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Stan Fagerstrom

Stan Fagerstrom is a member of both the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame as well as the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame. Stan is also known internationally for his casting skills. Stan welcomes your e-mail comments at [email protected]

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June 30, 2015

Bluegills -- The Pride of the Panfish, Part 1

by Stan Fagerstrom

I cut my fishing teeth catching bluegill, crappie and perch.

There's nothing unusual about that. So have tens of thousands of other fishermen around this wondrous country. Most have likely gone on to concentrate on the larger species of sports fish. Even if they have, I'll bet most of them still retain a fond spot in their fishing memory book for panfish.

If they're like me, that's especially true when their thoughts get around to that scrappy little devil we call the bluegill. Ask an experienced panfish angler the following question sometime: "How do you rate bluegill when it comes to fun and fight?" Watch the eyes of the person to whom that question is directed. Chances are they'll light up like mine do whenever my thoughts turn to those scrappy little devils you find in the majority of lakes, ponds and puddles all over the United States.

You're missing a whle lot of fishing fun if you don't get aquainted with these little guys called bluegills. They are tough little buggers. If they got much bigger than they do they'd run the rest of the fish out of the lake! They're great in the frying pan too.

If another fish has provided more angling fun for millions of Americans, I don't know what it would be. I've never known a serious angler who didn't have a high regard for the pugnacious bluegill. If they were the same size, those little devils would run every bass out of the lake and eat carp three times a day.

Bluegill aren't big. You're never going to really enjoy fishing for them unless you scale down your tackle to match the size of the fish. I'll take a look in my next two columns at the basics of bluegill fishing. I've caught thousands of these good eating, hard fighting panfish over the past half century. I'll share some of the thoughts I've come by as a result.

You can, of course, catch bluegill on natural baits. Worms fished on a small hook beneath a light float catch bluegills wherever they are found. But it's my contention that natural bait isn't a necessity. It lowers the sport to its lowest common denominator. You can catch all the bluegill you want on small artificial lures. The two best ways to go about it are with a light spinning outfit or a fly rod.

Use your smallest plastic grubs or worms on a small jighead like those shown here. Don't select a jighead that has a hook that is larger than a number 10. The bluegill has a tiny mouth. They won't get hold of a grub hooked on a jighead with a large hook.

In this first column we'll consider only bluegill fishing with spinning tackle. Ultralight spinning gear is made to order for bluegill. Get a light action rod of 5 ½-feet to 6 ½-feet. Equip it with a lightweight open-faced spinning reel. Load the reel with 4-pound test line and you're ready to do business.

Let's consider finding bluegill before we get into how to catch them. If you know the lake you're on holds these wonderful little panfish, ease along the shoreline and watch for feeding activity. Bluegills sometimes give their location away by dimpling the surface as they feed. They make a distinctive little glurp as they take something off the top.

If you spot such activity, don't run over the feeding fish. Stay back 30-feet and cast into the area where the fish are. Bluegills aren't loners. They like company. All year long where you find one there will likely be others, often lots of them. Whenever you catch one, work the entire area carefully. Hit it right and you may wind up catching 50 fish or more without even moving your boat.

You won't find a better way to introduce your kids to fishing than to teach them about catching bluegills.

You won't catch those 50 fish without knowing what lures to pick and how to use them. The most effective small lures I've found for 'gills are miniature plastic curly-tailed worms used behind tiny leadhead jigs in the 1/16th-ounce to 1/32nd- ounce class. The one you'll need depends on the depth at which the fish are holding. If they are fairly deep, use the 1/16th- ounce head. If they are up near the top, switch to the 1/32nd-ounce head.

Whichever leadhead you select, check its hook size carefully. A number 10 hook is ideal for darn near all kinds of bluegill fishing. It's small enough to catch average or larger bluegill, but it's too big for those teensy little guys you don't want to mess with in the first place.

I like to carry at least three basic colors in miniature plastic worms I throw for bluegill: black, white and yellow. I've caught fish on other shades, but these three will usually get the job done. How you manipulate the worms is as important as the color you select. If one color doesn't get results, switch to something else. Let the fish tell you what they want.

As I've mentioned, once you've got a bluegill school pinned down, stay back and cast to it. Let your jig sink, then start a slow retrieve. Make little flips of the rod tip as you reel. The lake I lived on the shore of in southwest Washington State was loaded with bluegill. I don't how many thousand I caught there in five decades of fishing, but it was a bunch. I often fished with a barbless hook to save time and to make it easier to handle the little buggers.

Teensy plastic grubs like those pictured here are ideal for bluegill fishing. Use them on a lightweight spinning rod with 4 to 6-pound line.

One area I fished was elevated so I had opportunity to observe just how bluegill went about taking an artificial lure. I found what they often do is slide up behind the jig. They may follow along with their little blunt nose just a couple of inches behind until the lure. If the lure darts forward like it might be getting away---they grab it. Then they turn and take the lure going away. That's why I stress the importance of flipping your rod tip during the retrieve.

It's also important to not fish your tiny jig and worm too fast. If you're not getting hits up near the surface, let the jig sink and work it back as slowly as you can without hanging. The deeper bluegills are, the more difficult it is to detect strikes. Learn to be a line watcher. If you sense a difference in the feeling being transmitted up your line or if you see the slightest little twitch in your line where it enters the water---set the hook.

You shouldn't have difficulty finding miniature curly tailed plastic worm that are such super baits for bluegill. Stay with the really small sizes. If you're fortunate to get into some spot where the bluegill run big, and I've not found those places often, you may be able to go up in size a bit. Always remember that the bluegill has a very small mouth. Larger worms just won't get the job done.

