Anglers usually catch them when they’re fishing for something else.
And to paraphrase a famous ecological saying, “In nature, all things are connected,” and bluegills are one of those points of connection.
Though targeted directly by few Mountaineer anglers, once hooked, the bluegill offers a fine fight and makes for excellent table fare.
Any old creek or riverbank can be transformed into a magical place in the summertime.
The slimy earthworms, the languorous warble of a songbird, the confused murmur of a rippling stream.
It’s easy to recall those shiftless afternoons, watching a red-and-white plastic bobber, motionless, while a dozen small bluegills paused to study a writhing mealworm.
Bluegills are a symbol of the endless summer days of youth.
I can remember fishing for my own supper a time or two, then running home with a string of bluegills for my grandmother’s old iron skillet.
In time, though, like most anglers, I developed a preference for a specific kind of game fish: trout, bass, walleye, and musky.
These glamour species would come and go.
But the bluegills provided more angling enjoyment and contributed to more childhood fish fries than all the other filets put together.
Catching bluegills from a rural stream is how I learned to hone my angling skills.
Without the bluegill experience, I could not have grown to appreciate the other kinds of fishing pleasures.
Bluegills are the most popular panfish in the United States. They are known as a “pan fish” because they don’t get very big, but they’re excellent for putting into a pan to cook.
Bluegills caught in the Mountain State rarely exceed 10 inches. The average is six inches long, according to Mark Scott, assistant-chief fisheries biologist with the DNR in Charleston.
Bluegills prefer quiet, weedy waters where they can hide and feed.
Excellent bait for bluegills is red worms, mealworms, crickets and pieces of nightcrawlers. One of the best ways to fish for bluegills is with a bobber that is about 6-12 inches above a size 10 hook.
Hundreds of thousands of bluegills are caught each year in the state.
They are found in ponds, lakes, and slow-moving streams.
They feed primarily on insects, crustaceans, and small fish.
Bluegills are easy to catch and their widespread distribution makes them seem available to practically everyone.
Catch rates for large bluegills are highest in May and June, when water temperatures approach 65 degrees. But July and August are nearly as bountiful in the cool shade of the mid-summer afternoons.
Almost any fishing outfit can be used to catch bluegills, but ultralight spinning tackle is the best choice for most occasions.
Fly rods are preferred by many anglers, even in farm ponds.
A light line is less visible, casts and sinks faster, and produces the highest catch rates.
Bluegills will readily take natural baits such as redworms, nightcrawlers, mealworms, catalpa worms, grasshoppers, and crickets.
Small, fine-wire hooks work best when fishing for bluegills with natural baits.
I’ve heard it said that bluegill fishing is best for young anglers.
My nephews all have taken their turns on the Greenbrier River in Summers County and farm ponds near Shady Spring and White Oak, where waters seemingly are teeming with bluegills of all sizes.
One Mountain State angler once reported catching a bluegill that measured 13-and-three-quarter inches long. The Lepomis macrochirus (scientific name) was taken from a Fayette County farm in 1964.
Anglers catching bluegills of one pound or more are eligible for a trophy fish citation.
Plum Orchard Lake in Fayette County is highly touted for its trophy-size bluegills.
Other waters popular for its sunfish include R.D. Bailey Lake, Summersville Dam, Stonecoal Lake, Bluestone Dam and Stephens Lake.
The way those fish turn their flattened bodies against the water and race around in a wide circle still brings out the kid in me.
I think that I’ve probably caught bluegills on everything that could be hung on a hook. Yes, even bologna.
But big bluegills can be as tough to catch as bass or trout.
For the most part, fishing over deeper water and around heavier cover will draw more strikes. They’ll gobble a suitable morsel that swims or floats at no matter what time of day.
It’s little wonder that bluegills are hotly pursued by youngsters everywhere.
Eighty-five percent of freshwater anglers are introduced to fishing by age 13, and most early catches are from the brightly colored bluegill family.
Although bluegills are suckers for floating bugs, they often prefer to feed beneath the surface even in shallow water.
I’ve found that I usually catch more and bigger fish when I use sinking flies.
Over the years I have experimented with countless patters in various colors, but it’s hard to beat dark colors, especially black.
A hard-bodied black ant is a killer.
I’ve also had good luck with some “puffy” little flies often rejected by other species of fish.
I’ve found that it’s helpful to weight some of the “bugs” by wrapping lead or copper wire around the front of the hook to give it more sink when I’m fishing farm ponds or water more than a couple of feet deep.
Oh, and another thing.
You really don’t have to worry about panfish being leader shy.
So, you can feel free to use just about any size tippet (6- or even 8-pound test).
Besides, it isn’t unusual to hook a nice largemouth bass while fishing for bluegills.
That’s all part of the fun.
Top o’ the morning!