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Volume 15, Issue 19 ~ May 10 - May 16, 2007

The Spawning Beds Are
Busting Out All Over

Nothing bites like bluegill

Big rockfish, fresh from spawning, were swarming the Bay Bridge area on their way down the Chesapeake. Recently arrived large croaker had been haunting the nighttime flats off of Matapeake, and the hickory shad and perch runs, stalled by low temperatures, were on again in earnest.

The day was sunny, warm and the winds were calm. There was no doubt about my fishing destination. I was going after some bluegill.

Despite the allure of the Tidewater’s big and flashy fish, the diminutive bluegill has a special place in my heart this time of year. There is no other finned creature that virtually guarantees such an enjoyable day as this gutsy little fish.

Good ones measure only nine inches, great ones 10, and an 11-incher is a trophy, but size in this case is no measure. Every ’gill has a mile of heart and will attack a small, floating fly rod bug like Moby Dick taking on the Pequod.

Fish Are Biting

The shad run has resumed in earnest these past two weeks. Hurry up and get out there if you want some great action; it can’t stay this good much longer. White perch are all over the tributaries, finishing up their springtime business. Most will soon be leaving for the Bay’s deeper water. Rockfish continue to please and aggravate everyone simultaneously. They are big and hungry but very scattered. Trophy-sized fish are being encountered by determined anglers, but there is no discernable pattern or predictability. The school of big croaker in the Matapeake area has been scarce the past week, but they’re out there somewhere. Time on the water is the key to it all.

Catching ’em

I arrived at my favorite Eastern Shore lake about 10am, just about the time that the sun warms the shallows enough for the fish to begin activity. If you’re not an early riser, these guys are just your ticket.

The freshened spawning beds were easy to spot, showing as lighter, dish-sized craters clustered in the shallower areas of the lakeside. A light breeze rippled the clean, clear waters, so I couldn’t quite make out any signs of fish in the area.

I selected a chartreuse Sneaky Pete to start. It is a reverse-tapered, cork-bodied floater with a number of wiggly rubber legs. Unlike another great bluegill lure, the popping bug, which has a cupped face and pops when it is twitched, the Sneaky Pete dips under the water, then struggles back up. It is particularly deadly on larger fish; if I was just limited to one bug, this would be it.

Working my first cast out, I said a silent prayer that the ’gills would be there. With our chilly spring, it was quite possible that their early spawning had been delayed.

My fears were dispelled in an instant as a hefty fish charged through the water for a good three feet before smacking into the offending bug. Then my light, three-weight fly rod bent down to the corks as he bulled out of the shallows, heading for deeper water. The game was on.

The bluegill, Lepomis macrochirus, is a freshwater fish that inhabits most of Maryland’s lakes, ponds and the upper areas of our estuaries. With a small mouth and flat-shaped bodies, they seldom weigh more than a pound. Their backs are a deep olive with dark vertical bars down their lighter green flanks. A distinctly blue tab extending from the upper part of their gill plate is the source of the fish’s name.

During their spawning season, which lasts over half the year, the males have chests of deep rosy red, golden-yellow bellies and are quite aggressive. They create spawning beds by sweeping a dish out of the shallow shoreline bottom, then protect it from any and all comers, except of course an interested female.

The females are similarly colored but have a more demure yellowish-green on the chest and underside. After a short courtship with her male of choice and depositing, with his help, fertilized roe in the prepared bed, the female retreats to deeper water. The male remains to guard the nest and then the newly hatched young.

On light tackle, these fish have few equals, and as table fare their rating is just as high. A crisply fried bluegill is simply delicious. An eight- to almost nine-inch fish is perfect table size. Anything nine or larger I return to seek battle another day.

One thing I know for sure about these guys is that they will never turn down a fight, and I love them for it.

I had an incredible outing that day. The bluegills were everywhere, and by the end of the bite, about 3pm, they had pretty much worn me out as well as destroying my supply of bugs.

My heart was merry on the hour-long drive home, and I had a lot of trouble getting the grin off my face. With a mood as good as mine, I didn’t want anyone to think I was up to anything I shouldn’t have been.

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