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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.

January 30, 2015

An Expert Picks His Products - Part 4

by Stan Fagerstrom

Allan Ranson's third lure choice is probably going to surprise you as much as it did me.

If you've read my past three columns you know they've been devoted to sharing certain thoughts of one of the country's top experts on bass fishing and the building of the baits that catch ‘em.

That man, Allan Ranson, is one of the top executives of the Strike King Lure Company. Strike King needs no introduction to knowledgeable bass anglers. For years the company has been producing some of the most consistently productive baits you can hang on a rod.

I got Ranson to agree to name the three lures his company markets that he'd select if they were the only ones he could use on his own next three fishing trips. One of the reasons I asked Ranson that question wasn't just because he's been up to his butt in the business of building baits for decades. My primary reason for seeking his response is I knew he was just as deeply involved as a bass angler himself as he is in bringing to market the baits that help you, me---and him---put more bass in the boat.


Few men in this business of fishing have a broader knowledge of lures today's bass anglers are throwing that the man you see here. He's Allan Ranson, a top executive of the Strike King Lure Company and for decades an ardent bass angler himself.

In my last two columns I've named the first two lures Allan selected. Both were specially made Strike King worms. One was the Super Finesse Worm; the second was another type of worm called the Zero. I've also detailed why this Strike King executive named these lures as well as telling you how he uses them.

But like I've indicated, it was his third choice that threw me for a couple of loops. It has been out there but I'd never heard of it. My guess is you might not have either. Something else Ranson had to say indicates I might be right on both counts.

The hard bodied bait he named as his third choice is the Strike King Wake Shad. The lure is a specially designed top water version of the jointed King Shad. Like I said, I didn't know it existed.


The lure you're eyeballing in this picture is a Strike King Wake Shad. Allan Ranson will tell you few lures turn bass on like this ones will do when conditions are right. He maintains it's the next best thing to dynamite when the water is quiet and bass as well as some other species of sports fish spot the interesting wake this lure is leaving on the surface. There are times when those fish seemingly can't resist taking a whack at whatever it is up there that's doing it.

But though I hadn't heard about this specific lure, when Allan detailed for me exactly what this lure is designed to do it kicked my bass fishing memory in the rear big time. Allan's third and final third lure selection reminds me, you see, of one of my own first bass fishing experiences.

It was way back when I was in my early teens and just getting into bass fishing. I lived in the city of Longview, Washington at the time. Longview is located in the southwest portion of the Evergreen State and borders the Columbia River.

One of the kids I went to school with was from Alabama. His dad and his dad's brother were experienced bass fishermen. My classmate asked if I'd like to go along when he and his dad and his dad's brother went to one of the nearby log ponds to do some bass fishing. These ponds were backwaters of the Columbia River and used by local lumber mills for log storage. At the time these ponds contained an abundant population of both bass and panfish.

I was brand new to the Pacific Northwest having just arrived there a year or so before from North Dakota. I didn't know beans about bass fishing but I'd been reading every darn thing I could find about it. I was really interested in how my friend's father and his brother would go about trying to catch a few.

The first lure they both used when we reached the log pond was one called a Heddon Basser. They threw this lure out to the edge of the log pond shoreline and then left it alone for a few seconds before twitching it around a bit. Keep the name of this lure in mind because I'll be mentioning it again.


This picture clearly shows the fish-attracting wake the Strike King Wake Shad leaves on quiet water. That's what it's designed to do and you can still keep your rod in position to set the hook when a fish grabs it.


This is a close up of Strike King's Wake Shad. These interesting and effective lures are presently still available in a variety of different surface shades. This one is a gizzard shad.


It was what the two men did a little later that really got my attention. The water in the log pond as late evening came was completely quiet and flat. Long shadows were moving out from the western side of the pond's shoreline.

