Bluegill - Big Bluegill

Do you love big bluegill?

   I just thought I'd share this article that was in the Duluth News Tribune today. There has been a lot of talk about panfish in our area lately since one of the best lakes had such a huge fish kill (See my blog "The Death of Something Grand"). So the paper decided to get some good news out there. The reporter and I had an excellent outing, I was able to get him on a lot of good gills and crappies. It is really great that folks are taking notice and we can promote our wonderful fish this way, please take a moment and read! (fyi, Sam Cook the author is the one in the attached picture with the blue gill:)

Hooked on bluegills: Saginaw man plies area lakes for his favorite panfish By: Sam Cook

 DULUTH, Minn. — Nathanael Deloach and his dad were walleye fishing on a Duluth-area lake back in 2007 when his dad decided to take a nap.

“I thought I’d try for panfish,” said Deloach, 34, of Saginaw. “By the time my dad woke up I had caught 40 bluegills. That got me going on these local lakes.”

These days, Deloach will fish walleyes on opening weekend. But that’s about it.

“I’m always panfishing first,” he said.

He pitched his bobber and pink ice-fly over some emerging reeds on Fish Lake early on a June morning. He waited 5, 10 seconds.

Bloop. His egg-shaped bobber — actually a strike indicator — dimpled the lake’s surface. Deloach had another bluegill.

This happened countless times throughout the morning as the two of us enjoyed nearly nonstop action. We could have kept count of how many we caught, but with two of us reeling in bluegill after bluegill, we simply lost track. We figured we had caught about 75 by the time I left at midday. Deloach went back for more.

“Normally, if I’m out four or five hours, I’ll catch 100,” Deloach said.

He is not a boastful person. He is matter-of-fact about this kind of fishing. Deloach has refined his techniques and presentation. He knows the biology of bluegills. He catches a lot of fish.

And there’s still a lot of little boy left in him.

“There’s something about watching that bobber go down,” he said, reeling in another 8-inch bluegill.

Setting limits

While Deloach catches a lot of bluegills and fishes frequently, he limits his take. The Minnesota bluegill limit is 20, but he won’t take more than a dozen.

“I slot-limit myself,” he said. “And it goes lake-to-lake. On Grand Lake, there are a lot of 8- to 9-inchers, so that’s what I keep. On Fish Lake, it’s the 8- to 8½-inchers I’ll keep. They’re plentiful.”

Grand Lake, however, is out of the picture for a while. The lake suffered a fish kill at ice-out that took an estimated 35,000 fish, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The kill was a result of low dissolved-oxygen levels. Lots of the fish that died were panfish.

The bluegill rig

Unlike a lot of people who fish for bluegills, Deloach doesn’t use live bait. He has developed a bait-free system that works well for him. On his 6-pound-test line, he ties a large swivel and then 18 to 21 inches of leader. Above the swivel, he uses a 1¼-inch Thill strike indicator as a slip-bobber.

At the end of his line, he uses a snap to which he attaches his 1/64th-ounce “ice-fly” feathered jigs. On each jig, he threads a tiny Berkley Power Wiggler, a scent-impregnated soft-plastic that resembles larvae.

“They act like the thorax of the fly,” Deloach said. “And they help keep the jig horizontal in the water.”

He typically tosses the rig over the reeds and lets it sit for 5 or 10 seconds. If nothing happens, he reels it in slowly. Small wave action also helps give the jig life.

He prefers flies in pink or black this time of year, with matching Power Wigglers. Later on, he’ll go to green or yellow flies with white Power Wigglers.

He uses one word to describe this rig: “Deadly.”

And it would be if he didn’t release so many bluegills alive. We happened onto a school of crappies, too, and must have taken a dozen or 15, releasing most of them.

“I call them my bonus fish,” Deloach said.

Where it began

Deloach’s original fascination with bluegills occurred during a stint in North Carolina, where he hoped to become a NASCAR driver. He crewed with several drivers before giving up the pursuit in favor of a family. He picked up a small boat in North Carolina and, one weekend at a friend’s lake place, tried fishing panfish. He was using a couple of $15 Wal-Mart rods.

“My first cast, the bobber went down,” he said. “It was a bluegill. We caught a whole bunch of panfish that day. It just grew from there.”

Once back home, he dabbled with walleyes. But since that day in 2007 when he caught all those bluegills while his dad napped, he’s been almost exclusively a panfish guy.

