Summertime Bluegills: A Lifetime Love Affair

By Dennis Doyle

The sound of the high, blustery wind was as alarming as the thrashing treetops to the front of me. I was easing my small craft closer and closer to the lee of the brushy shoreline as I fetched up my fly rod from the seat alongside. Changing my mind, I put the rod back down and picked up the small anchor lying on the deck. It wouldn’t do to catch a stray breeze and end up back out in the lake, or worse, crashing into the brush and flushing out all the fish.

Releasing the anchor to catch the soft bottom, I tied it off amidships and hoped the skiff wouldn’t skid about in the residual winds. The breezes were stiff that day and fishing anywhere except the protected lee shore was almost impossible. On days like this, when the broad Chesapeake turns into a maelstrom of wind and whitetops there is always sanctuary to be had on one of the many fresh water impoundments in Maryland.

Bending a small (no. 10) bumblebee popper onto my 6-pound tippet, I rushed out a haphazard cast toward the shore. It plopped down without any pretense of elegance and as I tried to get the slack out of the fly line and come tight with my fly, a fish sucked the lure down, and then just as quickly spit it out. Served me right. Haste brings on clumsy.

The next cast, to a spot about 10 feet away from the first, had better luck.

Bluegills are not particularly easily spooked and this one grabbed my fly the instant it hit the water. Coming tight with a flick of my wrist, I was soon struggling mightily to keep this slab-sided rascal out of the submerged brush, not an easy task.

Immediately it circled away, but with my favorite fly rod, a light, 6-foot 9-inch, Scott 6-weight, I was able to prevent the stubborn hooligan from completely encircling me. Using its broad, saucer shape to keep my rod hard over in a nasty arc, the fish refused to come any closer.

A few hard minutes later, twisting my body first one way then another in an effort to keep it in check, the hearty beast reluctantly came to my hand—a thick, muscular male. Its bright iridescent orange and gold spawning colors warmed my heart as I boated it and pried the hook out of the corner of its small mouth.

The fish was hardly inconvenienced as I released it over the side, back into the warm waters of the lake. Years ago I would have slipped this brawler into a live bag for an eventual trip to a fish fry but in my dotage I now encounter only two sizes of these wonderful fish, those too big to kill and the rest too small to eat.

They are, however, delicious if you care to try them.

There were at least a dozen more eager bream that tangled with me that day plus a footlong crappie that took a Sneaky Pete, and a big, redear shellcracker (sunfish) that ran me, almost, into the backing for an outstanding and particularly exciting battle. Not bad for a day too rough for the Bay.

Bluegills are one of the more exciting freshwater fish in Maryland. Although rarely exceeding 11 inches, they are an eager battler and will test any light or ultra-light gear you choose to use. Ideal for the fly rod because of its eagerness to take poppers, sliders, spiders and surface bugs presented near its shallow water, saucer-shaped, spawning beds. Its practice to repeatedly breed most of the summer makes it an ideal target for any angler, young or old.  

On light spin gear, the bluegills like rooster tails, beetle spins, and small soft jigs. Hang them under a casting bobber to keep from fouling on the bottom and 4- to 6-pound line is just fine. Beware, you’ll likely fall instantly in love with this spirited rascal.