A few years ago, I watched a teenage boy and his mother fish from a pontoon boat anchored not far from my dock.
It was a steamy, July day in southwest Michigan and the bluegill were bedding heavily along my shore. The boy and his mother were snatching the plump panfish off nests as fast as they could cast.
Suddenly, the young man pointed beneath my dock.
"Look at that big bass!" he hollered while reaching for a bass rod he had rigged with a jig.
He pitched his lure along the dock, and as he began to swim it, the 5-pound largemouth darted from the shadows and engulfed it.
It was remarkable, given the fact that I had been standing on the dock and the three of us had been talking for a good 10 minutes. The water was less than 2 feet deep and ultra clear, yet neither the presence of the pontoon boat nor our talking appeared to diminish the bass' desire to eat that jig.
I shrugged it off as one of those fluky things we've all encountered on the water.
Not so, says Bassmaster Elite Series angler Jason Quinn.
The bass was there to feed on bluegill, he says, and what I witnessed has become one of those "niche" patterns that can be highly productive, yet often overlooked.
"Let me tell you what happened to me at the 2006 Bassmaster American on Lake Wylie," he says.
It was the last week of July and hotter than all blazes, Quinn recalls. He was catching several quality bass on deep, offshore structure during practice and into the first day of competition.
And then the pattern began to fizzle.
"Things weren't going as well the morning of the second day," he says. "I was throwing the same crankbait that I had been catching them on all week, but nothing was happening."
Like most pros do when good patterns begin to deteriorate, Quinn looked around for clues as to what might have changed.
"As I scanned a nearby shoreline, I saw a swirl next to the bank where a bass had just run a bluegill out of the water," Quinn explains. "That got my curiosity up, so I went over to investigate."
What he found were bluegill beds scattered along the shore and several quality bass skirting the edges.
"I have seen bass around bluegill beds before, but never that late," he describes. "That clued me in to this unique bluegill pattern that most people overlook."
Some of the bass were cruising the shoreline while others were hunkered on bluegill beds. Seeing a big bass locked onto an apparent bed could lead one to believe the bass were spawning among the bluegill, but that wasn't the case at Wylie.
Those bass were there to feed, not spawn.
"I've heard guys insist that they have caught bedding bass in July," Quinn offers. "Some bass may spawn late, but not that late in the South. After seeing what I saw at Wylie, I know those fish are sitting there waiting for a bluegill to get out of line."
Bass will take a bedding bluegill, he notes, but most are there to feed on the smaller, immature bluegill that raid nesting areas to feast on the eggs of the larger 'gill.
The bass are there to capitalize.
"It's almost like the bass are seeking revenge for when the bluegill were stealing their eggs earlier in the season," Quinn jokes.
When those smaller fish dart in to grab the eggs, the bedding bluegill runs them off and that gets the bass excited, triggering a feeding frenzy.
There are times, however, when the bass seem uninterested and uncatchable in one area but are more aggressive in another.
For example, Quinn couldn't get the Wylie bass to bite in the bluegill bedding area where he first discovered them, but he knew enough to run other pockets in search of more bedding bluegill.
It paid off.
"I got a quick limit, and that put me in the Top 12," he says. "The next day, I went back to the offshore stuff because I had been catching bigger fish there."
Again, it wasn't happening, so he returned to the shoreline bluegill pattern and caught enough fish to make the final cut.
TECHNIQUES TO TRY
Quinn caught most of his fish at Wylie on a homemade topwater that had front and back propellers, but says many of today's swimbaits that look like bluegill are equally deadly.
"I like the double-prop topwater because it creates a commotion and looks like an injured bluegill," he explains. "The bass can't resist that."
When he spots a bass on a bed, he fires the topwater nearby and twitches it over the fish's head. He'll let it sit momentarily, then twitch it again.
"That will get them most of the time," he insists.
If not, he'll cast a 4- or 5-inch bluegill colored Storm swimbait, wind it over the bedding area and allow it to fall into a bed periodically, imitating an egg-stealing bluegill.
"For those days when the fish are really shallow, I use a shallow running swimbait that looks very real and wakes the surface just like a fleeing bluegill," he adds.
He says worms, jigs and slow falling stickworms will work, especially on smaller bass.
"But if there are bigger fish in the area, the topwater and the swimbait do a better job of triggering a reaction strike," he describes. "And if you can get one of them to bite, it turns on all of the other bass hanging around."
The key to lure selection is to choose lures with actions that best imitate scurrying bluegill. In clear water, color is critical; lures with bluish or greenish hues in them, or an orange belly, will draw the most interest.
Quinn says his best catches of bass around bluegill beds come late in the day when a lot of other patterns are slowing down. Oddly enough, the early morning/late evening periods are slower.
The South Carolina pro also recommends anglers make long casts and not alert the bass of their presence.
"You've got to be sneaky to avoid spooking them," he explains. "But if you do, let the spot rest and come back and fish it later. What's cool about this pattern is the bluegill are bedding for several days and the bass will hang around a long time. It's one of the coolest patterns I've ever seen."
Bluegill will bed throughout the year and multiple times on some lakes. You may find them as early as March or April on far southern lakes, but May and June tend to be the peak time on most lakes nationwide.
Bluegill make large, bowl-shaped beds similar to those of their cousin largemouth bass.
They also use the same type of shallow areas, preferring firm or sandy bottoms. You'll find them around shallow docks, lily pad roots or logs.
And whereas bass will bed loosely, bluegill will bed side-by-side.
"The bottom can look like there's a bunch of tires lying around," describes Elite angler Jason Quinn.