If you are looking for a red hot Michigan fishing opportunity that provides endless action, spectacular catches and ideal weather, don’t miss bluegills this spring. When warming weather increases water temperature, panfish leave deep water haunts and slip into skinny water. The fishing action is on-fire fantastic when thousands of panfish swirl surface water and bite just about any presentation. The catching action is second to none as they charge and gulp bait, flies and artificial lures and limit catches come at lightning speed. Are you prepared for some on-the-water, non-stop catches, fishing fun and some of the hottest fishing of the entire year?
I’m talking about this kind of fishing.
“Fish on!” announced Carson Rust, of Byron, as he set the hook and his rod bent double as he cranked the reel handle and soon lifted a brightly colored fat male bluegill over the boat gunnel and tossed the prize in the live well. “This is a riot,” proclaimed the excited young angler as he made another cast and watched his A-Just-A Bubble jerk sideways, signaling another strike. He reeled the prize aboard and released the 8-incher, then pointed to a shallow flat covered with dish-shaped spawning redds fanned white by actively spawning panfish. “Wow! Look at all those ’gills swirling in circles and anxious to slam my hook,” Rust announced as he made another cast and immediately hooked a dandy 10-inch slab.
Unbelievable panfish action heats up when bluegills move to shallow water spawning areas as water temperatures increase to 64 degrees. This usually takes place in southern Michigan lakes in early May and will last until early June. The ritual begins when males locate nesting sites and begin relentless fanning to create a debris-free spawning location to attract females. The craziness occurs in skinny water, usually 1-4 feet deep along the shore, where spring sunlight heats surface water temperatures in shallows highlighted by sand and gravel. Fantastic fishing is available as sand bars soon become congested with hundreds of gills seeking mates as spawning colonies form. When panfish take up residency in the shallows, they become very territorial and protective of their home turf and will attack any lure, fly, or baited hook that encroaches on their spawning location.
This is a fly fisherman’s dream come true. Drop a spider fly, dry fly or nymph in the strike zone above active fish, and the surface will erupt from the explosive strike. The average spawning bed is about one to three feet in diameter, circular, and the bottom substrate has been fanned clear until the area has a somewhat deeper dish shape. As spawning progresses, ’gills will aggressively defend their mating nest, and anything that drops on the water or swims over the dish is immediately dealt with by a savage strike. Savvy fly fishermen work the shore, find beds in skinny water and cast flies to ’gills they spot. This is sight fishing at its finest and polarized sunglasses are required to eliminate the glare and reflection of water and help fishermen to see more target fish.
There is something powerfully addictive about sight fishing as you take a front-row seat and watch the spectacle of an aggressive fish attacking your hook. At times they strike at lightning speed, and some fish simply march up to the hook and slam it. A few charge the offering, get kissin’ close and watch the offering slowly fall toward the bottom, then smack the hook creating an explosion of bottom sand. The thrill of watching fish strike, seeing them charge the hook, flare their gills and engulf the presentation is worth the price of admission.
My hottest strategy is to use a powerful bow-mounted electric trolling motor and cruise the shore looking for beds. Once a target zone is identified, I turn slowly, silently maneuver into casting distance and hit Spot Lock, and the electric motor will automatically keep the craft stationery hands free. Old school boaters slip into casting distance and silently drop an anchor to keep the boat within easy casting distance of target locations. Once the bite slows, I continue moving along the shore and seek out new faces found in different places. I try to scout for fish using Special Ops polarized sunglasses with anti-reflective technology and HD vision. The trick to hot fishing hinges on my ability to locate fish and maneuver into casting distance, but at times high wind, overcast weather and wave action can make locating a fishing spot somewhat difficult.
Water clarity can be an issue, stained conditions can be caused by rain runoff, spraying weeds, crashing waves from high winds and more. Walleye fishing on wind swept points can be productive, but when it comes to catching panfish, my goal is to locate calm areas, highlighted by placid water, flat as glass hot spots; often found around points, coves, channels or other areas protected from wind and waves.
Timing is the key to success, and once panfish move to skinny water, I try to make treks on sunny days when the wind is light to variable. Savvy fishermen hit the water at dawn, but after years of chasing ’gills across Michigan, I’ve learned high noon is when fishing is often off the hook fantastic. The rising sun and calm conditions will cause gills to charge spawning beds as water temperatures peak during midday. My goal is to intercept actively spawning ’gills in the shallows, and hot catches occur during sunny weather when the sun’s rays increase water temperature and active fish charge and smack presentations.
“This is insane fishing,” remarked Rust as he reeled in a big female, sides bulging with eggs. But close inspection revealed the prize was an adult sunfish dressed in brilliant spawning colors. Few fish in Michigan have such an impressive dress code wearing bright orange, neon red, turquoise, shades of orange and gold. He carefully released the gorgeous spawning female, made another cast to a pack of swirling fish and instantly got slam-dunked.
My heart soared at the sight of Don Rust, my good deer hunting, salmon fishing buddy, catching one ’gill after another and his son Carson excitedly reeling up bluegills non-stop. Truth is, I take great pleasure loading my boat with family and friends and enjoying a day on the water when fishing is fantastic. I certainly encourage you to do the same. Bluegills in skinny water provide the ideal opportunity to introduce new fishermen to the exciting sport of fishing in Michigan. Plan now to take family, friends, neighbors, and new and old fishermen to join in on the fast-paced action.
