SALT LAKE CITY — Throughout the United States, the vast majority of young fishermen begin their angling experience by catching bluegills. In Utah, these fish do not always get the same level of love as elsewhere, but they are still common in many of the Utah’s waterways.
The Utah angling record for bluegill is a 2 pound, 7 ounce fish caught from Mantua Reservoir in 1993. The catch and release record came from Pelican Lake in 2007 and was 11 5/8 inches long. Most bluegills are much smaller. In Utah, they probably average about 6 inches long and any bluegill that exceeds 9 inches is noteworthy.
Big bluegills are sometimes called “slabs” because of their round, flat bodies. Mantua and Pelican Lake are still some of the best places in Utah to catch slabs. Other waters that offer opportunities for bluegills are Utah Lake, Willard Bay, Pineview and Lake Powell. They are also found in almost any community fishery water in the state and in most warm water lakes that offer largemouth or smallmouth bass.
The reason so many fishermen start with bluegills is because of their aggressive nature. Drop a worm, fly or other bait in front of a bluegill and there is a high likelihood that the fish will try to eat it. For their size, bluegills are also strong fighters. They use their broad silhouettes to their advantage once hooked and can give an impressive tussle on light tackle.
Bluegills are prolific. They usually start spawning in late May or early June, but the spawn continues for much of the summer. That brings the bigger fish into shallower, open water away from the weed beds where they like to hang out. That makes them more vulnerable to anglers.
One key to success when targeting bluegills is to keep hooks and bait small. Even big bluegills have small mouths and a big hook or bobber can easily spook them. According to premier-fishing-tips.com, “
When bluegill fishing, it's best to use 4 pound test line in most situations. Bluegills have incredible eyesight and can see fishing line. Big bluegill aren't dumb like the little ones; they reject baits that seem suspicious. Big bluegills got big by being cautious and smart and they prefer to stay alive.”
Spawning bluegills in shallow water are particularly susceptible to fly fishing. Top water flies that resemble terrestrial insects like ants or grasshoppers are good choices. Small poppers or foam bugs with rubber legs will also draw aggressive strikes.
Perhaps the best year-round technique for bluegill success is simply to hang a small piece of worm about two feet below a small bobber. A size-10 hook is good and the bobber should be half or three-quarter inch. As mentioned above, big bluegills can be suspicious.
In clear water, it is sometimes possible to see numerous bluegills surrounding a suspended bait without biting. In those instances, moving the bait slightly is often enough to entice one of the watching fish to strike.
One more reason for the popularity of bluegills is their table quality. A fillet from even a big bluegill will provide only three or four small bites, but the effort is worth it. For delectability, bluegills rank close to walleye or perch.
The statewide daily limit on bluegills in Utah is 50, but anglers should check the current fishing guide for regulations on specific waters.
Flint Stephens has a master's degree in communications from Brigham Young University. He is author of "Mormon Parenting Secrets: Time-Tested Methods for Raising Exceptional Children." His blog is mormonparentingsecrets.com.