Friday, September 16, 2016

Today's Fishing Lesson

As something of a local legend, I am often asked, “Bill, why are you arguably known as the Loveland Fishing Club’s finest bluegill angler?”

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. 

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