Bluegills: Sometimes the best things come in small packages

The small red-and-yellow bobber twitched once, twice, then disappeared under the surface. It wasn’t long before another multi-colored bluegill lay shimmering across Jeff Arndt’s palm. He carefully twisted the tiny hook from its mouth and dropped it in the wire basket hanging from the side of his boat.

“What a great time this is,” he said, moments before setting the hook on another fish.

Some of life’s greatest pleasures come in small packages. And any fisherman’s list must include catching bluegill, which is as close to a sure thing during the dog days of summer as kids chasing an ice cream truck.

With our warmest months comes a bonanza of fishing opportunities, which for the most part, passes untapped and untouched.

It seems these days too much emphasis is placed on size of the catch. Just look around at most tackle shops. It seems the lion’s share of lures, and equipment is built for wrestling wished-for lunkers from deep water or dense cover.

The reality is no matter how hard we all try; more smaller fish are caught than big ones. The quest for bucket-mouthed bass or tackle busting catfish have overcome so many anglers they have forgotten what a good time it can be to battle hand sized bluegills on light action rods spooled with line as fine as hair. But if more anglers appreciated the relative speed and power that redears, bluegills, green sunfish and pumpkinseeds can provide, the night crawler business would be listed Fortune 500.

Most of us, myself included, have neglected most members of the sunfish family far too long. Bluegill fishing? Not for me, especially when reels are spooled with heavy line tied to lures as big as Cuban cigars. But, on properly suited light tackle, the more diminutive members of the sunfish family can pull with the best of them.

But, unlike their bigger framed cousins, these little guys are much more numerous and easier to catch than a cold in a kindergarten class. Sunfish, as they are collectively called, inhabit nearly every body of water in the Mid-west.

A really large bluegill may be older than you think. In most species, a fish five years old may net measure more than seven of eight inches. A bone-fide monster, say in excess of 10-inches is at least six years old. By the way, Indiana’s record stands at three pounds, four ounces and was hoisted from a pond in Greene County.

Fishing for any of the sunfish species can be easy. Their sheer numbers and aggressive nature make them especially suited for youngsters as well. And before any adult nixes the idea for lack of personal angling skills, understand that bluegill fishing isn’t exactly rocket science. Even the most rudimentary tackle and common sense approach is more than a match for our tasty sunfish species.

A rod and reel, hook, bobber and splitshot are all that’s really needed. Keep line size limited to 6-pound or less. Another great outfit is nothing more than a cane pole with the same terminal tackle. One of the biggest tips to bluegill fishing is to use tiny hooks, nothing bigger than a number 8. These fish have tiny mouths and their ability to suck bait of a hook without tasting metal is legendary!

Even simpler is the choice of bait. Many of us grew up catching bluegills and other sunfish from night crawlers and garden worms plucked from our own backyard. We bought crickets or beemoth when we had a spare dollar in our pocket or used tiny bits of leftover hotdog when we didn’t.

On a conservative note, bluegill anglers should never keep more than you are willing to clean. While there is no daily bag or size limit and their supply may seem endless, bluegills are not an inexhaustible resource.

So hopefully you will make time and enjoy one of our state’s most productive fishing opportunities. And if you do, remember there is only one thing better than catching bluegills - and that’s eating them!