On The Fly Freshwater
Article and featured photo by Jimmy Jacobs.
Bluegill hold a special place in the hearts of a lot of southern fly casters. That appreciation stems from two circumstances. For many of us, the first fish we took on the long rod was one of those bream while fishing in a small pond.
Photo by Polly Dean.
The second factor not only endears the fish, but it also brings out a bit of ancient Druid in us. With the annual arrival of May, we turn our faces to the night sky watching the progress of the moon phase, much as did those Celtic religious leaders of old. While those folks paid attention to lunar cycles for different reasons, southern anglers know the full moon in May delivers the best action of the year for bluegill fishing.
Bluegill are prolific spawners on the full moon monthly from early spring into the fall months. However, May marks the high point of that activity. As a result, the two days prior to and the two days following the lunar peak in May is the best time of the year for catching the biggest of those bream.
Finding the fish is relatively easy, particularly in smaller ponds and lakes. The bluegill move into shallow areas in the upper end of small bodies of water or in similarly shallow coves along the shore. Once there the males fan out beds in the sandy bottom, where the females then lay eggs. After fertilization, the males get very aggressive as they guard the beds.
By checking such areas until you find a bottom that is pockmarked like a cratered moonscape, you can locate these bedding areas. Dropping a popping bug on the surface over them, or stripping a nymph pattern through the beds, can lead to some vicious strikes from the bluegill.
Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.
One trick to remember when you find one of these situations is to make your first casts to the outer edges of the bedding area. By following that advice, you can pick off the bluegill on those outer beds, without spooking ones in the center of the nesting cluster. As you hook fish, you can move your casts farther into the collection of beds, thus prolonging the action.
Catching bluegill during their spawning cycle is one instance of not having to worry about affecting the population of these fish. A single female may lay as many as 100,000 eggs, which the males guard until they hatch and swim away as fry. The result is that over population and stunted-sized bluegills too often are the situation encountered in small lakes and ponds. Removing some of the hungry mouths leaves more food for the remaining fish to attain larger size.
For many anglers, that leaves the problem of having to get access to a pond to fish. Although Alabama has thousands of farm ponds or small subdivision lakes, most are private waters that are not open to the general public. Fortunately, the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division operates their Public Fishing Lakes System.
Boats are allowed on most of Alabama’s Public Fishing Lakes, and even available for rent on some. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.
Although the list of state lakes shows 20, with each named for the county in which they are located, the Clay County site actually has three small lakes, while Geneva County contains two. Thus, the total number of lakes is 23, which contain a collective 2,012 acres of water. These waters range in size from a 13-acre pond in Clay County to 184-acre Escambia County Lake. At the present time, the 183-acre lake in Chambers County and the 75-acre one in Barbour County are both closed for renovations, leaving 21 lakes open to public fishing.
All of these bodies of water are intensively managed for fishing, making the angling prospects excellent in each. All of them also have populations of bluegill.
The various lakes have differing regulations, but most allow for both bank and boat fishing. Rental boats are available at some locations, while bait and concessions are offered at most. Creel limits vary as well, along with hours and days of operation. Anglers are required to have an Alabama fishing license plus a daily fishing permit, which is available onsite.
To check on the complete regulations and to see contour maps of the lakes, visit the Alabama Public Fishing Lakes website.