I have a vague recollection of my first bluegill, a fish fooled by meal worms suspended under a red and white bobber. Old school all the way.
But one piece of that otherwise hazy childhood memory remains crystal clear: my march of pride through the campground to show off my catch to Dad. My rod tip bent dangerously under the weight of the still hooked bluegill, as big around as a salad plate, eight inches or so across. It remains my biggest bluegill ever.
I can only hope that when biographers descend on my still warm corpse, that first bluegill won’t become the central metaphor of my life story: mighty at 10, all downhill from there.
Bluegill are the first fish for many young anglers. They aren’t the biggest in the pond, but are often the most numerous. If there are bluegill around, you can hand a kid a spinning rod, a bucket of worms and they’ll be out of your hair — for a while at least.
Unfortunately, my dad was somewhat dismissive of bluegill. He was a trout guy all the way. Plop that man down on the shore of a trout lake with a lawn chair and a cooler of beer and his Nirvana was realized. Occasionally, he’d bring home a limit, but his main motivation involved the chair and beer. He was content whether the fish bothered him or not.
Today, it’s easy for me to appreciate the simplicity of his Zen. But then? A long day staring at a lake doesn’t work so well when you’re 10. I recall one afternoon when the bite wasn’t happening. Down the lake a ways, however, I could see a guy casting out into some open water surrounded by aquatic vegetation. It seemed he was catching and releasing a little palm-sized bluegill with every cast.
I begged Dad to rig me up with a bobber and some worms so I could go give those bluegill a whirl too, but he refused.
“That’s not real fishing,” he told me. “We’re here to catch trout.”
So maybe it wasn’t Dad’s greatest display of parenting skills, but he did teach me something. Decades later, when my own kids were about the same age, I took them to a mountain lake for some trout fishing and that familiar dynamic broke out — only in this case it was a shoreline teaming with crawdads that distracted the kid’s from a nonexistent trout bite.
I kept one rod baited for trout, but turned the rest over to the kid’s crawdad obsession. They dipped hooks tipped with night crawlers out among the rocks, then waited until a crawdad grabbed hold. Then they yanked the water bugs out of the drink, squealing with delight as they unhooked the crawdads while mostly avoiding the menacing pinchers.
By day’s end we had zero trout and a five-gallon bucket full of an epic crawdad boil.
Bluegill are almost always found in close association with largemouth bass. Both are members of the sunfish family and bluegill share their larger cousin’s aggressive demeanor. They greedily slam bait and lures.
I recently noticed schools of bluegill lingering about in some of my favorite bass spots, and then recalled those fish-on-every-cast bluegill I was so long ago denied. I returned with a four-weight fly rod armed with a yellow popper just small enough for a decent sized bluegill to get its lips around.
As the popper gurgled across the surface bluegill hit it, over and over. Finally, one would get the popper in its mouth, then turn that wide body sideways and bend my fly rod as if it were a much larger fish. One bluegill after another. Boom boom boom.
It was fun enough to make a guy feel, once again, like he’s king of the campground.
Rob Breeding is the editor of www.mthookandbullet.com.