A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Art Lander’s Outdoors: June is good month
to catch Kentucky’s most popular panfish


Bluegills are Kentucky's favorite fish to fry in a pan. (Photo by A. Lander)

Bluegills are Kentucky’s favorite fish to fry in a pan. (Photo by A. Lander)

 
The bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus) is Kentucky’s most popular panfish, a native species found in streams, farm ponds, small lakes, rivers and major reservoirs.
 
A perfect fish for beginning anglers, bluegills are eager and full of fight.
 
June is one of the best times of the year to fish for bluegill since spawning is under way, or winding down. When water temperatures reach into the 70s, bluegills build circular nests, clustered in colonies in shoreline shallows. They become very territorial and bite aggressively when live bait on a hook or tiny fly is near their nest.
 
What the bluegill lacks in size and glamour, it makes up in fighting ability and food value. They are real scrappers on light tackle and one of our best-tasting fish. The bluegill’s white flesh is sweet and firm.
 

This is a balsa wood float. (Photo provided)

This is a balsa wood float. (Photo provided)

The bluegill is a member of family Centrarchidae, the sunfish family.
 
Adults are saucer-shaped, beautiful fish. Their coloration is variable, but generally they are olive green with emerald, copper and bluish reflections on their sides, dark above the lateral line. Their lower sides and belly are whitish to yellow. Breeding males may have bright red breasts.
 
The current Kentucky state record bluegill weighed 4 pounds, 3 ounces. It was caught on Aug. 5, 1980, by Phil M. Conyers of Madisonville. Conyers was bass fishing with spinning tackle and a 6-inch plastic worm in a stripmine lake in Hopkins County when the monster bluegill struck.
 
The International Game Fish Association all-tackle world record bluegill weighed just 9 ounces more than Conyer’s state record catch — 4 pounds, 12 ounces – and was caught on April 9, 1950, from Alabama’s Ketona Lake.
 
Bluegills, and other sunfish species, feed mostly on aquatic and terrestrial insects, insect larvae, scuds, mollusks and algae. They often raid the nests of other fish – including black bass – preying on fish eggs and small fry.
 

These are types of jigs that work with panfish. (Photo provided)

These are types of jigs that work with panfish. (Photo provided)

 
 
Keep tackle simple
 
When fishing for bluegills, keep the tackle simple and lightweight.
 
Two excellent tackle options are a pole or an ultralight spinning rod and reel. A cane pole works great, but consider trying a 10- or 12-foot fiberglass pole. These telescoping poles will fit into the trunk of a car or cab or a pickup, and are light enough for even small children to handle.
 
B n’ M Fishing of West Point, Mississippi, sells a full line of telescopic fiberglass fishing poles. Their Bream Buster Pole ($16) is a good choice. For more information, click http://www.bnmpoles.com/p-148-breambuster-pole.aspx”>here.
 
Use 10-pound test monofilament line on poles to avoid line twist. A little heavier line also makes it possible to straighten out light wire hooks rather than break the line when snagged on cover.
 
Rig the line on your pole with a No. 4 lead split shot, balsa wood or plastic float, and No. 10 long shank light wire hook. The long shank hook is easier to remove when the bluegill shallows the bait. Hemostats are a great help when removing hooks lodged way down in a bluegill’s throat.
 
For live bait, it’s hard to beat red worms, which can be dug in the backyard. A compost pile, made from grass clippings, vegetable kitchen waste, leaves and weeds, will attract earthworms to shady areas of your yard. A compost pile will not only keep you in red worms but create rich, organic soil for your garden or flower bed.
 
Other good baits are bits of nightcrawler, crickets, meal worms, wax worms and bag worms, found on evergreens (especially Eastern red cedar) in August.
 

   Plastic casting floats (Photo provided)

Plastic casting floats (Photo provided)

Ultralight spinning tackle has an obvious advantage over a pole because bait or lures can be cast to a likely fish-holding structure, beyond the edge of weed beds.
 
Tiny jigs are a good artificial lure for bluegills. These lead head jigs, typically 1/16 or 1/32-ounce may have bucktail (deer hair) or maribou (feather) tails, or be tipped with a small plastic curlytail.
 
Small jigs are fished on ultralight spinning tackle using a casting float, which has eyelets on both ends.
 
The jig is tied to an 18-inch leader, which is attached to the rear eyelet of the float. The line from the reel and rod is tied to the front eyelet on the float. The rig is easily cast because of the weight of the float. The best retrieve is an erratic stop-and-go.
 
Manage for populations of high-quality bluegills
 
Fertile ponds and small lakes of one surface acre or larger, devoid of shad, generally produce the highest quality bluegill populations.
 
Anglers who want to manage these small waters for big bluegill should limit largemouth bass harvest. When a pond is overpopulated with small bass there will be intense predation on bluegills. The surviving bluegills will have more food and room to grow. Eventually, they will get too big to be eaten by the swarms of 8- to 12-inch bass in the pond.
 
The result will be a pond full of large bluegills, with 10-inch or larger bluegills a real possibility. Bluegills are abundant, found statewide and easy to catch.
 
Now is a good time to take a youngster or beginning adult angler fishing for bluegills. Go early and late in the day when the sun is low on the horizon to avoid the heat.
 
 
 

1Art Lander Jr.Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for KyForward. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.


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