Finding a Great Bluegill Pond
The key to consistent success in catching big bluegills is searching out ponds capable of growing them. That’s the most important element of the fishing puzzle. Decades of bluegill fly-fishing have taught us that these “hubcap” factories share eight characteristics.
First, and possibly the most important, is a nutrient-rich environment. Nutrients produce microscopic life that initiates the food chain, which enables bluegills in all stages of life access to growth-producing sustenance.
Nutrient-rich water is created in one of three ways. First, nutrients present in the soil drain into the pond. Next, any man-made additions such as agricultural fertilizers, waste from livestock or municipal waste find their way into the waters. The age of the pond is also a factor in richness. Older lakes build up nutrients over time, making them better able to sustain big bluegills than newer ponds.
A visual examination of the pond will indicate its nutrient-richness. Suspended material causes the water to be cloudy or murky, but the lack of water clarity should not be confused with turbidity that is caused by silt washed into the pond or by the action of wind and waves.
Second, shallow water produces more life in all forms than deep water. Abundant shallow water provides a living area for bluegills. Sunlight penetrates “thin” water and produces weed growth and algae that offer protective cover as well as food.
While the Deep South has bayous with uniformly shallow water capable of producing large numbers of big bluegills, relatively deep water is necessary in regions of the country where ponds freeze over. Oxygen depletion can cause ponds to winterkill.
Abundant weed growth is the third characteristic of great bluegill ponds because it provides habitat for bluegills. The growth of coontail, milfoil, lily pads, bulrushes or any of a wide variety of other vegetation in the pond serves several purposes. Initially, it enables bluegill fry to hide from predators, allowing more of them to reach maturity.
Additionally, vegetation provides a lifetime food source for bluegills, as they not only feed on it to some extent, but insects, crustaceans, and minnows utilize the weeds too. Finally, the weeds provide the well-oxygenated water that sustains all life. Without question, it is difficult to overstate the importance of vegetation.
Another characteristic of great bluegill water is warm water temperatures. Bluegills are most comfortable between 65 and 80 degrees. Even though they can survive in a wide variance of water temperatures, all things being equal, warm water temperatures for the longest period of time will grow larger bluegills.
WOOD STRUCTURE KEY
While bluegills utilize many kinds of structure, experience persuades us that bluegills prefer wood structure to all others. The wood cover might be natural, such as deadfalls, standing timber, tree branches or stumps. Or it might be manmade, such as boat docks, duck blinds, and piers. The many tentacles of branches of a deadfall that extends from the shallows into relatively deep water is an example of the very best kind of woody cover.
Over the course of a lifetime, more big bluegills will be caught from wood structure than any other structure in the pond. Wood structure in combination with weeds is even better. It’s the closest thing to a guarantee that exists in all of fishing.
A sixth important characteristic of big bluegill-producing ponds is the presence of an abundant predator species. Bluegill populations that are uncontrolled can quickly overpopulate their habitat. The result is many stunted fish but, because it takes a long time to grow big specimens of any species including bluegills, keeping the larger ones prevents them from reaching maximum size.
The truth is that man can’t control the population of small bluegills, but a substantial population of predators can. Largemouth bass and/or catfish can help keep the population of small bluegills in check.
Another subtle factor that can be observed visually is gently sloping banks. Gradual shorelines compress our target species into small areas that afford anglers the opportunity for fast action. Gently sloping banks provide more shallow water and more sunlight penetration; therefore, they provide more vegetation. The increased cover and food are essential to producing lots of big bluegills.
ALL ABOUT COVES
The final characteristic is abundant coves. Ponds with many coves have more shallow water and also provide many more opportunities for fish-holding structures. The many coves are an indication that the land is likely to have been irregular before the dam was built.
Six of the eight characteristics of great bluegill ponds can be evaluated visually. Water temperature can be easily taken, and the presence of abundant predators can be checked through conversations with other fishermen or your own observations. By evaluating ponds using these eight characteristics, bluegill anglers can determine which water in their locale will be productive even before fishing them.