The two men changed lures. What they did with these lures was to cast them way out into the pond and just leave their lures alone until all of the disturbance of their splashing down had gone away. Then they started reeling them back ever so slowly. Their lures were just barely wiggling as they started back but that movement was sufficient to leave "V" shaped wakes behind them on the pond's quiet surface.

The lure my friend's father was using was about halfway back to the bank when---Wham! The bass that had smashed it turned out to be just a tad less than 4-pounds. That fish branded a memory into my brain that's every darn bit as clear today as it was all those years ago.

I made sure to find out the name of those wake-leaving lures those men were both throwing. Both turned out to be those called Heddon Vamp Spooks. You won't find either the Heddon Basser or the Heddon Vamp Spooks being marketed today.

There's a reason, of course, why I've shared these memories. Even as new to bass fishing as I was at the time I knew it had to be the wake those large Heddon lures were making that had gotten the attention of the pond's bass.

Just listen to what Allan Ranson has to say about why the new Wake Shad was developed by Strike King. "Using a wake creating lure," Allan says, "is a neat technique used most often during the post spawn period on deeper lakes around the country. On a calm day the wake the lure leaves spreads out on a lake's surface and can attract bass from a long way off.

"The problem with lures used for this purpose in the past was that they had to be reeled excruciatingly slow while holding your rod tip up to keep them from diving and losing the fish attracting wake. We designed the Wake Shad for the angler to be able to do this at faster speeds without having to hold his rod tip up and not getting a good hook set as a result."

See why I shared that little bit of my own memory of my early day bass fishing? I saw exactly what Allan Ranson is talking about actually happen. I've used a technique similar to what I'd witnessed so long ago off and on down through the years. I've not used it often because as Allan says the lures I tried to do it with were usually next to impossible to get to perform in a fashion that would give me exactly the results I was after.

Now I'll be danged if Strike King hasn't come up with a lure especially designed to get that job done. Let me also share a couple of Allan's other comments in this regard. "Stan," he told me, "my own use of this lure has caused me to fall in love with it. I've learned there are times when the fish simply go wild over it. I've seen largemouth, smallmouth and hybrid stripers go absolutely crazy over it and this was after they wouldn't hit other topwater baits fished in a normal fashion. I've found it is also great sometimes to fish it fast like a buzzbait over flooded grass and other cover."

It's another statement Allan also made that brought about some action on my part. You may recall that I mentioned this in an earlier column. I don't care how good a lure might be in the hands of someone who knows how to use it, the company marketing it won't continue to do so unless it sells. I've had to deal with this myself more than once in my own bass fishing lifetime. Listen to what Allan Ranson has to say about this.

"Our Wake Shad has not been discovered by bass fishermen and our sales of it are so low we may have to drop it, but that would crush my heart! It's too bad so few guys know about it and the ones that do are trying so hard to keep it a secret. Rest assured that if we do have to discontinue making it I will have plenty for my own use before it happens."

Remember that Heddon Basser I saw in action for the first time all those years ago at the long pond? When I lived on the actual shoreline of Washington State's best bass lake for 35 years a Heddon Basser in a perch finish was the most effective lure I owned. It had to be fished just right, of course, but once you learned how to do that it was tough to beat.

But what did the Heddon Company which brought that lure to market do? They dropped it! I couldn't wait to find out just why in the hell a company would quit making the best bait I had in my tackle box. My longtime friend, the late Homer Circle, was handling public relations for Heddon at the time. The answer he provided was simple and to the point: "It's just not selling well. We drop those lures that don't."

As I've already mentioned a couple of times in previous columns Allan Ranson is my friend. I know what he stands for and I'm aware of the integrity and experience he has brought into the building of bass baits. He tells it like it is. Strike King may one day have to drop their new Wake Shad. Like Allan says he's going to have a few in event that does have to happen. So will I. As a matter of fact, I already have.

If you fail to do the same it won't be because I've not told you about what might happen. And if you know Allan Ranson as I do you won't waste any time getting a couple for yourself.



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