JEFF KNAPP: Bluegills are the catch of the day
Every fish species has its qualities: the beauty of the trout, as well as the places where one fishes for them; the unrelenting fight of the smallmouth bass, especially when taken from flowing waters; the finicky nature of the walleye; and the muskie’s phantom-like appearance.
The bluegill, though pint-sized compared to the others, brings its share of qualities to the table, figuratively and literally. It’s a cooperative biter, a trait appreciated by both veteran and tyro. And few will pass on a platter of freshly caught bluegill fillets.
“Bluegills, like a lot of other panfish, provide that great family fishing experience that most of us get introduced to as youngsters,” said Bret Preston, the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources’ warm-water management chief. “They are often the first fish that youth get a chance to catch. I can still recall catching my first sunfish in a small stream over in Ohio.
“Bluegills are generally willing to bite many of the offerings that anglers throw at them. They are available throughout the year in a variety of settings like rivers and streams, lakes and smaller ponds. They just provide great, low-key sport with a lot of action.
“In addition, they are great on the plate. A lot of us like to fish for bluegills because they provide a fine, healthy meal.”
As Preston noted, biting bluegills can be found throughout the year. But they are especially available during the late spring and early summer, when the need to spawn puts them in the shallows.
“As water temperatures increase during the spring, bluegill will begin to spawn,” Preston explained. “Those big males that guard the nest are most accessible. That’s often when you see those bigger fish. Often you can sight fish for them, targeting bigger bluegill. A lot of our anglers fish specifically for bluegill in that late-May and June setting in our smaller impoundments.”
While some areas of West Virginia have more opportunities, you don’t have to go far to get into some quality fishing for these tasty panfish.
“There is good bluegill fishing in a number of places across the state,” Preston noted. “Traditionally, one place that has provided exceptionally good bluegill fishing in a small impoundment setting has been Plum Orchard Lake in Fayette County. It’s a 200-acre lake located on a state-owned wildlife management area. There’s good access to it, both for shore fishermen and boat anglers.
“Another small impoundment is Rollins Lake in Jackson County. It’s a 40-acre lake that’s been noted for good bluegill fishing. There are two other smaller lakes in Jackson County that offer good action for bluegills, Woodrum and O’Brien. Woodrum in particular has been producing reports of good bluegill fishing.”
Excellent June bluegill action certainly isn’t limited to the smaller impoundments. Though the state’s large corps of engineers flood-control lakes are more noted for providing good action for black bass, hybrid stripers, muskies, walleyes and catfish, many of them have excellent panfish populations, bluegills included.
“Some of our larger impoundments offer excellent early-summer bluegill fishing,” Preston said. “Stonewall Jackson in Lewis County, it has good shoreline and boat fishing opportunities. Another good choice is Sutton Lake in Braxton County. Cheat Lake in Monongalia County is a good bass lake and is picking up as a walleye lake. The bluegill fishing should be good there this summer. In Lincoln County, I’d suggest Upper Mud Reservoir.”
Flowing waters add to the state’s mix of bluegill habitats. Preston suggested low-gradient streams like the Middle Island Creek, as well as shallow, backwater-type habitats on the larger rivers.
“Any of the embayments on rivers like the Ohio and the Kanawha also provide opportunities for bluegill fishing during the spawning seasons,” he said.
Locally, many of our lakes provide excellent bluegill fishing during the early summer. One of particular note is Clarion County’s Kahle Lake. Keystone Lake, Yellow Creek Lake and Glendale Lake are all good bluegill candidates, too.