The simply economy of fishing for bluegill
By JIM MATTHEWS
Even as the population continues to climb, the number of anglers in the U.S. continues to decline. In the past eight years nationwide, there are about 150,000 fewer anglers. In California, the number of anglers has dropped more dramatically. From a peak of nearly 2.5 million just a couple of decades ago, there are less than 1 million anglers in the Golden State today.
There is, however, a simple antidote to the declines.
In national surveys, people say they gave up the sport because “they didn't have the time” to fish anymore. Do you believe that? They probably didn't catch a fish on their last three trips and were too embarrassed to admit it.
Enter bluegill. They are so prolific lake levels have been known to rise 27 feet in a single year because their growing bodies displaced so much water. The name “bluegill” means “boundless appetite” in Latin, and they will eat just about anything dropped within ear- or eye-shot. (Actually, only one out of three of those statements are totally true, but they're not overly exaggerated.)
The bottom line is that anyone can catch them with alarming predictability and regularity, especially this time of year when the water is warming and they have to feed an appetite that grows with each tick upward on the thermometer.
Yes, even you.
The gear and tactics needed for successful bluegill fishing are so simple even my Labrador retriever can do it.
Here's a simple beginner's tackle list:
-- A fishing rod and reel or long pole and line.
-- A bobber, weights, and some hooks.
Are you confused yet?
Here’s each explained in a little more detail:
POLES, RODS, AND REELS: I’m not sure there's really a difference between a rod and a pole. A rod usually has a reel attached to it, while a pole usually doesn’t have a reel, only line tied to the tip. But that is all jargon, and if you want to wind in your line with the spinning reel downside up, that’s up to you.
A rod and reel will allow you to cast further with your bobber and bait, but most people would probably be better off with a long pole. Bluegill tend to hang close to shore, anyway, and most people fish too far from the shore.
Summary: Basically, you need a stick and some fine string. If you want a reel, fine, stay with one of those closed-face, spin-cast reels for the most tangle free casting. Cane or fiberglass poles from 10 to 15-feet long are cheaper, simple, and even less likely to tangle. Stay with monofilament line in the six-pound test arena when filling your reel or buying a small spool for use with your pole.
BOBBERS, WEIGHTS, AND HOOKS: Bluegill are little fish, so get small baitholder hooks in sizes No. 12 or 14. Hooks that size also match the size of the bait you'll be using. I don't want to give any flagrant product honks here, but Eagle Claw is the only American-made hook. Don't buy those snelled hooks that have a length of 15-pound monofilament leader already tied on, buy the packages of loose hooks.
For bobbers, I know the big ones look really pretty, but get the smallest ones you can cast or use on your tackle. The ones the size of your finger-tip are better than the one's the size of your palm because they are more sensitive to bluegill strikes. Stay with the plastic round floats for now; you can graduate to the skinny pencil floats later.
For weights, all you need is a package of split shot that are about the size BBs or a little smaller. The eared split shot are easy to take off your line. The weight is needed to sink your bait down to the fish, even though sometimes the bluegill will come up and take it off the surface.
BAIT: Bluegill love crickets, meal worms (regular or jumbo-sized), red worms, waxworms, nightcrawler pieces, and maggots. You can buy most of these wiggly creatures at most bait stores or beer stores near lakes. Buy the ones you won't mind handling and sticking with a hook. If you live near a vacant field, send the kids out with fly swatters, a coffee can, and orders to get grasshoppers. You can store all the leftover live bait, except crickets and hoppers, in the refrigerator (in a sealed container, of course) for some time. I store crickets in mine, but I have to hide them from my wife behind stuff.
OK, you will want or need one more thing -- a bucket. This is to hold all the bluegill you'll catch.
That's all the tackle you'll need. Total investment so far is maybe $30 if you've spent extravagantly -- $10 or less if you're a shopper.
Go to a lake. Just about any lake around here has bluegill. Urban park lakes, mountain lakes, desert ponds, the Colorado River. If you need someplace close to home, consult a fishing report. There is one each week in this paper. Bluegill bites are usually noted for each water, and the action is usually summed up this time of year like this: Bluegill action excellent.
That's what you want to see. Go to the lake that has that report. Ask the people at the park entrance, the marina, the snack bar, or any fisherman around the bank where you should fish for bluegill. No one is secretive about bluegill spots.
Now you are ready. Tie a hook on the end of your line with a clinch knot. About five to eight inches above that, pinch on one of those eared split-shot. About three feet above that, attach the bobber. You put the bobber on by pressing the spring-plunger so the little clip sticks out the bottom. The line is looped under the clip and the plunger released. You then hold your thumb over the bottom clip and press the edge of the plunger down with your thumbnail. This exposes the top part of the clip, and the line is looped under that clip too and the plunger released. This locks the bobber in place so it doesn't slip up and down your line.
All that's left is to impale one of those baits on that hook and flipping the works into the water. Don't worry about getting way out there. If you pay attention and wear Polaroid sunglasses, you probably can see the bluegill around the shore at your feet. Look for them and fish there.
When the bobber begins bouncing and goes under, you lift the rod and bring in the first of many bluegill you'll catch for the day. The bucket will fill up fast. I can see bluegill tacos in your future.
It really is that simple.
Sure bluegill aren't the size of bluefin tuna, but you can probably catch 500 pounds of bluegill, have far more fun on 50 fishing trips, and spend far less money than you'd invest in catching just one 60-pound bluefin.
[Jim Matthews is a syndicated Southern California-based outdoor reporter and columnist. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 909-887-3444.]