Photos: Kim Svir
Fall is a time of plenty for the outdoor enthusiast. While many pass the days in tree stands waiting for a wily buck to slip up, others wait in fields for fall migrants to pass overhead. Serious walleye anglers are experiencing their best big fish bite of the year over sharp breaks and deep water. Days are devoted to spending quality time with family over a warm bowl of chili while cheering on a favorite team. Families make pilgrimages north to view fall colors or hunt grouse. The fall wish list can get pretty long but for serious panfish aficionados, the fall signals a time of large concentrations of hungry panfish in predictable patterns. Fall brings an opportunity to target some of the largest specimens in a particular body of water. Youll find that locating and catching bluegills in the fall is not much different than at first ice.
As late summer rolls around and water temperatures get high, big bluegills often evacuate shallow water leaving behind their smaller counterparts. These fish typically stay suspended on the thermocline until fall turnover. Once the water turns over, some of these large fish will return to the weeds while others stay suspended over deep water. Here they generally stay together in small schools of 10-20 fish. These sight feeders are always moving and grazing on anything that catches their eye. Bluegills food sources include such things as algae, aquatic vegetation, zooplankton, insect larvae, insects, fish eggs and occasionally minnows. In the fall, packing on pounds for leaner times becomes a priority. Some studies show fish eating up to 35% of their body weight weekly. As water temperatures begin to drop, fish tend to stay more active during daytime hours, not limiting anglers to first and last light.
I recently had the opportunity to spend some time on one of my favorite big bluegill haunts, by none other than legendary angler Dave Genz. When I picked him up at the dock, he was armed with his trusted Vexilar FLX-28, a pocket full of euro larvae and an assortment of his favorite ice jigs. As we made our way out into the basin, familiar lines began to show up on our flashers, reminiscent of being on the ice. Dave knew how to interpret these lines very well as it only took moments before he was tussling with his first bluegill.
Genz suggested anchoring in both the front and back of the boat to keep presentations vertical and visible on electronics. Too much boat sway would bring jigs outside the view of our electronics and leave us fishing blind. He showed me a new tungsten jig that will be available later this fall, called the Dropper. The heavy tungsten allowed him to use a small profile jig that stayed vertical and dropped quickly to feeding fish.
Chad Crappie Sniffer Peterson, owner of HSM Outdoors, says fall is his favorite time of year to hunt big bluegills. The lakes he fishes around Alexandria, Minnesota, all have very different and distinct patterns. He relies heavily on the use of his electronics while searching out basin areas in close proximity to structure. Once fish are located, the trolling motor is deployed and used to hover over suspended schools of gills. He likes the freedom to be able to move and react quickly. He also advocates keeping log books that include information like date, water temperature, clarity of water and depth which he considers invaluable to patterning and locating fish on new bodies of water.
HSM Pro Staffer, Mike Raetz, also professes to catch his largest bluegills during fall, suspended over deep water. Mike often uses his ice rods to jig vertically over the side of the boat. He likes how shorter rods keep his jig inside the cone angle and visible on his Vexilar. One big split shot, about a foot above my jig, is all I need to maintain depth control, says Raetz. Mike employs a single anchor off the front of the boat once fish are located. This keeps him swaying and working different fish, picking off the most aggressive ones before moving to his next location.
Fall is a busy time indeed with hunting and family but if you do find some spare time dont forget the often overshadowed bluegills. Finding large concentrations of big bluegills in predictable locations is a great reason to enjoy some of the last open water fishing of the year. Trust me when I say
youll be glad you did.
HSM Outdoors is a group of anglers from around the United States and Canada dedicated to making you more successful in the field and on the water. For more information on fall bluegills visit http://www.hsmoutdoors.com.
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