One of my oldest and fondest memories concerns a little critter known as the bluegill. Many writers have written how this humblest of all fish made fishermen out of them. I have to give credit where it is due, too.
I can't remember the first fish I ever caught. It was probably a bluegill, but it could have been a bullhead catfish.
However, I do remember the first time I found a school of bluegills on a bed.
I must have been about eight or nine years old. I know it was the first year I was granted the privilege of leaving my mother's sight as she fished on the bank of reservoir near where I grew up.
My mother's favorite form of recreation was fishing and she did most of it from one large flat rock with her children beside her. It was an important time in our lives when we were old enough to leave the rock and my mother and fish on our own. My brother was almost two years younger than me, but we were so close that we were allowed to fish away from my mother for the first time at the same time.
We only went about 100 yards along the bank when we stumbled on the bluegill bed. We were equipped with six-foot ends of cane poles because we were too small to handle larger ones. If you have ever fished a bluegill bed, you know what happened as soon as I dropped the worm baited hook in the water. It was attacked immediately by a big male bluegill. I didn't know what sex it was at the time and didn't care, I just knew it was the biggest sunfish I had ever seen. My little brother and I stood side by side and caught these big bluegills as fast as we could get our lines in the water. There was no waiting and no secret tactics.
Just bait the hook, drop it in the water a couple of feet from where we were standing, watch the cork disappear and pull in a bluegill.
I don't know whether we fished the bed out or caught all the ones we could reach with our short poles. We didn't quit fishing until the fish quit biting. When we did quit, my brother and I had a stringer that we had to drag back to where my mother was fishing.
You would think a day like that would instill the fishing instinct into a person forever, but it just about ruined fishing for me. I thought that was the way it should be all of the time. Not knowing why the fishing was so good that day in June, I spent the rest of the summer trying to duplicate the accomplishment. I wandered the banks of the reservoir looking for the same kind of fishing. If I didn't get a bite in about 30 seconds, I moved to another spot looking for the big bonanza that I didn't know came but once a year.
The toughest part of this fishing is finding the beds. In the reservoirs, they will usually be in coves in water anywhere from six inches deep to four or five feet deep. I have caught them in water so shallow that the bait was only three inches below the bobber. In lakes or ponds, bluegills will bed in shallows along the banks.
The second toughest part of this fishing is keeping the location of your bluegill bed secret.
In tidal rivers and streams, bluegills will be deeper, obviously, because of the rise and fall of the tide or fluctuation of water flow. At low tide they will be in three or four feet of water and usually near stumps or fallen trees. Usually, the fishing is best at low tide, but this will vary from river to river.
The trick is locating a bed and the best way to do this is to keep moving until you catch a fish. If you catch two on successive casts, you have probably located a bed and your search is over.
You can also locate bluegill beds with your nose. There will be a strong fishy odor in bedding areas. However, not all bluegill beds can be detected by the smell. Some don't have an odor. In my experience, beds that can be smelled are more prevalent in the South.
It has been said many times and many ways that if it were not for bream most of us never would have honed an interest in fishing. Despite being a good recruiter and teacher of young fishermen, bream are a favorite prey of many anglers of all ages.
Too much has been written about their tenacity on the end of a line, but it's all true. Much has been written about how tasty they are when fried to a crispy brown in deep fat and all of that is true, too.
But to me, the best thing about bream is there soothing effect on my nerves. Perhaps, I had better explain. Every summer my grandson visits with me for a month. If you don't think a ten-year-old can get nerve wracking, you haven't been around one for a while. When I feel that I'm about to break, I give my grandson a cane pole and a can of garden worms and send him down to the lake. It works every time. My nerves are completely settled by the time he returns with a stringer of bream for me to clean.
Just about every puddle of water in the country supports a population of bream, bream, sunfish or whatever you call them. The country is dotted with ponds, lakes, rivers, streams and reservoirs which provide good bluegill fishing.
While most bodies of water in the country will support bluegill fishing, there are up and down cycles.
A lake manager pointed out recently that six years ago the lake was over-populated with bluegills and the average size was decreasing. He said that getting a stringer that averaged a half of a pound was a struggle. But he took a very simple approach to the management problem. He helped and encouraged anglers to catch as many bream as possible (within the limits of the regulations) and the numbers have gone down and the size up. The average size of a culled stringer is 3/4 of a pound now. The biggest bluegill the manager has seen taken from the lake weighed 1 3/4 pounds.
The prime bedding times vary around the country. In the deep South, May and June are prime bedding months, but secondary bluegill spawns also take place in July and August. Across the middle of the country, June is the prime bedding month and July is the month in the North.
By far the most effective way to catch bream is to fish bait below a bobber with either a cane pole or a fiberglass bream rod. Worms are the universal bait for bluegills, either garden worms or nightcrawlers. You only need a small piece of nightcrawler, about 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch, to entice a bluegill to bite. Crickets are the favorite bait in the South, but they also use wigglers and red worms. Catalpa worms are used when available.
Bluegills will also hit a variety of artificial lures, including flies, small spoons and jigs with twister tails. I prefer yellow or white jigs or flies for the brackish or murky water and brown or black for the clear water.
The best way to fish these lures is below a bobber, set so the lures are just off the bottom. Flyrodders should use streamers or nymphs in black and brown patterns in clear water and white or yellow streamers in murky water. Usually, bedding bluegill will hit bait or lure the instant it lands in the bed.
Anyone that uses heavier than ultra-light spinning or spin- casting for bluegills is missing a lot of fun, but the lighter equipment is also less tiring to use and, to me, easier to handle. Just about any rod and reel combination will do in a pinch, however. On occasions I have ran into bedded bluegills when I only had bass fishing tackle with me. Since I rarely pass up a chance to quickly catch a mess of bluegills, I have made do with the heavy equipment. To cast the light lures with heavy tackle, I add a bell sinker to the medal clamp on the bobber.
It's not much sport, but when you are meat fishing, who cares?
Bluegill Fish Cakes Recipe
The eating is just as much pleasure as the catching when it comes to bluegills. One of my favorite ways to prepare them is in fish cakes. When you raise four children on fish, you try to find ways to make them boneless and fish cakes does this.
It goes like this:
1 egg, beaten
2 tbs mayonnaise
1/2 tsp parsley flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
After scaling the bream and removing the intestines, I put them in a deep pot and boil them for about six minutes or until the flesh can be easily separate from the bones with a fork. I leave the heads on with the eyes still intact, but if that bothers you remove the heads. The meat loss is minimal.
Than pick the flesh from the bones carefully keeping it in as large pieces as possible. Put the remainder of the ingredients in a large bowl and mix thoroughly.
Add the bream meat to the bowl and gently mix it with the mixture so that the hunks of meat are not broken into smaller pieces.
Next form into hamburger size cakes and place on a flat dish or pan. Place in the refrigerator for an hour, or two if you are not in a hurry. This allows the egg to set and hold the fish cakes together during frying.
Place in a deep frier filled with vegetable oil and preheated to 375 degrees. In a matter of seconds, the fish cakes will come to the surface ready to eat, but I leave them cook until they are golden brown.
The fish cakes can be served as sandwiches or as an entry to a meal. Believe me, these fish cakes will make you want to go back and catch another mess of bluegills, if you didn't want to already.