STORIES OUT THERE FISHING By: Keith 'Catfish' Sutton, WorldFishingNetwork.com Tips for Salad-Bowl Bluegills Fishing weedbeds is a challenge to any angler – using different fishing strategies for various aquatic plants can your increase your success bluegill fishing Fish beds of aquatic vegetation properly, and you can expect to catch lots of jumbo bream. (Keith Sutton photo) Most bluegill anglers don’t like fishing weedbeds. Weeds snag hooks, clog propellers and make casting and navigation difficult. As a result, most fishermen avoid weedbeds if possible, focusing their attention on cover that’s less bothersome. If they fish vegetation, they merely peck around the edges. If you’re a true bluegill fan, you need to understand that weedbeds are your friend. The fish-attracting qualities of a good “salad bowl” outweigh any inconvenience cause by weed-fouled hooks and props. Many species of aquatic plants attract bluegills. Learning to identify each one is interesting but not mandatory. Yet you should know some common varieties, how and where they grow, and the difficulties, or opportunities, each presents for bluegill anglers. Because different types of aquatic plants call for different fishing strategies, the best way to approach the task is by discussing each separately. We’ll focus on two of the most common: elodea and water lilies. Elodea Elodea is a submergent plant, one that grows entirely beneath the water’s surface. In many areas, it’s called waterweed. A popular aquarium plant, it usually grows in quiet water in lakes and slow-moving streams. Elodea is recognized by the small, narrow leaves growing along the entire length of the long, branched stems. These leaves are grouped in bunches near the tips. The plants grow in huge beds, creating tall walls of extremely dense cover. Muddy-water plants may grow completely from surface to bottom. In clear waters, the plants’ tops may be several feet beneath the water’s surface. Elodea grows best in “hard” alkaline water and is one of the most common aquatic plants in large rock-bottomed lakes. In many such lakes, it’s the only green vegetation, so it attracts dense concentrations of bluegills. You’ll find most fish near outside borders of elodea beds. The plants grow in close-knit beds, and fish find it difficult to swim in the interior. For these reasons, it’s important to find the weedbed perimeter before fishing. If you cast too far, you’ll get snagged. Cast short, and you’re in fishless water. To catch more bluegills, cast so your bait or lure falls right beside the outside weed line. To accomplish this, you’ll probably need to scout from a boat before fishing, wearing polarized sunglasses to cut glare and help determine the breadth of each weedbed. Ultralight spinning tackle is ideal for fishing elodea. Spool with 2 to 6-pound line, and rig with a no-bobber, egg-sinker rig. Thread a 1/16 to 1/8-ounce egg sinker on your line, and below it, tie a small barrel swivel. To the swivel’s lower eye, tie a 2-foot leader of 2 to 4-pound line, tipped with a size 6 or 8 Carlisle hook. Add a cricket, redworm, mealworm, waxworm or other live bait, then cast the rig to the weed line and let it sink to the bottom. When a bluegill takes the bait, the line moves freely through the sinker with no resistance to alert fish. When your quarry seems fussy, dispense with the sinker. An unweighted cricket or worm sinks very slowly, creating an irresistible enticement. Watch your line constantly, looking for a tightening, slackening or side-to-side movement that indicates a taker. If bluegills start striking the bait before it reaches bottom, add a small slip cork beneath a bobber stop to suspend the bait in the band of water where fish are holding. Other submergent plants common in bluegill waters include coontail, water milfoil, pondweed, eelgrass and hydrilla. All attract ‘gills, and all are fished the same way you fish elodea. Water Lilies Water lilies are found in swamps, lakes, ponds and slow-moving streams throughout North America. They’re known by many common names, including spatterdock and yonkapin. To most fishermen, they’re simply lily pads, a reference to the large leaves that float on the water’s surface. Beds of lily pads come in all sizes. Some cover only a small area, some spread out over hundreds of acres, and others fall between these extremes. If you find a small bed you can fish slowly and thoroughly in a matter of minutes, do so. Don’t waste time fishing every little hole in a broad expanse of look-alike pads. Odds are better if you fish only the key areas bluegills prefer. Focus your attention on parcels of cover and structure that interrupt the continuity of the vegetation. This may be an isolated log or treetop surrounded by pads, a point of pads along an otherwise straight edge or an inundated creek channel or other drop-off that creates an open cut through the weedbed. Little stands of lily pads separate from the contour of the bed look like they wouldn’t attract many fish, but these spots seem to attract more than the usual quota of big bluegills. By moving quickly from one little island to the next and fishing each thoroughly, it’s possible to pick up a fast limit of hand-sized bream. Be especially watchful for reefs of pads in deeper water. Because the water beneath is likely to be cooler and darker than water beneath shallow pads, heavier concentrations of bream are likely to be there. Changes in contour (points, pockets or indentations) along the perimeter of the pads also should be investigated. Pay special attention to isolated openings out in the pads. Bluegills love these cool, food-rich pockets, and fish found within the interior confines of a lily-pad bed are far more likely to strike than those on an edge pounded by anglers. To avoid spooking fish, carry a stout push pole, and pole your way through the pads to these openings. This is quieter than using a paddle or trolling motor. A 10 to 14-foot long cane pole or jigging pole is tops for fishing lily pads because it allows reaching honey holes from a distance with fewer hang-ups. Attach a small bobber and a single split shot above your baited hook, and probe every key area, changing the bobber’s position occasionally to determine the depth fish are feeding. If fish seem unusually finicky, dispense with the bobber and sinker. Flip your bait atop a pad, then slowly pull it off the edge and let it flutter enticingly through the water. A 1/64 to 1/32-ounce tube jig, hopped through openings in the pads, can be dynamite on big boat-shy bream. Crickets, worms and grass shrimp are excellent enticements for lily-pad ‘gills, but if you want to try something different, take a peak under the pads. Small aquatic invertebrates such as dragonfly and mayfly nymphs often cling to the underside of the leaves. Collect a few, place them in a container with water and fish them on a fine-wire Carlisle hook. Because they’re a regular part of the diet for local fish, they may outproduce conventional baits. You don’t have to know the name of every species of plant in a lake to enjoy salad-bowl bluegill action. Concentrate instead on the general type of plant and the best tactics for fishing it. When fishing floating plants like water lilies, use the tactics discussed for water lilies. Submerged plants like water milfoil and coontail can be fished the same way you’d fish elodea. Blindly working acres of weed mats can be an exercise in frustration. If you approach a weedbed with a well-prepared game plan, you can fill your plate with fat bluegills other anglers pass by.