Follow the bluegill

Jonathan H. Milo
Shad and crawfish aren’t the only forage magnets for bass. Learn the habits of these panfish and you’ll crack the code for catching Bluegill some of the biggest bass in your lake this summer.

The Bassmasters TV co-host Mark Zona idled to a familiar dropoff on a southern Michigan lake, dropped the trolling motor and reached for his drop shot rig as he normally does when we share a boat.

I grabbed a jig rod — equally predictable for me on a hot, humid summer day — and pitched to the grassy edges.

Zona stared intently at his Humminbird screen while he jiggled his worm along the deep side of the break.

“We’ve got to find the bluegill,” he mutters. “If we do, and they’re on the bottom, good things will happen.”

He eased the boat away from the dropoff, and the depth plummeted to 25 feet. Blobs of bait appeared on the screen, and he began to smile.

“Time to toss the football,” he said. “Tie one of these on.”

What happened over the next two hours opened my eyes to an entirely new world of fishing on upper Midwest natural lakes.

“All I ever read in magazines growing up was ‘you have to follow the bait,’ but it was always in reference to shad — but we don’t have shad in many of our lakes,” he explains. “And after I started seeing bluegill tails sticking out of the gullets of big bass, I decided to start snooping around those big schools of panfish.”

The pattern idea was also fueled by his recollection of younger days spent fishing for bluegill with his dad during the hot summer months.

“After we’d catch a few bluegill, I’d pick up a bass rod and start casting around the area and catch bass,” Zona recalls. “Those experiences led me to believe that there was something going on out there that most anglers overlook.”

While the larger Great Lakes have a variety of forage, bluegill are the bass’ primary food source in most inland lakes.