Keep the size of the bluegill's mouth in mind when you select the miniature leadhead jigs you'll use with your tiny curly tailed worms. Even leadheads as light as 1/32nd-ounce won't work worth a toot if it comes with too large a hook. Again -- a Number 10 is ideal.

In my next column we'll take a look at fly fishing for bluegill.

June 01, 2015

Let's Look at Hooks - Part 2

by Stan Fagerstrom

The well-liked and respected man who gave American anglers their first look at Gamakatsu Hooks was the late Walt Hummel of Washington State.

Walt lived in Woodland, Washington. He was a tackle manufacturer's representative. At the time, I was writing newspaper fishing columns in Walt's area. That's why he gave me samples of the new hooks he was considering bringing to market. I wrote about this in my previous column here.

Jim Ewing, a Southwest Washington steelhead and salmon guide, was also involved in the testing of these brand new hooks. The hooks, of course, were those wondrous new Gamakatsu fish hooks designed by the Japanese.

Jim Ewing was guiding steelhead and salmon anglers on the rivers of Southwest Washington when he tested some new hooks a friend of his was thinking about bringing into the United States.

I've already written about how well these new hooks worked for bass and panfish. I asked my pal Jim how he felt about them for his salmon and steelhead angling. His experience using those hooks for those migratory tackle busters was the same as mine. He flat out loved them.

Jim had worked at an outdoor show in Seattle with Walt before the tackle rep was 100% sure about importing the new Gamakatsu hooks. Jim chuckles when he recalls what Hummel told him then.
"I remember he asked me to go to coffee with him while we were at that show." Jim says, "Walt had evidently decided to go ahead with bringing in the new hooks but he wasn't at all sure exactly how things would work out."

Jim says Walt told him that among other things he'd mortgaged his house and just about everything else to come up with the bucks to put the deal together. "He told me," Jim says, "that I'm going to wind up being a hero or a zero."

The hooks that both Jim Ewing and I had oportunity to test before they were marketed were the brand new Gamakatsu Hooks from Japan. These hooks have had a tremendous world wide impact on the hook market.

Based on my own experience, I would have myself bet some big bucks on how Walt Hummel's decision to make those hooks available in the USA would work out. It turns out my friend Jim Ewing felt exactly the same way.

"In the testing I'd done," Jim says, "I'd never found a bad Gamakatsu hook. I still haven't. That hadn't always been my experience. I was forever having to sharpen some of my other hooks; I'd also had some that turned out to be brittle and I'd actually had some of them bust on me."

"I'd just not experienced the quality and the quality control that came along with these new hooks. Like I said, in all the fishing I've done with them since I've never ever found a bad Gamakatsu hook."

It wouldn't be difficult, I expect, to find a whole bunch of anglers who'll tell you the same thing. This would be particularly true of old timers like myself who can easily recall some of the difficulties they sometimes had with their hooks before these new Japanese imports became were available.

You'll find a number of other darn good hooks on today's market, but as far as I'm concerned, it was the new Gamakatsu hooks that brought in what amounted to hook upgrades all over the place. I'm not aware that there were others of the same quality when Walt Hummel started bringing in his new Japanese imports.

Guide Jim Ewing washes off a bright new steelhead he has just taken from Southwest Washington's Cowlitz River.

I have some other reasons for feeling as I do about the changes the Gamakatsu folks brought about. Besides having had a chance to test their hooks before they ever made it to market, I've also had opportunity to suggest a couple of changes that have been added to their hook inventory.

One of those changes was adding a ringed eye to two models of their extra wide gap superline hooks. If you're into using braid along with your plastics, don't overlook these hooks. I suggested this style of hook to my friends at Gamakatsu after I'd lost a couple of the best bass I'd ever hooked at Mexico's Lake El Salto Lake.

The braided line I'd tied directly to my hook had pulled through that teensy gap left at the eye of the hook. Tying your hook to the rings now available on the special hooks that now have them eliminates that problem and at the same time make it possible. It also makes it a whole lot easier to give the plastic lures you're using with them a better variety of actions.
Do you remember the comment I made in last month's column about things taking on more importance when you have someone you love to share them with? Here, once again, my friend Jim Ewing steps back into picture.

I've always been up to my ears in bass and panfish fishing. Jim, after he got to Washington State, was only guiding for steelhead and salmon. Once we got into a detailed discussions of the new Gamakatsu Hooks and the revolutionary changes they'd started in that tackle field, it wasn't long before we started sharing a boat.

My friend Jim Ewing shared some techniques that helped me put my share of steelhead on the river bank. I think he'll tell you I also shared some bass and panfish catching tactics that have helped him in those angling endeavors.

I fished steelhead in his rig and he started joining me in my bass boat. I'm pretty handy with a bass rod or a spinning outfit but when it comes to things of a mechanical nature I've got about the same levels of talent as a billygoat. My wife says there's even a physical resemblance of sorts, but we won't go into that.

I do recall Jim's comment once when I couldn't figure out exactly how to get his big truck to drag his drift boat out of the Cowlitz while he was still on board. The truck had more buttons and knobs and on and off switches than a B-29. When I climbed back out of the cab to say I was sorry, but I was reluctant to drive it, I've never forgotten Jim's response. He said "It's okeh, Stan. I know you'd help me if I was crippled." Ouch!

Anyhow, Jim's mechanical abilities more than made up for those I didn't possess. He wound up towing my bass boat wherever we wanted it to go and opened a whole lot of fishing doors I'd not opened before. I think he'll tell you we had one helluva lot of good times together.

And those Gamakatsu hooks I've been talking about had a hand in our doing that, as well as helping us take the hundreds of fish we've managed to put into both his boat and mine.
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