It is difficult to say one outdoor activity is
better than all others in the month of May, but you have to start somewhere
in this business, so mushroom hunting be damned, bass fishing be shunted
aside, and nature lovin’ must wait it’s turn. Go for the bluegills, alias
BGs, which are said to be the scrappiest fighter--not to mention one of
the best on the table. BG fishing is that good in May.
I think the feature of BG fishing that draws so
many to the piscatorial activities is the fact that this scrapper is not
picayunish about the angler’s methods. He will turn a willow pole every
way but loose when it is baited with night crawler, or he will put a kink
in your most snooty fly rod with gusto. This, of course, is not to even
think about the myriad other methods used to score with this fish.
And it certainly gives a blatant cold shoulder
to the fact that those sweet filets will grace the dinner table in as many
ways--or nearly so--as there are cooks.
Boil the many attributes of the BG down to its
simplest terms and the composite of plus features can only point to the
fact that it is a fish for all people--especially in this corn belt and
farm pond part of the country. One of the best ways--or at least the most
successful ways--to fish for BGs is pole and line (with or without bobber)
and any one of dozens of baits. BG are infinitely open minded about the
bait they take a whack at, but some species of earthworm is without a doubt
most used and most successful. Still this is not to say they will not hit
anything that twitches, especially if it is near their nest.
The nesting season, of course, is one of the many
things that make BG so popular. When still waters reach the low 70s in
temperature BG start thinking of reproducing. The male fans out a round
nest (usually about 18 inches in diameter and one to three inches deep).
Females--maybe several of them--deposit their eggs in the nest. Nests
are extremely obvious because they are most often in shallow water. Still,
I have seen them fairly deep.
Actually, I think nests often are located in shallow
water because it heats faster than the depths. The eggs of a female are
said to number in the thousands, and cooler water may render them sterile.
Water levels may do likewise. Like other members of the sunfish family--including
the black bass species--the task of turning out young falls on both male
and female. The male constructs the nest and guards eggs and young. The
female, or females, deposit the eggs. The male guards age and young (fry)
with a passion, removing anything that comes near. This, of course can
be his downfall.
Other ways of fishing BGs are the popular fly
fishing, and fishing with spinning gear, ultra-light rods and reels being
preferred by anglers. As noted above, the ‘gills don’t seem to care what
the tackle looks like.
Any flyrod will do the job with BGs, but I prefer
something a foot or two shorter than a bass-action outfit, and considerably
smaller. My favorite fly rod for smaller fish, so to speak, is a six foot
rod with lots of action, armed with a single-action reel with weight forward,
floating line, and six foot leader. The fly, of course, can be just about
any creation that sinks slowly. Dry flies float, wet flies sink.
With such an outfit, I can slip around a pond
or lake shoreline to place my offerings to spots very close to the shore
during the day and go a bit deeper as the sun sinks. One thing you must
remember in flyrodding for BG is that this is an infinitely curious fish.
Often a fly settling on the water’s surface will attract a fish several
feet away. Moreover, the fish is in no great rush to gulp the fly. Instead,
the attracted fish in a slow approach goes to the fly and hangs suspended
beneath it to see what is transpiring. The ‘gill’s nose may be very close,
and one little twitch of the fly will trigger the action, often as if the
fish merely sucks in the fly.
One can also expect success with spinning gear
in a multitude of methods. Small spinner baits, jigs, miniature artificial
baits--even dozens of live and natural baits--can be used with good success.
One day in a boat alone I noticed a monarch butterfly
larva creeping up the leg of my trousers. Having little luck with artificial
lures, I changed quickly to a hook and immediately started catching ‘gills.
But I still regret using that bait because it was so beautiful.
One way to fish ‘gills with spinning tackle is
to place an ice-fishing bobber a few inches above a long-shanked wire hook
and use natural baits, including very small minnows. Fish this rig around
brushy cover in the shallows or around other obstructions.
Years ago I noted (while bass fishing Starve Hollow
Lake--western Jackson County) that water above the spillway was filled
with big BG and that they went over the dam to the creek below in times
of high water. There also was a fine concentration of little toads around
the spillway. I parlayed the two into spectacular BG fishing. In those
days the daily creel limit was 50 fish five inches in length. The creek
potholes became my choice in high water. BGs, incidentally, tend to fight
in circles, especially when they are being brought up from deeper water.
Cleaning (dressing or undressing BG, if you prefer)
is a simple matter if one has a place to work with running water. With
any dull, spoon-like implement, scrape off the scales, and with sharp knife
cut off the head. Then slit the belly from fore to aft and take out the
entrails. Leave fins and tail attached. They are fine food (like potato
chips) when fried crisply. To
make it easy to remove dorsal spines when fish is fried, just make lengthwise
cuts on both sides of that fin and pull it out when fish is fried.
BG can also be filleted its skin left on or removed
to create rather small, flat pieces of fish. I prefer this method of cleaning.
Just dip the fillets of fish in a 50-50 mix of
egg and milk, roll them in a 50-50 mix of cracker meal and flour, and fry
them to a golden brown on both sides. Use salt and pepper as desired. But
a friend of mine’s philosophy says: “Any time you are cooking fish, use
enough pepper to track a rabbit.” The filets, in frying, are turned only
once. Brown is the key word, not black, as in burned. Don’t overcook. Fish
stands for fragile. And the skin may be the tastiest part, even though
many impurities (if they are present) are stored between it and the body.
When cleaning BGs, save the egg sacs. They are
known as “the poor man’s caviar” when fried just as the fish is prepared
for the table. But eggs of catfish, and some other fish, may explode like
little time bombs.
Oh, yes! It says here that it is proper outdoor
etiquette to hunt mushrooms or participate in other outdoor pursuits on
a full tummy of fried BG filets, cornbread (with honey and real butter),
a garden salad and hot coffee. The amen is mine.
on thumbnail image for enlarged view.
size and coloration help identify the bluegill.
of my catch helps frame the farm pond. The ‘gills were taken--along with
many others--on the little black fly on handle of rod.