While I enjoy fly fishing, casting plastics and more, my all-time most productive tactic is what I call “free fall bait method.” My hottest trick is using an A-Just-A Bubble plastic in-line bobber with a three-foot clear mono leader to a bronze short shank hook size #8 Eagle Claw style 181 barbed. Forget split shot, no weight is needed, the hook is dressed with a waxworm, and the waxie is allowed to slowly sink toward the spawning bed. Simply cast, allow the bait to slowly sink and keep an eye on the plastic float. Set the hook when it jerks down, sideways or moves because a ’gill gulped the worm. Sometimes they charge and smash the presentation the instant it touches the water, other times, ’gills let the waxie free fall to the bottom, and they grab the presentation the instant it touches the bed. Every day is different; sometimes, you need to lengthen the leader if fish move deeper after a cold front, other days a 12-inch leader is the hot distance between hook and float.
I don’t mess with fluorocarbon leader for ’gills and use 8-pound clear Berkley Big game monofilament line. Oh, yes, I change the line on all my reels yearly. One trick is to attach an itsy bitsy Black Bird barrel swivel a couple of feet above the hook to prevent line twists, which is a problem after catching hundreds of fish. I use 6 1/2 foot one-piece medium action Berkley Lightning rods rigged with open-face spinning reels. But I must admit that my old Zebco 33 push button reels are the way to go with youngsters and new fishermen not used to casting with spinning reels. I laughed at Carson when I handed him a pink Zebco 33 because the rod/reel combo is my girlfriend’s fishing pride and joy. He snarled at the pink reel but forgot all about the feminine color when the fish attacked his hook.
Why use A-Just-A Bubble floats by Rainbow Plastics? Years ago, I was crazy about a stealthy approach to ’gill fishing and would only use clear floats. But after decades of fishing and hundreds of ’gills coming aboard, I noticed the bright orange or, better yet, a chartreuse float is much easier for fishermen to see, helps you detect the faint strikes and does not spook fish. My choice is the 1/4 oz. 2.5 inches long in bright chartreuse color. A-Just-A Bubble has a soft rubber tube in the center, just run your main line through the tube, pull out the float tapered rear end, and turn the bobber, which twists the rubber core and keeps the bobber at a pre-set position. If you want to shorten or lengthen the leader, just pull the rear tapered bobber end, slide the float up or down until the desired length is reached and re-twist. This float is fast, easy and fully adjustable. A-Just-A Bubble also is cone-shaped with a pointed nose and thicker rear. When you cast and retrieve, the bobber swims easily across the water surface, makes an ideal fish-attracting wake and helps you to detect strikes. Also, the loud plop of the bobber when it hits the water surface creates a wake, a loud disturbance that draws aggressive ’gills like a dinner bell.
Precise long-distance casting is an advantage if you want to increase hook ups. The trick is to drop your offering on the spawning colony and a direct hit over a dish-shaped bed is certain to draw an immediate response. If your cast isn’t accurate and the lure does not fall into the strike zone, you will discover that many fish are reluctant to leave the bed location. At times, you will be working a small pod of fish congregated in an area the size of your kitchen table and accurate casts that put your presentation on the hot spot will produce maximum strikes.
If you want to change lures, just clip off the single hook and replace it with a tiny jig, fly, spider and don’t forget plastics. A small twister tail grub will fire up panfish and some fishermen prefer scented spikes. Miniature tubes and curly tail plastics will catch fish too. One sneaky trick is to take a page from ice fishing 101 and use a plastic on a plain hook with an itsy BB split shot attached. Put a size 8 or 10 hook on your line, then a bitsy shot and slide the shot down to the hook. Next thread on one of the many plastics with wiggly legs, twirling tails or body parts that move like Little Atom scented Micro Nuggies or forked tail Duppies available from Your Bobbers Down contact: Ejamie @yourbobbersdown.com.
There’s nothing new about catching panfish with plastics when ice fishing, but most fishermen switch to crawlers, leaf worms, and waxworms when open water arrives. But there is a growing army of Michigan panfish nuts who use nothing but plastics and found them to be a game-changer. If target fish are active, you can quickly trigger strikes by reeling, jigging plastics like the Jan’s Custom jigs Versamite JR in chartreuse color. Contact www.JanSCustom Jigs.com. The Versamite is a soft plastic bug with three tails and two arms that provide a nervous quivering action. Don’t overlook the panfish catching power of Eurotackle Micro Finesse Crazy Critters with S-pheromone technology and 13 wiggling, jiggling soft legs. Some savvy anglers have great luck with a soft plastic perch fish eye with tail available from www.RoadsideMinnows.com. But fishing with plastics is a new deadly tactic I’ll fully cover in another article.
I hope you take advantage of the fantastic panfish opportunities that spring offers. The trick to outstanding fishing hinges on timing, and there is no better month to catch impressive numbers than May. This golden opportunity is a relatively short window of opportunity when surface water temperatures are between 64 and 70 degrees.
Are you ready? Do you have new line on your reel, hemostats to take out hooks, hand counter to keep an accurate count of your catch, lines rigged, extra floats, fresh bait, polarized sunglasses, mosquito spray, filet knife and hot frying pan? The mouth-watering flavor of spring bluegills is remarkable and will bring you back for more every time.