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Stories from the River

Primetime Bluegills

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Soon the Madison Chain of Lakes, Crystal Lake, and Lake Wisconsin will be “prime” water for catching America’s favorite panfish, the hard-fighting and great tasting bluegill. “Water temperature is the key to catching spring bluegills”, said Madison tackle manufacture (Bait Rigs Tackle) and panfish expert, Joe Puccio of Cottage Grove, Wisconsin. Puccio, being one of the state’s top bluegill and panfish experts, also gives great seminars all over the Upper Midwest at outdoor shows and fishing clubs. While many anglers are now fishing walleyes, bass, and muskies on the area lakes, Puccio prefers to fish for bluegills and other panfish. This year, Joe started fishing for crappies at the end of March and has been fishing southern Wisconsin lakes since then.

There is a decent bite for bluegills on Crystal Lake and Lake Wisconsin in my area. Though the bluegills are a little smaller, the angler who uses the techniques that I’m writing about and use can still have a great time catching fish and then a good fish fry when they get home! These lakes are wonderful locations to take children too because they will catch fish and that’s all you want when taking youngsters fishing. The point is that there’s more room for boats on the Madison Chain and it’s a different water to fish that is still close to most anglers in southern Wisconsin. Again, try to fish during the week if possible, so you can have the lakes to yourself with less fishing pressure.

This week, the water temperature is pushing 60 degrees in the shallows of both Lake Waubesa and Lake Kegonsa. Bluegills will begin to spawn when the water temperature is in the mid 60’s and above. Cold fronts and water fluctuations can affect spawning and push the bluegills back to nearby deep water till the weather again warms and stabilizes. The male bluegill makes the spawning beds by fanning their tails on areas (sand and gravel bottoms) where the females come and deposit their eggs. Then, the male bluegills will guard the beds against any intruder or predator that might try to devour the eggs and or small fry. Most spawning beds are located in water that is 2 to 5 feet deep, but some fish will spawn deeper at times.

All that you need to catch bluegills is an ultra-light rod and reel and a few more items. Light monofilament line is very important and the old “standard” Berkley Trilene fits the bill. Joe suggests using the green color mono to match the algae stained water in most area waters and in 4 pound test line. The smaller diameter line can often make the difference on finicky fish. But now, the fish are active and aggressive, so an angler could get by with 6 pound test. Next, attach a small jig, like the Bait Rigs Cobra, in size #14, to your line. When fish are active, like now, about any color (purple, green, orange, and firetiger) seems to work.  Then, use a few micro-split shots and a small stealth bobber (Thill) to balance the rig. Set the bobber or float anywhere from 1 ½ feet to 2 ½ feet from the jig depending on the water’s depth where you’re fishing. Spikes, wax worms, and red worms have all been effective, but lately when the fish are aggressive you can use plastic or artificial bait. Gulp maggots in chartreuse have worked as well or better than live bait this past week. You could catch 5 or 6 fish on one piece of Gulp before you had to re-bait which was much easier than and not as messy as using live bait.

Another key to bluegill fishing is to approach likely fishing locations as quietly as possible and make long cast to the bedding fish. The last thing to do is to come into an area full-speed and expect not to spook and scatter the shallow water bluegills. Stop a good distance away and use your trolling motor to get within casting distance. A must is to wear polarized glasses which allow you to see the spawning beds and the fish. The rising temperatures have caused the weeds and algae to grow faster than normal making visibility and sight fishing much more difficult. As we get into June, this will do nothing but get worse.

Try to fish Lakes Monona, Waubesa, and Kegonsa as soon as possible to get in on some great bluegill fishing. Big Lake Mendota warms up last due its deep water and is a week or two behind the other “Chain” lakes in water temperature and bluegill spawning. If the weather stays warm and stable, Lake Mendota can turn-on quickly with slab size bluegills.

One last suggestion, don’t keep any or many female or “hen” bluegills. Leave these females alone and let them go spawn and reproduce again. You don’t have to catch a limit every time fishing to have had a good day on the water. Practice catch and release even with bluegills, so that the Madison lakes have bluegills for the next angler and future generations. Keep enough fish for a few meals, but not the whole year! Feel free to contact me and visit my website at and email me at  for good fishing information.

     Contact; Wally Banfi (608)-644-9823, or Ron Barefield at (608)-838-8756 for guiding on the area lakes.



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