Gill fishing is another springtime ritual besides bass fishing in shallow and shad waters. This is an easy catch that provides plenty of movement with a fly or spinning. It is also a great opportunity for children and beginners.
Bluegills are widely available. Like most anglers, I include snail breakers, several sunfish, and even rock bass under the gill canopy. Some of my favorite waters are Lake Pine Run, Lake Cunningham Falls, Liberty Reservoir, Southern Delaware Ponds, and the Upper Potomac River. Private ponds can also be good, if you have access to them. Fishing can be available from shore or by boat, canoe, kayak or float tube. The intervention required is simple and basic.
Tapping the gill is the classic method. The best way is to tackle a standard trout – an 8- to 9-foot rod, 5 or 6 weights, identical to the pontoon and a 9-foot lead tapered to 3X.
I love foam gorgers, poppers and rubber-legged spiders. Cork poppers and sliders work as well. Most commercial insects have long legs, but I cut them a bit short, because the smaller gills often capture the legs rather than the insect’s body and hook. A size 10 is the standard, but I recommend carrying a few size 8 bugs. Small gills often can’t sniff out larger bugs but large gills – and bass – can. I once spent a day fishing in Delaware Lake with Walt Knapp, and we each took a dozen gill fish in a few hours of regular fishing. But Walt caught the bigger bugs and didn’t take five of the busses for me, plus one of the bloggers scored a pound on the buga grip.
In the spring, blue gills can be spotted near the shoreline often under overhanging trees or near deciduous trees on the beach. Later, during spring spawning, you’ll see dozens and dozens of round, light-coloured beds, several feet in diameter, blue gills cleaned in preparation for spawning. The gills will hover over or near these beds. These are your goals.
This technique is simply to gently shed these spots. You don’t need to blast your bug or give it a lot of action, just flick it occasionally. The nostrils come up from the bottom and the insect inhales, often with a kissing sound. The blow is similar to trout fishing – gentle traction on the hand of the line and a slight lifting of the rod. Often, fish hooks themselves.
Subsurface flies work as well, often doing best when the blue gills are not on the beds. Lots of wet little flies, trout dances, and streamers will work, but there’s one that’s hard to beat, a 10-grain or lightweight black woolly trifle. Using any of these patterns, just throw it to a potential spot, let it sink in a bit, and then slowly pick it back up.
A variety of spinning handlers will work and can be used where there is no room for casting flies. Professionals prefer an ultra-lightweight treatment with 4-pound monofilaments. The rods are typically 5 to 6 feet long, with special rods being 10 feet or longer. One can hunt the smallest versions, 1½ inches or less, of such lures as Teeny Torpedoes, Rebels and Pop-Rs. But the preferred lure is a 1/32 to 1/16 ounce jig, perhaps tipped with a little plastic, worm, or natural grub. Some of these can be cast on their own using very light handling but most require a float to shed the weight.
But with super light, any standard light to medium spin and 6 to 8 pound monofilaments, jigs and flies can be used with a float. Again, this is a great method for kids and beginners and provides the same visual appearance of a fish hitting a floating insect as with fly fishing or watching the float as it dances and sinks.
I recommend a small oval float with a clear plastic clip. Use the smallest size your device can throw. Simply tie a gill bug, a drowning fly or a lure, and clip the float two feet above it. If the fish is more than 2 feet deep, you can use a slip buoy to sink the bait. The float provides the weight of the casting.
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Try to swing the cast smoothly to avoid the excavator coming off the helicopter. This is especially important when throwing under trees or near obstacles. After the splint hits the water ball inward so that there is no space between the float and the floating insect. Again, make a floating insect a few twitches. Submersible baits may be caught by slow reeling with pauses. Adjust the hook quickly but not violently with the floating rigs.
With any of the above methods, you can expect a little extra fish like sea bass, crappie, perch, or pickerel depending on the water.
Years ago, Joe Bruce and I were regularly flying gill fishing on Lake Payne Run with great success. I’ve often noticed big bass chasing the blue gills we tied. So I started to carry a casting rod loaded with a spinning bait when fishing from a boat. I grabbed about 3 and 4 pounds of argumouth that we ran with our blue gills.
Bluegills will devour small pieces of caught worms or larvae down a small float on an 8 or 10 hook with a small split shoot a few inches above. But the above scented bait, flies and artificial bait can be just as effective and avoid the “shit” factor.
When I first caught my grandson for a gill fish, he was beating very slowly with jigs and worms. The small, scented industrial caterpillars and worms took a lot of hits and were strong enough to stay on the hook long enough to set the hook.
Gill release requires some thought. The nostrils have relatively small mouths and occasionally a fly sniff, bait or bait is another argument for larger hooks. Chill it away or mash it on all the hooks beforehand. Hold the fish in the water, then use a curved-nose forceps to grip the stem of the hook to gently extract the hook.
The gills are tasty and most of the water benefits from removing some. Most kids love to sample their catch.