During late summer and early fall many bass anglers are focused on migrating shad and for good reason. Shad begin moving into pockets and creek channels following phytoplankton and bass move with them gorging on the easy prey and oftentimes these feeding frenzies are visible to the angler leaving no doubt the bass are in the area.
This activity, which is often on the surface, makes for an easy target to present a topwater lure or one of many other options to entice the bass that are eating those schooling shad. This action tends to take your attention away from the silent feeding frenzy going on nearby which is big bass feeding on young of the year bluegills in the shallows. While smaller bass chase and explode on migrating shad big bass swim lazily along prowling the shallows for those thumb size bluegills that are just right for big largemouth bass. Now obviously there are exceptions to this rule which goes without saying in the angling world but listed below are a few tips and tactics for when big bass are focused on bluegills.
Where to find the bluegills
The most obvious place to search for young of the year bluegills are around known spawning areas. These bluegill spawning areas will of course be home to many young bluegills and bass know this but other anglers do too. The less obvious places might be the better choice when searching for unmolested largemouth that will more readily strike an artificial bait.
One of my favorite places is deep grass. Young bluegills will suspend above grass during late summer and early fall. The grass provides cover for both the bluegills and the bass. By September the young of the year bluegills have started to eat small insects and tiny crustaceans such as crayfish and will suspend above the grass to eat insects on top as well as the emerging larvae drifting up from below. Deep grass is always a great place to find bass but when the bluegills are around the action can be great, with aggressive strikes and many of them.
Rocks are another great place to find bluegills during late summer. Young bluegills will hunt around the rocks for small crayfish and the many other organisms that cling to them but they are taking a chance in doing so. Big bass lurk in the rocks searching for the same thing as the bluegills, an easy meal.
The lure that most resembles young of the year bluegills in my opinion has to be a jig. The jig is one of the most versatile lures you can throw and when the bluegill bite is on the jig is hands down my favorite bait. A jig can be swam above the bass which is important when the bass are looking up for their prey. Your jig must be presented above the bass in this situation or it will never be seen. This would be the case when the bluegills are suspended above the grass. The water might be 12 foot deep but you might have to swim your jig just a couple feet below the surface to get a strike. Always swim your jig erratically throughout the retrieve in order to imitate the erratic motions of a bluegill.
In the rocks the jig should be fished near the bottom. Remember your trying to simulate a young bluegill and not a shad. Bluegill swim differently than shad in that they swim a foot or two and stop on a dime while a shad swims more continuous unless harassed. Keeping this in mind you should keep your jig moving with brief hesitations. A great way to obtain this action is to pump your jig off the bottom pulling it off the bottom a few inches then letting it drop. This action resembles a bluegill darting from one location to another searching for food and will drive a bluegill eating bass crazy.
Many anglers prefer a crawfish type trailer and is a great trailer when swimming your jig but when using the pump stop retrieve I like to use a simple plastic worm as my trailer. The worm will cause your jig to swim more erratic when pumped up off the bottom while the crawfish trailer tends balance the jig more causing it to swim much more fluid and less erratic. Give it a try sometime. I have seen this erratic movement trigger strikes when a more fluid swim would not.
Tackle to use
While small bass will eat bluegills usually the bass are big and big tackle is needed to handle them. Medium heavy rod works great in the rocks. A little tip in the rod allows you to feel the rocks and maneuver through them without getting snagged, as often. Snags are inevitable but use them to your advantage and learn to pop your jig free. Many strikes come when the jig pops free and I have even had bass grab the jig while snagged and pull it free for me.
In the grass I prefer a heavy rod and braid even when I’m swimming a jig. The braid will cut through the grass and the heavy rod helps to keep the bass out of the grass below. A heavy rod will also help in getting good penetration into a big bass’ tough jaw. This is also why I tighten my drag as tight as it will go so it can’t slip on the hook-set.
As for reels I like a high speed reel for both rock and grass but especially in the rocks. When fishing grass you are usually in the open water but in the rocks you are usually casting up close to shore. When the bass strikes close to shore more times than not he is coming straight for you. Without a high speed reel you may never catch up to the bass and it will eventually figure out he has a fake bluegill or see your boat and drop the jig. The fast reel will allow you to regain all the slack in time and set the hook before this happens.