Giving the bluegill credit before Independence Day: A just due


Mike McClelland made me laugh when I asked if he agreed with the bluegill as Illinois’ state fish.

“I will certainly have to say I agree with bluegill as the state fish, I remember voting for it when I was in my youth!,’’ emailed McClelland, Illinois’ fisheries chief.

Bluegill was selected by school children and became Illinois’ state fish in 1986, a smart move.

Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus), ounce for ounce, are one of the best fighting freshwater fish. They are active feeders, meaning they will bite. And, as McCllelland noted, “We could probably find a good bluegill lake or pond in close proximity throughout the state.’’

That’s useful truth when it comes to a holiday week around Independence Day. Families will be picnicking and casting at lakes and ponds. Bluegill will be kings and queens.

There’s another good reason for bluegill being a favorite, as outlined by McClelland, “I’ve never caught a bluegill over 9 or 10 inches, I’ve caught several in that range. I do remember fishing for bluegill and redear with my grandpa when I was little, then bringing a mess back and being taught how to fillet fish by my grandmother – that’s one of my favorite memories.’’

In our area, a thick 8-inch bluegill is a good catch; a 9-incher special and a 10-incher a near trophy. If you have a pond or lake that produces bluegill of that quality, enjoy something special.

If taking kids fishing during the holiday week, I think the weed growth will be strong enough that it is best to target the weed pockets first, then either inner or outer weed lines. If the bite is easy, about anything will work under a small float (too big of floats or bobbers are the most common mistake in fishing bluegills) with red worms, wax worms, spikes, earthworms, jigs, flies or beetle spins. If the bite is tough, downsize to a tungsten ice jig with a single spike.

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My favorite public sites for bluegill are the east bank of LaSalle Lake and the 200-plus lakes of Mazonia State Fish and Wildlife Area.

The Illinois record for bluegill (3 pounds, 8 ounces) has stood since May 10, 1987 when Darren May caught it from a farm pond in Jasper County.

Most of us are not going to see a bluegill even remotely close to that.

I caught my first 11-inch bluegill as a kid at church camp. I was disappointed when it wasn’t a big largemouth bass. Then I didn’t see a bluegill that size until 45 years later while ice fishing at Giant Goose Ranch near Canton with Bruce and Bobby Bergren, and on-holiday Capt. Ralph Steiger.

IN MEMORY: Howard Bass described Croslene Kettle as “one of the city’s finest people and among the greatest shore fisherman. He pulled incredible fish from that pier.’’ Kettle died last week while swimming near Pratt Pier.

“It was his ritual to take a swim while fishing,’’ Bass emailed.

WILD THINGS: Most years, Steve Statland and I go back-and-forth on the first firefly. He emailed that he saw his first fireflies last week. This year, we beat him by a few days when my wife spotted the first while puttering in her garden. . . . Blackberries, raspberries and mulberries are all ripe for the eating, a thought if rambling around during the holidays.

STRAY CAST: I can’t shake the feeling that Craig Kimbrel on the mound looks like a grouse hen on a mountain road in early spring.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>