Every year I eagerly await this time of late May and early June because that is when some of my favorite fishing occurs - fishing for bedding sunfish of various species. Yes, most anglers would consider this no more than kid's stuff, but to me, it keeps me grounded and brings me back to my roots.
One of the cool things about bedding, or, reproducing, sunfish species is that most of them prefer the same areas of light gravel or sandy substrate for spawning, and the catch can often include several different species in just a single outing. This recently happened to me when I caught bluegills, red ear sunfish, hybrid sunfish - bluegill X green sunfish cross - and green sunfish on but a single outing. Many bodies of water have a variety of sunfish species and ID on these can be challenging, with hybrids often occurring naturally from different species.
Bedding, or nesting, sunfish tend to do it in large colonies where there may be as many as 20 to 50 circular "beds" fanned out in the shallow gravel areas of a pond or lake. Most of our local community lakes and pond have this gig going on right now, and just watching those dark, guardian males protect the eggs is intriguing. Plump females, heavy with eggs, are not on "bed" very long, depositing their eggs quickly then scooting back out to slightly deeper water. Often, those copper-breasted males are on the beds a week to 10 days prior to the arrival of the females.
Not all sunfish spawn exactly alike. The red ear sunfish do not always spawn in huge colonies, and a cluster of 10 to 15 beds would be quite a gathering for our regional waters. They tend to spawn a little later, and sometimes deeper, than other sunfish species. Plus, they tend to be extremely skittish and spooky while bedding, and can frustrate even the most skillful angler when watching them cautiously inspect a bait and then expel it immediately from the bed when it strikes. One cool thing about red ears is that they run larger than bluegills, and 10 to 12 inch fish are not uncommon.
Tactics are pretty simple and this is a great way to bring children and beginners into the angling circle. A small bobber, with a 2 foot drop, and a No. 8 Aberdeen hook, baited with a worm, is about as good as it gets. Keep it simple, and you'll catch more fish. Of course, you can do the fly rod thing, and likely catch more than with bait. Use No. 10 to 14 ant and nymph patterns to score bedding bluegills and close kin. And you don't have to be an expert fly angler to enjoy this sport.
Bluegill, red ears, green sunfish and the colorful pumpkinseed sunfish will all be spawning in June. The Maryland limit is a conservation minded 15 per angler, per day - a good thing, considering the vulnerability of these fish during the spawning season. Take a kid and go, and have a great time with some potential fish fry material to boot.