Bluegill are the first kiss for most fishermen.
There’s no way to confirm it, but I’ll bet more fishermen got their start catching bluegill than any other species. That got them hooked — no pun intended — and in ensuing years they worked their way up to bigger stuff.
But you never forget your first love, and there’ll always be a special place in the heart for the scrappy little fish with the distinctive dark-blue gill flap.
There are two reasons why bluegill are a great “starter” fish. They are abundant, found in every farm pond, lake and stream — and they are easy to catch. No expensive tackle is required. A cane pole and a can of worms will do it. Later on, nothing is more fun than catching bluegill on light spinning tackle or a fly rod.
This is prime time for bluegill, when they move into the warming shallows for spawning. Some say a full moon brings them out.
Bluegill, also known as bream and brim, aren’t big. The state record is three pounds — a whopper, considering bluegill seldom grow over half a pound. Two are tied for the record: one caught in a Bledsoe County farm pond in 1987 and the other at Fall Creek Falls State Park in 1997.
The most famous bluegill fishery is Reelfoot Lake in the northwest corner of the state. Every spring fisherman from several states converges on the swampy, scenic natural lake specifically to fish for bluegill. Catches of 100 a day are common.
Closer to home, Percy Priest Lake and Old Hickory Lake are brimming with bream. They’re plentiful, but they tend to be undersized, nothing on the scale of the big Reelfoot bluegill. Center Hill Lake reportedly has some big bluegill lurking in the deep water, but I’ve failed to find them on several trips.
Even if bluegill aren’t big, they’re fun to catch and great to eat, although tedious to clean. There is no size limit or creel limit. Catch all you want.
No special skills or tackle are required, which make bluegill great for youngsters. Bait a hook with a pinch of worm or a cricket, cast it out three or four feet beneath a bobber and wait for it to go under.
Most kids starting out just want to catch some fish — any fish, any size — and bluegill are cooperative.
Meanwhile, veteran anglers also like to pursue bluegill, as witnessed by the droves who make the annual spring pilgrimage to Reelfoot. They spend considerable cash on travel and lodging and sometimes even guides to catch the hand-sized pan fish.
It’s not about the size of the fish; it’s about the fun of fishing.