As something of a local legend, I am often asked, "Bill, why are you arguably the Loveland Fishing Club's finest bluegill angler?" /s
While I might point to deadly control of my Elkhorn 3-weight fly rod, or meticulous presentation of a hand-tied Bully's Spider, other club members might point out that I am just about the only adult in Northern Colorado to actively pursue the King of all Panfish. While other local legends like Chad LaChance may push you toward husky Horsetooth smallmouth, and Bernie Keefe touts his 30-pound Grandby lakers, I quietly spread the gospel of the 9.5 inch Colorado Master Angler class bluegill.
Truth to tell, this is no country for old bluegills panfish around here rarely survive to grow past 4 or 5 inches. Thanks to our beloved irrigation companies, who cheerfully raise and lower lake levels the way other people flush toilet bowls, we're lucky to get one good bluegill spawning cycle out of four. (And don't get me started on largemouth bass). The same cataclysmic rise and fall of Colorado waters tends to make the Colorado weedbed an endangered species. Bluegill around here are typically forced to survive in open water, where they find little cover, few bugs, and lots of teeth. A Colorado bluegill's life is generally nasty, brutish and short.
How to find the big ones
I concede all of that it just makes the pursuit of big Colorado bluegill more sporting. So how can dedicated Rocky Mountain bluegillers find the fish to match their passion? Short of a quick trip to Missouri, you can begin by ruling out most reservoirs that are part of our state's water storage network. If you do locate a few early season 9-inch fish somewhere like Boyd or Carter or Jackson, they'll likely be forced into celibacy by June, as their shallow water spawning beds turn into little lakeside holes in the mud. They will be equally frustrated in August, as their home waters continue to shrink and they're forced out of available cover and onto someone's menu.
So your best bet, without question, is any body of water outside the irrigation network. These tend to be refurbished gravel ponds, town parks and such, and therefore usually heavily fished. But again, that also makes this whole venture more sporting, like carp tournaments in England. So look for refurbished gravel ponds, study them in Google Earth whenever possible, and narrow your potential list of hotspots to water with at least minimal aquatic weeds and bushes. Then check them out with rod in hand, preferably in all seasons to be fair about your conclusions. Leave your live bait at home, be prepared to scour the water for weedlines and drop-offs, and above all use a float tube to sneak into parts of the pond no one can reach from shore.
Granted, there aren't many really good places like this in northern Colorado damned if I'll tell you my favorites. But I will reveal that the gravel ponds of Boulder County's Pella Crossing once held some of Colorado's biggest bluegills until they were washed into history by the floodwaters of 2013. Look for places with similar habitat: with stable, reasonably clean water, preferably not used for anything but holding fish healthy coontail and other acquatic growth and a mix of shallow and deep structure to give the vulnerable little creatures a few places to hide and chase insects.
Again, leave the worms and other live bait at home they just attract the 3- and 4-inch fish that give Colorado bluegill a bad name. A 3- or 5-weight fly rod or an ultralight spinning outfit with a bubble and fly and 4- to 6-pound braid line work just fine the spinning rod is often a more practical way to reach tricky cover. Don't bother getting too fancy. While the noble bluegill in many ways has it all over the stocker trout as a game fish, I will admit they can be a sucker for even a poorly tied fly or jig. I myself get by with a collection of nymphs and small popping bugs, some spiders with long rubber legs, and tiny 1/32nd- or even 64th ounce jigs tipped with Berkley's tiniest creature baits (With a fly rod, you can get by nicely in most situations with one of Terry and Roxanne Wilson's Bully Spider pattern. Even I can tie it)
Pinch the barb of whatever you choose to use, just as you would for a trout, and don't be tempted by a conventional bobber and hook setup. (With a bobber between you and the fish, you'll be lucky to hook one in five.) Please practice catch and release for anything over 8 inches - most of that stuff you read about selective harvest was written for places with a larger gene pool.
FISHRANGLER, CO 9/20/2016 9:52:35 AM To add to the lesson it's 10 inches for master angler gills in Colorado not 9.5 I use a 13 foot Tenkara rod to target them. It's a evolution for me from using a crappie pole. You can get a bit more control IMO also lighter and faster then the crappie pole or traditional fly rod. I use a #12 beaded fly something that resembles a ant I guess? To catch them they do get picky, the fly makes it more challenging to figure out the cadence they are looking for. Don't know for sure the name of the beaded ant I use maybe you do? Gills are a great species to target tons of fun when you just want to catch something different. The colors on some are a pleasure to look at. I would rather chase giant gills then Trout anyday. Greenies are a bonus and the elusive but very fun to catch Sacramento perch.
panfishin, CO 9/20/2016 12:35:35 PM good write up as I do love chasing bluegills! Lots of solid info too. but there is absolutely nothing wrong with the classic set up of a worm and bobber setup. where people miss most of their fish is by letting a lot of slack get in their line while they are just sitting, waiting, and watching. Gills are aggressive and will often times just peck or swipe at your baits. You can fish the bobbers just as actively as you would fish most jigs and flies, keeping your line tighter and you will not miss nearly as many bites...not trying to set the hook like you are on the Elite Series will also help out :)
Bill Prater (fishthumpre), CO 9/20/2016 1:54:25 PM Good feedback. If you do use a worm and bobber, a long-shanked Aberdeen hook makes it easier to remove the hook without damage. The fishing club takes a lot of kids fishing, and the old hood and piece of worm are our usual technique of choice. Lot more satisfying to show them how to go over bigger ones, but with a crowd there's not much you can do. I've been wondering about the Tenkara, Fishrangler. I assume you can use one out of a float tube without too much hassle? Bill
jibber, CO 9/21/2016 8:40:30 AM Great article! Love them Bluegills! I especially liked the endorsement of the Bully spider. I have fished it many times and had little luck the spider. I will try it some more. Any particular color work the best? A #12 Brown Hackle Peacock works well for me or a tied down, deer hair bug on the surface.
Bill Prater (fishthumpre), CO 9/21/2016 1:56:53 PM On the Bully spider, Jibber, I favor bright yellow most of the time, including the legs and thread, and I think most tyers agree olive or black works too, particularly when the water's really clear. You can find good tying instructions on Youtube. The tricky bit is getting the lead tied in just right so the fly falls straight down in the water column. Twitching it or popping it along doesn't do much result for me. Other things work better for that. I'll have to try that Brown Hackle Peacock. Anyone else experiment with an Adjust-a-bubble tied off at the END of their line, with a couple nymph droppers in front of the bubble? A Midwest friend recommended that, fished very slowly, and I swear you do get more hits when the fish are scattered.
In this blog I explain a bit about my technique of scanning sonar in deeper water around a lake to find and mark congregations of gamefish and baitfish to improve chances of catching fish when casting shallower structure.