by Gary Engberg
©2010 Gary Engberg Outdoors
May and June are the best times of the year to fish for bluegills on the Madison Chain of Lakes and most waters in Wisconsin. Bluegills are my far the most popular and one of the better eating fish in the country and most of the waters in Wisconsin contain these hard fighting panfish. This is the time of the year when bluegills are getting ready to spawn or lay their eggs and are relatively easy to catch if you follow a few tips and use the proper gear. I would highly recommend taking the children out fishing during the next few weeks because it is an excellent time to catch bluegills while introducing children to fishing and the outdoors.
Most bluegills will make their spawning “beds” in shallow water where you can see their saucer-shaped depressions or beds especially if you’re wearing polarized sunglasses. I suggest that you cruise the shallow shorelines of most area waters like Lake Waubesa, Lake Kegonsa, Lake Monona, and even Lake Wingra and look for the depressions and bluegills during the next two weeks before any major weeds grow. Bluegills prefer areas with firm bottoms composed of sand and rubble, in relatively shallow water for spawning. They will not spawn or be found in silty or muddy areas of lakes. The male bluegills make the spawning beds by fanning their tails to make the depressions or beds in 3 to 5 feet of water. The deepest that I’ve found bluegill beds is in water 5 to 8 feet deep.
Locally, the bluegills spawn first in Lake Wingra and then followed by Lake Kegonsa, Lake Waubesa, Lake Monona, and finally big Lake Mendota. The ‘gills are now just starting to make their beds and getting ready for the spawn on the smaller and warmer water lakes. The key according to panfish expert, Joe Puccio, is water temperature. Once the water is in the mid 60’s, the bluegills will begin their spring ritual of reproducing. Before conditions are ready, you can find the fish adjacent to where they plan to spawn and that is usually around the first major breakline.
Lake Wingra wouldn’t be one of my top picks because the bluegills there are very small and tough to clean. But, if you just want to get the children out catching fish and releasing them than Lake Wingra is a good pick. There are a few larger bluegills in Wingra, but you’d have to sort through dozens of fish. Remember, the important thing when taking children fishing is not the species caught, but just having some fish bite and tug on the child’s line. The bluegills in the other “Chain Lakes” are larger and you don’t need too many to make a great meal. I’m not mentioning the largest lake in the Madison Chain because Lake Mendota is much larger, deeper, and doesn’t warm up as quickly as the other and smaller lakes in the Chain. But in a week or two, Lake Mendota will also warm up and turn on with some of the larger bluegills in the area.
Joe Puccio is a local fishing professional and one of the owners of Bait Rigs Tackle Company. Joe is one of the best panfish anglers that I know and is known in the fishing industry for developing some great products. Puccio does most of his field testing and research on the area lakes, so his products work extremely well on southern Wisconsin waters. Dr. Drift as Joe is called by friends is one of the best aficionados of bluegill and crappie fishing. He developed the Bait Rigs Cobra jig which is one of the best jigs available for panfish. The quality production along with a great selection of colors and an excellent hook make this the number one choice of guides and serious panfishing anglers. The Cobra jigs come in glow colors which aids in bluegill fishing because bluegills are sight feeders and if they can’t see it then they won’t bite. The glow colors make visibility in the area’s stained waters considerably better. The Cobra is made for fishing with light line and the hook gap increases the number of hook-ups because like a circle hook, the fish actually hook themselves without a big hook set. The best baits to use with the Cobra are wax worms, spikes, red wigglers, and the new colored maggots called Gulp. Puccio recommended hooking a few wax worms thru the middle for the best results when bluegill fishing.
Crappies are the first panfish to bite in the spring and this year the fishing action has been up and down with the weather. This spring’s unstable and inconsistent weather made crappie fishing a hot and cold adventure with the crappies moving in and out of shallow water as the weather changed and water cooled from the numerous frontal systems that seemed to come every few days. Bluegills will do much the same as crappies by moving in and out with the weather. This coming week, the weather looks to warm up and be stable which should keep water temperatures just right for the bluegills to begin their spawning ritual. Always remember, to fish the smaller and warmer water lakes first because they will be warmer than the larger waters and spawning will occur sooner.
The equipment and gear that one needs to catch bluegills is not too complicated or costly. You want an ultra-light rod and reel with an extra fast tip to detect the slightest bite. A rod from 6 to 7 feet will allow you to make long casts that are often needed to catch these “spooky” fish. Try using a stealth approach to your “spot” by turning off your main motor well in advance of reaching your fishing location and then use your trolling motor to get you within a cast of the fish. Try to be as quiet as possible because sound travels easily in this shallow water and will drive spawning fish away.
Spool your reel with a monofilament like Berkley Trilene in 4 pound test. When the fish are active, you can get by with 6 pound test line. But, if possible use the lighter line. Next, at the end of my line I’ll attach a small barrel swivel and to that I’ll tie on 18 to 24 inches of fluorocarbon line (which is invisible in the water) to my jig. Above this, I’ll balance the rig with some micro-split shots and a small stealth bobber or float like the ones made by Thill and Lindy Tackle. Set the float anywhere from 1 ½ to 2 ½ feet above the jig depending on the water’s depth where you’re fishing. Finally, bait your Cobra jig and you’re set for action! The polarized glasses will help you see the beds and fish in the shallow water, but always try to be as quiet as possible when spring fishing.
Besides the Madison lakes which are great bluegill lakes, some other good fishing waters in the area include; Indian Lake, Lake Marion, Lake Ripley, Crystal Lake, Fish Lake, Lake Redstone, Lake Wisconsin, and the Wisconsin River. Bluegills are abundant in most southern Wisconsin lakes and now is the time to catch them when they are in shallow water and active. Try not to keep the females or hens when they’re spawning because they are the lake’s future. Keep enough fish for a meal or two, but not enough to feed the neighborhood. Practicing catch and release is not just for muskies, walleyes, and bass. Catch and releasing bluegills during the vulnerable spawning period is something that should be reinforced especially when taking children fishing. Teach this practice to them at an early age and they will learn a conservation tip at an early age. Anglers think that they always have to catch a “limit”, but if everyone does that the fish numbers will surely decline. It is not impossible to decimate a fish population by over-harvest.
If you try these simple tactics and techniques you will have success and learn a little more about catching America’s most popular fish while having a tasty meal or two. Now’s the time for bluegills! Always go to www.garyengbergoutdoors for up to the day information.