The bellies of the beasts
This pre-spawn female bluegill displays an astounding body weight for its skeletal length, a condition that may be attributed to our recent colder spring conditions. (Jim Gronaw photo)

This sure has been a crazy spring, weather-wise. With a milder than normal winter and an apparent early spring promise, it has been anything but "normal" for a spring progression. After what seemed to be early spawning scenarios for many species, we have had a near three-week period of 15-20 degree temperature drops and chilly, wet conditions. As a result, many species, to include bass, bluegills and crappies, have had an up and down spawning procedure.

Tidal runs of white perch and stripers have likewise been hard to pin down.


I am desperately hoping for some degree of warm weather, and soon, as I am tired of walking around dressed like an Eskimo when everyone else is wearing shorts and T-shirts despite the unseasonal cold. But one thing that cold and damp spring weather does do to the fishing ... it prolongs the spawning stages of many species, in particular, the bluegill.

Most folks who read this column know that I am a burnt-out bluegiller from way back, a kid who never quite grew up, so-to-say. I have studied the bluegill spawn and it's progression for several decades and have made some interesting observations.

This year, the Mason Dixon area actually had spawning bluegills in some waters on April 20, the earliest I have ever observed. But as soon as dark, guardian males fanned beds, cold and rainy conditions pushed them off, and few, if any, remained shallow. As a result big female bluegills, heavy with eggs and ready to drop, were somewhat aborted in the reproductive gig and have yet to spawn.

And maybe that is why and some of my fellow panfish freaks and I are seeing "crazy big" hen bluegills with swollen bellies the likes of which we have never seen in our region. I have seen this phenomena in both public and private waters, region-wide.

Relative weight charts would be skewered way to the heavy if these rotund fish were included in the stats.

My brother Tom and I recently fished a local farm pond where we found just this exact condition of these fish. We observed that no fish were shallow on beds, and it was one of those rare days recently when the air temperatures actually hit 75 degrees. We made long casts well beyond known spawning grounds to attract obese bluegills to our 1/32nd ounce jigs tipped with a piece of nightcrawler. The action was not the "fast and furious" pace that often accompanies the actual spawning conditions, but the average sized fish was amazing and several of our larger fish, alarmingly fat from egg weight, pushed weights nearing 1½ pounds.

I had fished this water body before, but never had I seen fish that were so huge, so heavy for their skeletal length. It was one of the best bluegill trips I had ever had, especially for big fish that averaged 10-11 inches long. Fish were suspended in 3-4 feet of water and apparently ready to move shallow if the conditions were right. Tom upped his "personal best" for bluegills several times that day, topping it off with a magnificent 11-inch hen that was released to enhance the gene pool. Bravo!

But this was not the only location I have notice extreme weight gain in this specie this spring. I have fished one other private and two other small, "under the radar" public venues where bluegills were chubbed to the max and "bursting at the seams" with eggs. Keep in mind that, traditionally, when bluegills spawn the females are not actually "on bed" very long as they quickly deposit their eggs then drift back into slightly deeper water.

The males, meanwhile, remain ... guarding eggs and fry for 10 days or more, and some linger much longer. In some of our area lakes and ponds, bluegills will spawn once each month coinciding with full moon periods as long as the water temperatures remain at 70 degrees or greater. In the Carroll County area I have observed spawning bluegills in April, May, June (the traditional peak month for spawning), July and August.

I once saw several pair of spawning red ear sunfish in September, but that's another specie, another story.

Once it warms up…when ever that is…and the water holds steady or above 70 degrees, bluegills and other sunfish species will be shallow and spawning and it will be a time when fishing can be, can be, amazingly simple. The Maryland creel limit on bluegills is 15 fish per angler, per day.

I urge that restraint be used and that anglers release the majority of the "big fish" for their waters, whether it be a 8-, 9-, or 10-inch class fish.

Large, dark male bluegills are vital for the reproductive process and if you want to catch big gills in the future then the future is now and catch and release of these fish is essential for the future. Keep a few for the table, a trophy if you get one but release the bulk of the beasts for great fishing in the years to come.