Early summer can be marked by any number of things: marble-size apples on the trees, baby robins hatching, wildflowers blooming in the woods and marshes. To fishermen, it’s the time when bluegills spawn. And, more importantly, it’s when predators such as bass show up to capitalize on the bluegill buffet. If you stay alert and ensure you’re properly geared up at all times, you can capitalize, too.
When water temps reach the mid-60s, ’gills begin to get the urge to procreate, and depending on your geography that could occur in April or May. But in a large segment of the country, June is prime time. Fortunately, bluegills can spawn multiple times per summer, so it’s wise to keep an eye out for nesting activity in the shallows all through the warm season.
Protected, weedy coves or bays that feature a sandy or gravel bottom make ideal spawning sites for these panfish, which create circular nests in anywhere from 2 or 3 feet of water down to 8, 10 or deeper, depending on water clarity. There may be several, or dozens, of nests in one area, which makes it a prime feeding ground for predators.
Bass will pick adult ’gills off the beds, but the primary targets are juvenile panfish that swarm the area trying for an easy meal by robbing the newly filled nests. The predators cruise the nesting zone, but will just as likely hold along its perimeter, waiting for a panfish to make a wrong turn.
Topwater baits are a good choice in this situation, especially when nests seem to be under constant attack by small panfish. The quick, frantic movements of charging adult ’gills, as they defend the nest, and fleeing juveniles, puts bass on high-alert. While propbaits and buzzbaits certainly work, Livetarget’s Sunfish Hollow Body, might just be the perfect lure for the situation.
This hollow-bodied surface bait looks just like a real bluegill or sunfish, and is designed to be fished anywhere bass and large numbers of panfish share the same space. Walk it across the surface or twitch it in place; either way it quickly gets an excited largemouth’s attention. Even better, its weedless design means it won’t foul on high-riding vegetation.
A word of caution: If you fish where bass live in the same neighborhood as northern pike and muskies, add a stout 80-pound mono leader to the set-up. These weed-loving predators won’t hesitate to engulf a bluegill struggling on the surface.
When topwater action ceases, or fails to materialize at all, the normal reaction is to move – to find another bedding area and work the surface. But before pulling up stakes, try another approach. For example, a bluegill-pattern crankbait might turn the tide in your direction – as could a soft stickbait or light jig like the Stanley Finesse Jig (below) that’s about the same size as a juvenile fish. Just crawl it through and around the beds to imitate a young nest-robber.
Finesse-style jigs work better than larger baits in shallow water. Visibility is typically fairly good, and where a larger jig is often too obtrusive, a subtle splash and slower fall get a positive response, especially if the jig has a bluish or greenish tint mixed with a bit of orange.
As always, achieving the proper bait action is easier when the rod-and-reel combo is matched to the method. Personal preference plays a role, but in general, topwaters twitched across the surface respond best with a fast action rod of medium to medium-heavy power, while many anglers like an extra-fast tip for jigging. Outfits like those that make up Cabela’s Tournament ZX series combos come in several technique-specific versions, and include a rugged, smooth-operating, baitcasting reel, which simplifies the selection process tremendously. Features like the reel’s magnetic cast control, and Hialoy ceramic guides along the rod, make it possible to cast and control lighter lures. At the same time, carbon drag washers and tough HM64 graphite in the rod blank team up to stop and turn big bass.
When you’re targeting early-summer bass, be mentally and physically ready to fish the bluegill spawn. It’s a window of opportunity that stays open for just a few days.
This article was produced in cooperation with Cabela’s.