"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Copyright © 2007 by Bill Scifres
May 2007

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.

Click on thumbnail image for enlarged view.

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The size and coloration help identify the bluegill. Part 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. 

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All columns are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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