Every spring, when the water temperatures in the shallows warm up to the 70 degree mark, a strange and wonderful thing happens -- big, robust bluegills move shallow and begin their annual spawning rituals. First, the males will fan a saucer-shaped nest, or bed, in the shallow gravel or sand. The "boys" are dark, with purple hues and copper colored breast and large, stunning opercular ear flaps that are as big as a quarter. They are sometimes hump-headed, and look like they ran into a wall. They're just a bad fish, period.
Then, the females will arrive shortly after with stomachs swollen heavy with roe sacs and tons of eggs. They will deposit them in the nests that were fanned by the males, and then quickly vacate, scooting back to deeper water. For the next two to even three weeks, the males will guard the nest site and protect the newly hatched fry. By the end of the spawn, the males will have lost 30 to 40 percent of their body weight due to the exertion and rigors of the spawn. They are vulnerable to angling pressure at this time, and the overwhelming majority of the guardian males should not be harvested, so that a future of quality bluegills remain in the water body.
So, as fragile and as vulnerable as bluegill populations can be, they still provide outstanding light tackle fishing at this time, and catch and released concepts help in preserving future fishing for the larger adult fish. Sure, you can keep a dozen fish for a meal here and there, but unrestrained harvest of the bigger fish can easily cripple a fishery. Currently, Maryland freshwater regulations permit keeping of 15 bluegills a day, per angler, and this is a great regulation that can prevent the overharvest of Boone and Crockett sized bluegills.
And what constitutes a B&C class bluegill? Well, for my money, any fish mroe than 10 inches is a bonafide trophy-class bluegill. Catch an 11 incher and you are up for local bragging rights. A 12-inch bluegill is, for most intents and purposes, a fish of a lifetime. I have talked to many anglers who have claimed to have caught 12 inch bluegills. But I must tell you, unless you have actually measured the fish and he truly taped out at an honest 12, then you may well be looking at fish that are, in reality, much shorter than that top-end benchmark.
The spawn should last well into June, and I have actually caught them "on bed" as late as September, but that is very rare. Bluegills and other sunfish species tend to spawn several times a summer, with peak activity coinciding around full-moon periods. I like to use small 1/32 and 1/64th ounce jigs tipped with a piece of worm and fished slowly across the edges of a bedding area. Bedding areas can be found by scanning the shallows with polarized sunglasses.
In dark or turbid waters, male nesting activity can be so hectic and intense that the waters are churned to a mud brown coloration, due to the fanning of the nests. We use micro-light spinning gear and 2 pound test lines for this great sport. Fly rodders with 2 to 4 weight outfits and ant and bumblebee patterns in size 10 to 14 will usually have plenty of action at this time.
In general, this can be pretty easy fishing, a perfect time to start young anglers on that lifelong fishing journey. The fish are cooperative, fight like demons, and taste as good as it gets in the fish fry department. Literally, they are the perfect fish. Look for the spawning period to last a while, as cooler temperatures can and will prolong the event. Many still think of bluegills as "just kids stuff." But the truth is, some kids never grow up ... I didn't.