He’s hooked on bluegills for two reasons, he said.

“They’re the best-tasting fish you’re ever going to eat,” he said. “And pound for pound, outside of smallmouth bass, if you use light gear, they’re the best-fighting fish.”

When you hook a bluegill, it doesn’t dive. It begins carving wide arcs in the water, resisting with surprising force. Deloach swung another 8½-incher aboard. It was a male, with its characteristic swatch of orange behind its jaw and the deep blue tab on its gill, from which the species derives its name. Its mouth is tiny — thus, the little jigs with their diminutive hooks.

“Pretty fish,” Deloach said. “We’ll keep him.”

Deloach caught bluegills up to 10¾ inches long in North Carolina, he said. He measures the big ones like a walleye angler measures big walleyes. That morning on Fish Lake, he caught bluegills up to 9¼ inches. Ten-inchers are rare in Minnesota.

“The biggest I’ve caught here in Minnesota has been 10 inches, on Lake Vermilion,” he said.

At midmorning, we moved to another shoreline and began catching bluegills mixed with crappies on nearly every cast. If you set your rod across the gunwales and left your jig dangling in the water to take a photo, the rod would invariably begin bouncing on the gunwale. Another bluegill wanted an ice-fly.

We worked our way down the shoreline. Bobbers blooped. Deloach smiled.

“This is the way it should be,” he said.

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Great article Nate and glad you posted the link to it.. I really enjoyed the insight into your past and how you became hooked on Gills !!!!!!!!

   Thanks David,  tho most of the story given was more about how I learned there was such good panfish numbers  up here in my neck of the woods. I fell in love with Blue Gills many years before that in North Carolina (read "Reflecting on the Beginning" if you are interested). I just didn't realize until that outing with my Dad how good we have it up here in regards to panfish. I am bias of course but I would say its a Blue Gillers paradise! :) 

That sure is a neat article, we always need good PR.

One question from your experience = I do well on crappies but only get 1-2 bluegills when I go out on the bayous. What do you think I can do to find more bluegills ? I use mostly jigs - white, chartreuse, pink, etc. mostly smaller to fit mouths. Thanks, Steve in so la

  Thanks for asking Steve! I'm not sure I'd have the right answer. The experience I've had on northern MN lakes and the NC lakes I've fished would tell me they are not far from the crappies you're catching.  I very often find gills in one section with a pack of crappies in another 50 yds away or right next to eachother with some over lap. They like similar food an cover when they are shallow so they often share the space. With all this said I don't know what kind of cover you're fishing or what the lake bottom is made up of (muck, gravel, rocks, boulders ect.)  Nor do I know what your lake has as a "base" for forage in the lake. Some have more minnows than others while the "others" have more insects. These can play big factors in where the fish may be. I would suggest looking for more "mucky" bottoms with cover of any kind as that is where the bug hatches tend to be. I would start there for gills as they tend to thrive off crustaceans and bugs.  Where the crappies  will key in on minnows a lot more than gills will (though they to like a good bug hatch). It takes some good size gills to start chasing minnows like crappies and they will do it, but it isn't as common as a gill and bug bite.... Hope that helps a little. If you decide to try anything new let us know what you find, that will help us learn as well! 

Thanks for the advice. What I am fishing in is the bayous in so Louisiana - mucky for sure. Last week I caught crappies and a couple gills under the cover of downed trees &/or floating swamp plants. I'm going again Mon so will see, the bug hatch might be key but I do see lots of little minnow type swimmers.  thanks, Steve

Great article. Definitely need more articles to bring out the gills into the lights.

Excellent article and accurately shows the 'kid' in all of us as we watch bobbers for gills!

I was just passed thru Duluth about a week ago, have to say theres some good looking water up there, all I could think about was fishing, beautiful place to be. 

You should have looked me up Johnny, I'da loved to show you around!  We've got some good Gill waters up here! :)


I'm late to the party, so the story was firewalled. But I found a full length copy of it here: 

Thanks Michael! I was wondering how the link would work after the first two weeks when they archive it....

You are a true Bluegiller Nath, that article is great. I can't really say the same for myself - I enjoy catching different species of fish. This year I am up to 19 species and counting. I try to stick to posting just Sunfish pictures here on BBG, but sometimes I can't help myself and wind up posting Bowfin, Catfish, Chub, etc.


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