Do you love big bluegill?
I've been surprised, confused, and downright wrong more times than I would like to admit when it comes to predicting where my favorite fish will be found during any given month of the year. However I have noticed patterns which, for the most part, usually enable me to catch at least a few nice fish, and the key to figuring out those patterns revolves around water temperature a lot of the time.
I'll dispense with ice cover as this is a science unto itself, and not everyone lives in an area where they can exploit this facet of BG fishing. Instead, I'll begin with water temps in the 40-50 degree range. Shortly after ice out, I begin finding a few fish making forays into shallower water, especially if the weeds are greening back up. I don't think they're committed to this location, as a cold spell will drive them back deeper again, but they are at least thinking about it. Once water temps hit 45-50 degrees, I look for a broad, shallow flat, with easy access to deeper water. On warm sunny days, a dark bottomed shallow area like this, on the order of 3-5' deep, will warm up faster than the surrounding deeper water, and the gills seem to find it. I don't know for a fact, but I've always assumed that the aquatic life that burrows into the mud becomes more active with the warmer water, and the gills move in to feed on them. Again, at this stage my fish are not committed to the shallow area, they simply move in to feed, then back out again as the conditions allow.
From 50-60 degrees (water temp), I find the fish spending more time on the flats, moving even shallower as the water warms. This is the time I refer to as the pre-spawn, when I notice the fish really chowing down, building up their energy reserve for what lies ahead. There can be some truly great, fast paced action during this times. I have caught big gills' in 16 inches of water, right up next to the bank under overhanging branches. The combination of shallow water, dark bottom, and overhead vegetation proves irresistible to my fish year after year.
The range between 60-68 degrees is what I call staging. I typically find fish located in deeper water adjacent to spawning areas. They school loosely, swimming in and back out, just waiting for the final warmup to move in and start building nests. I think they can be quite opportunistic feeders during this time, and the fishing can be exciting. I have also noticed that they are prone to move back out if a cold front passes through and lowers the water temps.
As a bonus, in my ponds the Redear are the first lepomids to build nests, (by just a couple of degrees before the Bluegills), so while I'm fishing for staging Bluegills, the Redears are there too, and usually more stable..... as in they seem more committed to the idea of nest building. Some incidental Redear catches add a nice bonus.
That's it for now, I'll touch on the rest of the year later. I would love to hear other folks observations regarding water temperature and Bluegill location.
Here's the kind of area I look for to target pre-spawn Bluegills. (I borrowed these from my Blog post)
When the water temps hit 50-55 degrees this shallow flat will come alive and be a hotbed of BG activity. Plus, its dark bottom and shallow depth will allow it to warm up faster than the surrounding water, so a few successive days of early Spring sunshine might turn the BG on a little sooner. It's worth paying a visit to a location such as this when the temps start to rise.
I recently got a book called, "Finding Fish- A Practical Guide for Finding Fish in Any Warmwater Lake." The author is Cliff Hauptman.
He suggests that catching fish is the last of our concerns as anglers. Rather, we must first FIND the FISH. In short, we can catch nothing until we understand the fish themselves and where they are likely to be on any given day.
Your comments could be a page right out of his book. You are surely a master angler, Tony. I do love the pictures.
All right finally something I can tell my experience about temp, location and time of year. Ive had the same confusion Tony my friend, this is all without a fishfinder or trolling motor. Just from going to this lake for so long that I have been able to find spots that produce fish, as my pic will show are all from the same lake and same month. The 1st trip was the 2nd week of may 2008 and I was there for a week, found two keeper spots that I always use now because they produce, but here is were I got confused because I dont have a fishfinder. I went last year 2011 in the 3rd week of may for half a week and, didnt catch nothing but a stringer. Note that I did see the bluegill and redear fertilizing eachother and weren't biting very well, but in 2008 they were just the bluegill. Over the last 3 or 4 years ive been picking up more redears then bluegills, so im guessing that being there at the right place and time is what I gotta do from now on. This new year of 2012 my goals are to get a fishfinder I got picked out and a trolling motor my friend gave to me, and try and get them gills and ears when the gettin is good. Here is what I was able to produce in 2008, when I know I was there at the right time, Im going to research these spots with my fishfinder and show the bgillers on here the key structures to my success and go from there. The 1st pic is the tray of 8" bg all from just 2 of the hot spots I found in 2008, and the 2nd pic is from 2011 on this stringer I barely was able to get and smaller bg fishing the 2 hot spots, then had to fish everywhere to just get 1 at a time from different spots.
I can see that there are more than a few knowledgeable gill fisherman here I hope I can contribute some.
Most of my fishing has been on a larger lake. What I found was that after the staging temperature was reached on the full moon cycle the nest building would begin. Here in Southern Indiana that could start in smaller lakes in March with the larger lakes temperature taking a few extra weeks. The major key was water temperature. When the temperature reached 60-68 the staging could begin and nest sight locating and fighting would begin in earnest only after the secondary key took place. The secondary key being when the full moon cycle took place. While it may be that there were several rounds of nest building and spawning. It seemed that after that critical temperature took place there would be a race to spawn each moon cycle in which some would complete the cycle and others would be knocked down by incoming cold fronts. Once the cold front had moved in the gills would move out to be found in the deeper staging areas. The nesting cycle would then begin again at the next full moon. Here this would take place each month until August when the temperature became stable enough to hold though the moon cycle. In March, April, and May you could find spots of nests but in August Nesting is everywhere. Most people on the larger lakes do not look shallow in August thinking the gills have moved deep in the heat. Year after year I can go up any creek channel to the point where I have to move timber in the August heat to get as shallow as possible to find massive bedding areas.
I also have an early spring pattern if it occurs you cannot keep me off the lake. In an area where you know good bluegill fishing to be active in the summer; The pattern is this, four or more days of 70 degrees or higher temperature which included a gully washing rain on one of the last two days. I found this pattern by accident but have used it for years and it works well every time it occurs. My thoughts on the pattern are this, the four days for 70 degrees in early spring warms the ground causing insects and critters to start hatching at which time a gully washer flushes those critters into the lake warming the shallows and flooding those shallows with food (a double benefit). I have had more fun with extremely active big fish on these days using an a-just-a-bubble and a cricket hook with no weight much like fly fishing to float the crickets on top.