There’s no way of knowing for sure, but I’ll wager that the bluegill (or bream or brim) is Tennessee’s most popular fish.
They’re abundant and easy to catch. From boat docks to creek banks, from big lakes to farm ponds, bluegill anglers of all ages can be seen watching bobbers and waiting for bites.
I’d venture to say that for most anglers, their First Fish was a bluegill. It was for me.
Growing up the country, I dreamed about wading pristine trout streams and canoeing wilderness rivers in pursuit of giant Northern pike. In the meantime, I settled for catching pint-sized bluegills in a farm pond down the road.
It’s as much fun now as it was back then.
Every spring for the past 40 years my fishing buddy Bob Sherborne and I have traveled to Reelfoot Lake in West Tennessee specifically to fish for bluegills.
Closer home, Brownie Stricklin and I have some favorite bluegill coves on Percy Priest Lake that produce bountiful catches of bluegill spring after spring.
Old Hickory Lake also is a good bluegill fishery, and Center Hill is famous for big ‘gills that lurk in the deep water along steep bluff banks.
Like most things in life, fishing for bluegills can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it. For simplicity, all that’s needed is a fishing pole, line, hook and bait.
If you want to go the more complicated route, nothing is more fun than catching bluegills on a light-weight fly rod with dry flies or tiny popping bugs, or on ultra-light spinning tackle. No fish fights harder, ounce for ounce, than a bluegill.
At Reelfoot, the best way to catch big spawning bulls is to locate a spawning bed in or around a lily pad-choked cove. Ease the boat within casting range and you can bring in bluegills almost as fast as you can get a bait in the water.
Famed Blue Bank Resort guide Billy Blakely prefers a tiny hair jig tipped with a meal worm. He drops the jig around submerged structure and cypress trunks and hauls in one saucer-sized bream after another.
On Priest and Old Hickory it’s easy to find small bluegill – every cove is brimming with them. The challenge is to avoid the small bait-stealers and find a school of bigger fish. Sometimes it takes awhile to locate them, but one you find a productive spot it generally holds good-sized bluegills trip after trip.
A few years ago Brownie and I discovered a cove on Percy Priest Lake that held bigger than average bluegill. We start fishing for them in early May, about when the peak crappie spawn is winding down, and catch them by the hundreds throughout the month and on into June.
Year after year we’ve found the bluegills concentrated in the same spot. Our favorite way to fish is to hook a cricket about 7 feet below a small bobber. A BB-sized split shot keeps the cricket down.
Red-worms or pinches of nightcrawler also are excellent bluegill bait, but nothing beats a cricket.
Bluegill are bony, so I fillet mine even though it’s time-consuming. Cleaning bluegills takes time, but a platter of crispy, golden-brown fillets is worth the effort.
Bluegills are fun catch and delicious to eat. No wonder they’re Mr. Popular.