaborate tackle.

Bluegill fishing can be as basic or as complicated as you want to make it. As a kid I used to catch giant bluegills at Lake Tansi on a fly rod, using hand-tied flies. For the past 30 years Sherborne and I have made an annual spring trip to Reelfoot Lake, one of the country's premier bluegill lakes, specifically to fish for 'gills.

On spring days Reelfoot is dotted with boats easing along the lily pads and cypress trees as anglers pursue bluegill that sometimes reach pie-place proportions.

With resorts booked solid and restaurants overflowing, the economic impact of bluegill fishing in the Reelfoot Lake area is calculated in the millions of dollars.

Bluegill can be caught on an array of artificial lures, including Trout Magnets and similar small plastics. The advantage of using artificials is that you don't have to bother with live bait, or be pestered by smaller fish that clean hooks.

But I still prefer live bait -- crickets, meal worms and pinches of night crawlers. If I had to pick just one, I'd go with crickets.

My favorite way to fish is with a bobber in shallow water. Move into a promising spot and cast in a circle around the boat. If you catch a big spawning bluegill -- a black-and-blue male or a yellow-bronze female -- chances are you've found a bedding area and there will be lots more where that one came from.

The drawback to bluegills is that they're not easy to clean, particularly when you fillet them, which I stated doing to make sure our kids didn't get a bone in their gullet.

But they're worth it. We dined on a platter of golden fillets from the batch we caught recently, with several bags going into the freezer for later.

Bluegill aren't the biggest game-fish, but ounce-for-ounce no fish fights harder. None is better to eat. And in terms of pure, simple fishing fun for anglers of all ages, I'm not sure any other fish can beat it.

After all these years, I'm still giddy about 'gills.

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