BassWestUSA - May/June 2009, Page 62

Bluegills

as the Key to Tournament-Winning Bass Catches

duplicate it. Either find that type of bank or that type of bottom and they’ll be there.”

Wolak won the Bassmaster American largely on a finesse worm, and a small worm or soft stickbait can be a key way to tempt reluctant biters, but quite often the bedding bluegill pattern lends itself to power fishing and heart-stopping strikes. “A lot of times they’ll eat a topwater all day long,” Hackney said. “A popper works real well and (at Wylie) KVD caught them on a bullfrog-colored spook.” Cook’s go-to topwater is a Chug Bug, but he also dotes on a Rapala Skitter Prop, “especially when the water is real calm,” he said. Indeed, anglers throughout the Carolinas have long viewed prop baits as a particularly effective way to generate brutal strikes. For many years the Brian’s Bee prop lure, painted in colors rep- resenting a bluegill, has been one of the secret lures of top pros. Only when anglers including Mike Surman, Clark Wendlandt and Bryan Thrift used it to garner top five finishes in the FLW Cham- pionship did its popularity spread. In addition to having props fore and aft, the topwater plug has the deep-bellied profile of a panfish – while it could be mistaken for a shad or other thinner forage fish, it more clearly represents a panfish, and that explains its effective- ness. Lucky Craft’s Kelly J has a similar appearance. Hackney said that just because the fish are hungry and aggressive doesn’t mean they’ll bite indiscriminately. “The lure needs to fit the profile,” he said, so if one topwater isn’t getting the strikes, don’t hesitate to switch to another. When fish won’t break the surface to take a bait, there are still other ways to entice them. Hackney will often swim a natural-col- ored jig around bluegill bedding areas. In dirtier water, he said that a square-billed crankbait can be deadly. But the phenomenon that has changed the game, particularly when big bass are in the area, is the rise of bluegill-patterned swimbaits. Historically, full-sized bluegill imitators like the Matt Lures Ultimate Bluegill and the Black Dog Baits Shellcracker have been deadly, even in areas where 8- and 10-pound bass aren’t found in large numbers. River rat Eddie Dillon of Columbia, Maryland, who calls the Susquehanna and Potomac Rivers his home base, will of- ten start off with the Matt Lures products when he’s chasing the bluegill spawn. “You just slow-roll it through the areas and when that tail gets kicking they eat it,” he said. “I’ve caught 2-pound fish with the big 5-inch bait.” Even when truly big fish are not around, it’s a way to generate strikes from the big- gest fish around. He throws the big baits on a heavy action flipping stick. In clear water, he favors 20-pound monofila- ment, but in stained water he’ll upgrade to 50-pound braid. In recent years, the market has been flooded with a series of smaller panfish imita-

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triggering the strike

tors, like the Tru-Tungsten Tru-Life Shad, the Reaction Strike rEV- OLUTION Bluegill and the Jackall Giron. It might seem odd that a smaller lure would be attractive when it’s the sexually mature male bluegills that guard the beds, but Cook explained that even though the non-mature males aren’t directly engaged in the spawning pro- cess, they still tend to hover around the edges of the spawning ar- eas, making them an easy meal for an opportunistic bass. Dillon said the multi-segmented rEVOLUTION Bluegill, fished on a spinnerbait rod and 15 pound test P-Line monofilament, has been “phenomenal” for him throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. Hackney agreed that these smaller baits, like the jointed Tru-Life Shad, are ideal for tournament situations. “They’re great for fish from 3 to 6 pounds, but they’ll catch a giant also,” he said. When he flings the Tru-Life Shad, he favors his signature series Quantum flipping stick, which is 7’11”, “but it has a light tip for a flipping stick, which allows me to throw more accurately around docks and trees. It’s perfect for baits up to 2 ounces.” He uses 20 lb. Cajun line (“never lighter”) in clear water and will go up to 50 or 65-pound Ca- jun braid if he can get away with it. He also stressed that a 5:1 gear ratio reel is preferable because the bass are looking for an easy meal and “it’s possible to retrieve over-fast on a faster reel.”

Once you’ve discovered where the panfish spawn on your lo- cal lake, it’s not a “one and done” pattern. Indeed, both Cook and Hackney said that the places where you caught them a week ago, or even a month ago, are likely to continue to produce bass. “It can last six weeks,” Cook explained. “The waves come and go but once you locate a good area, you can count on it being load- ed for a month.” Of course, the exact time of year that it happens varies depend- ing on geography. “The majority here (in Louisiana) have finished by the end of March,” Hackney said. But the Wylie tournament that Wolak won occurred in the heart of summer, and it was a lake-wide phenomenon. Menendez and VanDam keyed in on the same bite, as did Hackney, who finished 13th. You may consider chasing bluegills to be child’s play, an easy way to get a lot of bites in a short time, but no way to make a name for yourself on the major tournament circuits. But if you enjoy pow- er fishing for aggressive bass, often the biggest fish on your local waterways, then you owe it to yourself to understand the seasonal migrations of bluegills. This is an “in-between” bite that you can’t afford to miss. The shallow water thrills of the bass spawn may be largely completed, but before the fish head out to their deepwater summer haunts, they need to fatten up on the easiest prey around. In many cases, that diet consists of their smaller brethren, the blue- gill. In fact, even after a major- ity of the fish have headed out to deeper structure, this is a bite that can persist through- out the summer months, and one you can have all to your- self. What are you waiting for? Start look- ing. BW

theY keep on coming

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May/June 2009