Cotton-Picking Bluegills

Work your way toward shore when fishing a bluegill bed, and you’ll greatly increase your haul.

If you’re going to catch the most and the biggest bluegills from any bluegill bed, you have to pick bluegills just like you pick cotton,” said Nathaniel Davis, an elderly outdoor friend who helped me learn to hunt and fish many years ago. “You know how to pick cotton, don’t you?”

“Yes, sir, I know how to pick cotton,” I told the old man, not really understanding what he meant.

“Well, if you know how to pick cotton, then you know you start picking cotton on the outside of the plant first and then work your way in to the bolls that are closest to the stem,” Davis said. “This way you don’t knock off any of the bolls and have to pick them up off the ground.

“When you’re picking bluegills off the bed, you always want to start on the outside beds first and then work your way into the centers of the beds. Then when you hook a bluegill, it will run for deep water and away from the bluegills on the more-shallow beds.

“If you catch the shallow-water bluegill first, when you hook one of those fish, they’re going to run through all the other bluegill beds from the shallow water to the deep water and spook all the bluegills that you could’ve caught.”

This wise, older outdoorsman never went to high school or college. But I never knew a better fisherman or hunter, and I always followed his outdoor advice.

To catch the biggest and the most bluegills, start off fishing where no one else does. Most people begin fishing a bluegill bed from the bank and fish out to the deeper water. They don’t realize the bigger bluegills are sitting under their boats.

If you start fishing in deep water, once you pinpoint a bluegill bed, you’ll:

• fish for big bluegills no one else has tried to catch;

• catch more bluegills than the people who start fishing from the bank and fish out to deep water;

• take more bluegills from each bed than the people who identify those beds and fish them.

Now that you know how to fish a bluegill bed, let’s learn how to find these beds.

Smell ’em out

Gayland Gillikin, a friend of mine, fishes the Delta where several major river systems drain into it and create a maze of waterways along the coast. The Delta has stained water, and every area — weed beds, logs, bushes hanging over the water and trees fallen in the water — looks like a very-productive place to find bedding bluegills. But Gillikin has a method of going straight to a bluegill bed and catching the most bluegills in the shortest time.

“I smell ’em out,” Gillikin explains. “When bluegills spawn, they give off an odor that smells like ripe watermelons. As you go up and down the creeks, canals, little bays and oxbow lakes coming off main river systems, you can smell those bluegill beds. Once I smell that watermelon smell, I start drop fishing out from and down the bank until I start catching bluegills.”

Gillikin uses a B’n’M bream pole, 8-pound-test line, a red bobber and a small split shot up the line.

“Because bluegills and shellcrackers (redear sunfish) often will be caught in the same region, I usually take both crickets and worms with me,” Gillikin reports. “To catch shellcrackers, I’ll cut a night crawler in half and thread it on the hook, making sure to hide the hook. Shellcrackers will bite this bait more often than bluegills will in our area.

“If I want to strictly catch bluegills, I’ll generally bait with a live cricket and put a piece of shot lead up the line. When the bream quit biting on one bed, I’ll go to another bed. I’ve learned over the years that once I locate a bed, I can usually return to it each year, and the bream will be bedding there.”

When you attempt to smell-out bluegill beds, don’t forget that you only can smell the odor of spawning bluegill with the fish on the beds in extremely-shallow water. The deeper the water where the fish bed, the less likely that you’ll smell them and find the beds.

However, when you’re fishing a large, expansive shallow-water region, if you have a keen nose, you can identify the smell of bluegills and locate bluegill beds, just like a bird dog pinpoints a covey of quail.

Deep-water beds

Many fishermen believe that bluegills only bed in shallow water from 1 to 4 feet deep. However, in many lakes and reservoirs, you may discover bluegills bedding in water 8 to 20 feet deep or even deeper. Bluegills prefer to bed on hard, sandy bottoms and underwater ridges. Oftentimes, you’ll enjoy a great day of bluegill fishing, if you find deep-water bluegills that other fishermen haven’t identified.

Once I discovered bluegills in a state park, a popular recreational area for many years, that at one time had homed a sandy swimming beach at one of its lakes. To create the beach, the state had brought in sand and dumped it. But each year when the rains and the floods came, much of the sand washed out into the lake. Then the state would have to bring in more sand to create more beach.

