Bluegills may be back at Piney Run

Pulling into a shallow cove in my kayak at Piney Run Lake recently, I observed a shoreline lined with donut-shaped depressions.

At first I thought I was seeing an artificial reef made of tires. Then, as I got closer I saw these shapes were bluegill spawning beds, dozens and dozens of them. When I relayed my discovery to Joe Bruce in an adjoining kayak, he related he'd seen similar areas along another shore on the way out.


Joe and I continued fishing our hollow rubber-bodied frogs with the usual occasional bass explosions and our bringing a bass into the kayak about a third of the time. (That's for a later story.)

But seeing all those bluegill beds was even more exciting. Could the Piney Run bluegill abundance be back?

Joe and I used to make dedicated trips to Piney Run every spring to fish fly rod poppers for bluegills. Then, about eight years ago, for reasons unknown, this fishing dropped off.

According to The Chesapeake Bay Program website, bluegill spawning occurs from April to September, once water temperatures warm to about 54 degrees Fahrenheit. Bluegills often spawn more than once per season. Males build nests in shallow areas by making a round hole in the sand or gravel. Bluegills will often build nests close to one another, creating colonies.

Those were the structures Joe and I were seeing.

Sometimes you just want some easy fishing. If that's what you're looking for, and, if the Piney Run fish have rebounded, it's hard to find a better location than Carroll County's Piney Run.

Its launch ramps, fleet of excellent rental boats and abundant shoreline fishing areas make this lake a convenient spot for any angler after bluegills from the beginner to casual to expert angler.

Historically Piney Run had big bluegills and lots of them. OK,I know big panfish is an oxymoron, but not to a fisherman. It's a matter of size for a species, so a fisherman can get excited about 9-inch bluegill, a "big bluegill" which is lots of fun on appropriately light tackle, but not a 12-inch bass. There's also terrific visual appeal of seeing bluegills rush to take a fly.

Finally, the action can be nearly continuous, with bluegills hitting on nearly every cast to a decent spot.

The ideal tackle for bluegill fishing is typical Maryland trout tackle, 4- to 6-weight fly rods, 8 to 9 feet long, with a 9-foot leader tapered to 3X. A wide range of flies work, but the key criteria seem to be small size and having rubber legs. I prefer size 10 foam body poppers with rubber legs. The classic sponge spider fly, with rubber legs, is another great pattern, one that is usually fished on the surface but also, with a bit of weight, is a deadly slow sinking fly. Other good patterns include floating or sinking ants; Sneaky Pete, 1/80 ounce marabou jigs, size 10 or 12 beadhead wet fly patterns, bushy dry flies the same size, wooly buggers and size-0 Flicker Spinners.

One advantage to sinking flies, such as a wet fly or wooly bugger, is that they can take crappies as well as bluegills. Bass may hit any of these flies, at which point, your ability to play fish on light tackle will be rigorously tested. The bluegills, crappie and bass trifecta is found at Piney Run, Liberty and a number of other local lakes and reservoirs.

Though flies are terrifically effective and the most enjoyable way to fish for bluegills, you do not need a fly rod to fish with flies. You can use a light spinning rod with 4- to 8-pound test monofilament. Tie the floating or sinking fly, any of the patterns mentioned above, to the end and add a clip-on, clear plastic float about 2 feet above. Use the smallest float you can cast effectively. The float carries the fly to the fish, and you're in business.

This technique is a great way to introduce kids to fishing. It also allows the angler to fish from shore where trees and shrubs interfere with the backcast required for most fly fishing. (Yes, I know about steeple casts. Have you tried it fishing a bug?) Again, Piney Run offers access to a lot of shoreline points and coves for bluegill fishing.

As for natural baits, bluegills will eat nearly anything they can get in their small mouths. A tiny piece of nightcrawler on a #10 hook or one of those tougher, synthetic worms would be a top choice.


Another good place in our area is Cunningham Falls Lake, which is similar to Piney Run, with some very large bluegills, excellent spring fishing and shoreline fishing spots as well as rental boats. The Patapsco River offers abundant long ear sunfish as well as smallmouth bass and stocked trout. Some of the bluegills and sunfish taken in the Potomac River as a bycatch of smallmouth fishing are very good size, even if the numbers can't compare.

Finally, every year some of the biggest bluegills in the state are taken from Deep Creek Lake though often by bait fishing.

Bluegill fishing peaks with the spring/summer spawning season but the fish can be found in the shallows well into the fall. Look for structure and especially for places shaded by shoreline trees. Night fishing can be excellent on lakes and ponds with insect-attracting lights nearby.

Bluegill fishing is part of the rite of spring and summer in our area. You ought to give it a try.