Maryland’s Best Sweetwater Fish

A citation bluegill caught by Dennis on the Eastern Shore on a Gaines bumble bee popper.

It’s light tackle dream time for sweet water anglers. The middle of April is the opening of the ideal chronological window to pursue the perfect top-water light tackle adversary, the bluegill.  

The hardest-fighting, most aggressive rascal that swims our freshwater lakes and ponds, tangling with the bluegill (also known as sunfish) is the most fun than you can have without a guilty conscience. 

Area waters had been too chill but with a few 70-degree days behind us the shallows are warm enough (60+ degrees) to prompt these ultra-frisky, saucer-shaped fish to start carving out their aquatic, marital beds throughout Maryland’s sweeter waters. There is no minimum size and always a generous possession limit for these eager pugilists. 

Maryland has no natural lakes because when the glaciers stopped their geographic descent just to our north, they never gouged out the necessary basins to fill with their thawing contents. All of the state’s lakes and larger ponds are manmade and we are the better for it. Maryland has over 300 such impoundments and headwaters and they are all public. 

Mid-April is the confluence of two critical elements, water temperature and a lack of seasonal contamination that flows into the water from excess agricultural fertilizers. These chemicals quickly accelerate the growth of algae, foul the shallower waters and make angling an increasingly frustrating messy, clumsy and often impossible affair. But for now, the waters remain clear and eminently fishable. 

This time of year, male bluegills are easily identifiable by their round saucer shape, small mouth, and bright orange breast. They have a dark olive back, intense blue gill tabs and bright iridescent cheek colors. They excavate a three- to four-foot circular spawning bed around the shorelines in waters up to four feet deep. The fish are not large; an 11-incher earns a citation as well as an angling trophy. 

The excavated spawning sites will immediately entice a mature female, in muted shades of olive to yellow-green, to deposit her eggs. There, both parents will guard the eggs and keep them free of silt and debris until they hatch, chasing and fighting away any critters that threaten the roe or resultant offspring. This often includes any bug, fly or lure that lands close enough to be instantly attacked. 

The spawning sites are often obvious enough for some relaxing and productive angling, especially with the fly rod. A six weight or lighter rod in lengths of six and seven feet or so are ideal instruments to use with floating lines and dry flies or floating bugs and poppers to size eight or smaller. Casting to the edges of the circular beds will result in quick attention. 

This tactic can also be emulated with an ultra-light spin rod if one uses a small, floating casting bobber about 24 inches ahead of the same flies or bugs used with the fly rod. Casting to the edge of the spawning sites should result in the same intense light tackle battle. 

Using its substantially flat sides angled against the pull of the angler’s rod the bluegill will engage in a turning, running battle that does not at all have a foregone conclusion; they often win. If you land one, they are a delicious meal when breaded and fried, or broiled with a light coating of mayonnaise. 



It is official now, fishing in Maryland is an essential activity—as long as you’re seeking sustenance. And it’s just in time, the white perch run is at its peak, there are still some yellow perch in the headwaters and rockfish trophy season is due to open in just two weeks. For the perch the best baits are grass shrimp, small minnows and worms on shad darts under a small casting bobber. The big rockfish (minimum size 35 inches), legal only in the Bay’s mainstem, will take fresh menhaden, big blood worms, crab or a large bucktail tipped with a soft plastic Sassy Shad in white, yellow or chartreuse. Possession limit on the trophies is one.