During the spring when bluegills started bedding, I discovered a sandy bottom, about 30 yards offshore at the location of the old beach. I could fish in that open water over that sandy bottom and consistently locate bluegill beds where the bank-bound anglers never fished.

I pinpointed another hot bluegill spot at an underwater ridge that ran much of the way across the lake. I used a portable depth finder to locate the spot. With the bottom at 20 feet, this ridge came up to within 10 feet of the surface, and I found bluegills bedding on top of this ridge out in the middle of the lake.

By using a slip bobber and a small piece of shot lead up the line, I fished down this ridge and caught big bedding bluegills in the middle of the lake where no one else fished.

The first time I went to the lake to find the ridge and locate the bream beds required 45 minutes to an hour of searching. However, once I used my GPS hand-held receiver and marked each of the places where I caught bluegills as I went down the underwater ridge, I learned I could return to those waypoints year after year, go straight to those bluegill beds just like a homing pigeon to his bird house and catch bluegills on them.

Not-easy-to-find, deep-water bluegill beds will produce fish because most anglers won’t take the time or go to the trouble to hunt for them in that deep water. Whether you’re fishing during bedding season, in the summer or during the winter, you’ll always discover the most-dependable bluegill fishing in deep water.

If you’ll mark the spots where you find bluegills bedding as waypoints in the memory of your GPS receiver and enter those waypoints by the name of the lake and the position of the bluegill beds, then you can return to those beds each year and expect to find and catch bluegills, unless the bottom structure changes dramatically.

Farm-pond bluegills

You’ll often catch some of the biggest bluegills in farm ponds, generally highly fertile areas that receive very little fishing pressure yet often home good populations of big bluegills.

But how do you find a bluegill bed in a farm pond? I like to double dip. Bluegills, even when bedding, will take topwater popping bugs. Nothing’s more exciting than catching a bluegill that weighs from 3/4 to 1 1/2 pounds on a fly rod and a popping bug.

However, these shallow-water bluegills only make up a small number of the bluegills actually bedding in that area. Many times you’ll find more bluegills in that same region but in the deep water, well away from the bank where you’ve used popping bugs.

Double dipping involves two anglers, one on the bow of the boat with a fly rod, the other sitting in the stern of the boat, using a pole with worms or crickets, and drop fishing in the deep water 10 to 15 feet off the shoreline. If the fly-fisherman catches a bream in shallow water and establishes that the pond has a bream bed in that area, then the pole fisherman needs to start fishing for bream in deep water in that same general location.

By moving away from the shoreline, the pole fisherman can determine how far out the bream bed comes by drop fishing, until he doesn’t catch bream anymore. Then he can work his way into the shoreline until he catches all the bream biting on the bed.

Here’s some other successful ways to find bluegills in farm ponds. Decide when you get to the pond that you’ll try to pinpoint all the bream beds in the pond before you start fishing for bluegills. Fish all the way around the pond, marking each bed that you discover with a hand-held GPS receiver. Then return to the first bed you’ve located, and start fishing it from the outer edge in the deep water in toward the bank. Once the bluegills in that bed quit biting, move to the next bed, and fish it the same way.

To consistently catch bluegills each year:

• locate a bluegill bed;

• mark that bluegill bed as a waypoint on a hand-held GPS receiver with the name of the lake and a designation either with a symbol or words to denote a bluegill bed;

• mark the outer edge of the bed with your GPS receiver so you’ll know where to begin fishing;

• fish from the deep water of a bluegill bed to the shallow water;

• let a bed rest once the bluegills quit biting, and fish another bed;

• try and identify five or six bluegill beds in the same vicinity to get a limit of bluegills;

• don’t fish the same bed more than once a week;

• search for deep-water bluegill beds that other fishermen won’t find to consistently have numbers of bluegills to fish for each year;

• use the lightest line you can, let your bait fall naturally toward the bottom with no lead or very little lead, and use your bobber as a strike indicator, not as a float; and

• catch a bluegill as the bait falls, rather than letting the bait stay on or just off the bottom for some time, because the more time the bluegill looks at the bait, the less likely that the fish will eat it.

No sweeter-eating or more fierce-fighting fish exists ounce for ounce than the bluegill. I’ve learned tactics from some of the best bluegill fishermen in the nation who not only can find bluegill beds but also regularly catch bluegills year after year. Their ideas and strategies will pay off for you when you fish for Louisiana bluegills.

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