When my wife and I were first married, she wasn't very outdoorsy. She majored in wildlife management in college, but she hadn't had many good experiences in the wild. Her only memories of fishing, for example, were of long boring days sitting on a pond bank waiting for bites that never came. She didn't like the taste of fish or picking bones out of her teeth, so she wouldn't eat them.
I thought I could change my wife. We all know that violates the cardinal rule of marriage, but I had fond memories of fishing with my dad and my grandparents, and I wanted to create the same kind of memories for my new bride.
The first couple of years I couldn't get her to wet a line. Finally, when she was eight months pregnant with our first child, I asked her to let me take her fishing for Mother's Day. She's an "action-oriented," person, so we had to fish for something that would provide some action. The natural answer was bluegill. That may surprise some who consider bluegill as merely bait to catch something bigger, but the fact is you just can't beat bluegill for fun. They don't have sharp teeth, they're plentiful and, pound-for-pound, they are the scrappiest fighters alive. It is also pretty handy that Mother's Day occurs around the peak of the bluegill spawn.
For our trip, I chose a local state park where the bluegill are large and abundant. I bought my wife an ultra-light rod and reel, a handful of small bobbers and some ice fishing jigs. After digging enough earthworms to fill a can, we were in business.
Male bluegills build and guard nests in shallow water near stumps and logs. They strike at baits and other fish either because they are hungry or because they are defending their territory. This makes them easy to find and easy to catch. They frequently build nests in colonies, so where there's one, there's usually more. It didn't take us long to find such a spot.
I baited my wife's hook and pointed to a small stump about 10 yards away. With a flick of her wrist, the bobber and bait sailed out and smacked the water with a light "ker-plunk." The bobber disappeared almost immediately, but that fish got away. A bluegill has a delicate mouth, and a hard jerk will simply yank the bait away from it.
Her second cast plopped down right next to the stump, and the bobber vanished.
"Lift the tip of your rod and keep the line tight," I instructed.
The hefty, 8-inch male made the rod tip bob and bounce as the line weaved erratically in the clear water. "That's one," I said as I dropped the fish into her basket.
We still laugh about that day. She got so excited that she made me nervous. I thought she might go into labor right there in the boat. The story of "the pregnant lady" is still told around campfires at that state park.
When we got home, I prepared a Mother's Day feast fit for a queen. The entree was bluegill fillets, served with morel mushrooms and cornbread. Her first nibble was tentative.
"No bones, yet," she said cautiously. She hasn't found one to this day, and her first Mother's Day fishing trip has now become a family tradition. Last year, our three-year-old son caught his first fish on one of these trips, which made the day even more memorable.
If you'd like to start your own Mother's Day tradition, I'd suggest bluegill fishing. It's easy, exciting and inexpensive. Any fishing rod or cane pole will work, but an ultra-light rod-and-reel combo will coax every ounce of fight from these bantamweight brawlers. You also need a fishing license, several nickel-sized bobbers, ice fishing jigs (weighted hooks) and some earthworms. Nightcrawlers are usually too big unless you cut them in pieces, so stick with your garden variety earthworms. Ice fishing jigs eliminate the need for sinkers and help you avoid line tangles.
Set your bobber about a foot above the bait. After each cast, allow the bait to settle. Many strikes will come immediately, so be prepared. If you don't get a bite instantly, slowly retrieve the bait. If you don't get strikes, reset the bobber to hang the bait shallower or deeper, and then try again. You may have to work the shoreline until you find a bluegill bedding area. Where you find one bluegill, you usually find more.
Bluegill hang out around cover, so you may get hung up occasionally. Retrieve your tackle, if possible, without disturbing your fishing area. Sometimes it is best to break the line and continue fishing rather than disturb the area. You can retrieve your gear when you are ready to leave.
When you get a strike, don't try for a hard hookset. Bluegill typically run and set the hook for you. Just remember to keep your rod tip high and your line tight.
Overharvesting bluegill when they are most susceptible can ruin your favorite fishing hole. Keep only what you plan to eat and free the others to fight another day.
If you don't know where to go, check out a copy of "Fishing Prospects at Selected Missouri Lakes and Streams," available by writing Fishing Prospects, Missouri Department of Conservation, P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0180. You also can contact your local conservation agent or Missouri Department of Conservation office for information about fishing hot spots and local regulations.
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