Something Fishy

Something Fishy
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Friday, July 19, 2013

Bluegill: Midwest's most popular fish

Lawrence Taylor with a dark-colored bluegill (bream).

Picking a favorite fish is easy for many people. It’s a largemouth bass. Others would ask, “Do you mean to catch or eat”?
For most people in the Midwest, the answer would be “bluegill”.
Bluegill are regionally known as bream (Southeast), brim, sun perch, blue sunfish and copper belly. There also are many popular ”sunfish cousins” such as redear and stumpknockers. 
They are plentiful, fun to catch, and very good eating.
Bluegill probably vary more in coloration than any other sunfish, depending on the water in which they are found. The basic body color ranges from yellow to dark blue--some almost appear black. If you catch them in a relatively sterile quarry, they may look nearly transparent. The adult sides usually are distinguished with six to eight vertical, irregular stripes or bars.
They range is size depending on water and age. In Northern waters, gills grow a little over an inch a year and a three-year-old fish may be four to six inches in length, and a nine-inch fish may be eight years old. In the South, gills usually spawn more often and grow much faster. Some may reach up to four inches in one year. A half-pound bluegill is a nice fish, and anything over a pound is a lunker.
The Indiana record bluegill is three pounds, four ounces and was caught  back in 1972 by Harold Catey in a Green County farm pond.
Bluegill originally were found from Minnesota to Lake Champlain on the East coast and south to Georgia to Arkansas, however their popularity for farm pond stocking has spread them to much of the South and also further west.
Quiet, weedy waters are preferred by the fish. The smaller gills will be found in shallow water close to shore, and the larger fish like nearby deeper water in the daytime, but will move into the shallower water in the morning and evening to feed.
Bluegill first spawn when the water temperature reaches about 67 degrees, and in the spring they are active just prior to and during the spawn. Depending on the area, they will spawn several times during the summer. However, the first spawn usually is most productive for anglers.
The females lay their eggs in nests located in beds, which may contain only a few or many nests. After the female lays her eggs, she leaves and the male protects the nests for several days. Of the fish caught on nests, nearly all will be males.
A bed of spawning gils can be a delight for a fly fisherman. If the water is shallow enough, they will usually rise to hit poppers, especially in the evening. Otherwise wet fllies or ultra-light leadheads will take them on deeper beds. The females will generally be found in deeper waters nearby the nests.
Rarely will you find or catch a single bluegill. Where you find one, there will be more.
Bluegill have small mouths and small hooks are needed--like Tru-Turn 6 or 8 Aberdeen hooks. Thin wire hooks are the choice for live bait because the bait will live longer and be more attractive to the fish as it squirms. Hooks with long shanks are easier to remove from the small mouths, especially if it swallows the hook.
Bluegill are good eating. They have white, firm flesh. Most fillets aren’t large, but battered and deep fried they are delicious. However my parents never filleted the fish. They simply cut off the head, gutted the fish, and took off the scales. The whole fish was fried and the meat was taken from the fish with a fork. Of course, you had to be careful and watch for stray bones.
Hush puppies, cole slaw and baked beans will top off a meal.

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