I guess the best place to start these articles is “in the beginning”. Once upon a time when we all started our fishing careers, it probably was fishing for bluegill. It didn’t matter if our first pole was a cane pole, a spinning rod or a fly rod the target was bream, oops! I mean bluegill. OK, let’s get this out of the way right now. I’m a Yankee living in the south. A damn Yankee at that because I like it here so much that I won’t leave so give me a break if a little southern influence comes out and I switch between bluegill and bream sometimes, all right? Anyway the “B” fish were numerous and easy to catch back then…at least in the spring.
But we all have a fond spot in our hearts for these feisty little fighters. Who among us wouldn’t trade a day away to feel the pulsing of a light rod as a bull bream pulled deep circles against your best effort to get him off the bottom? Then have the thrill of repeating that feeling over and over throughout the day. Of course we all would. But it isn’t spring and even the second spawn in the summer has past, how could we still catch big bluegill?
I’m glad you asked because I know just how to do this. I’ll admit that I’m a bluegill addict. I don’t care what I’m fishing for, if big bream start biting, I’m all in! Sometime early in my addiction I developed a fly and a system that effectively catches bluegill, big ones, all year long. I call it the Wee Willy Wiggler and the Depth Regulating System. Or float and fly fishing for short. Little has changed since I caught my first bream sometime in the last century. A bait under a bobber just kills bream. But how and where you fish it makes a difference.
Gone are the slimy night crawlers, gooey wax worms and even the pieces of hot dogs. These have been replaced with an only slightly more sophisticated type of bait, the Wee Willy Wiggler. These are small, brightly colored (for the most part) worm bodied jig flies. Almost a gummy bear on a hook, I guess. But they have everything to attract a bull bream into biting. First they’re small and bite size as even a big bull has a small mouth.
Second, they sink relatively slowly giving them a good chance to see them, plus they’re colorful and attract attention. How fish perceive these colors and how we do is not necessarily the same, especially in low light or dirty water. Either way bream are a curious beast and lucky for us they don’t have fingers. If they want to test something to see what it is they have to bite it. Then the softness of the plastic body keeps them holding on long enough for us to detect a strike and set the hook. What they could think the flies are ranges from nymphs, blood worms, grass shrimp or plankton to small bait fish or fry. But basically Wee Willy Wigglers draw attention to themselves as something small, edible and helpless, the trifecta in bream baits.
As important as the fly is, the where and how you fish it means even more. Wee Willy Wigglers can be cast and stripped much like a streamer or nymph but I find them much more effective when fished under an indicator, or as I prefer to say, a depth regulator. Aiding in the detection of a strike is a bonus feature for as far as I’m concerned. The corks main purpose is to keep the fly at a specific depth or place for the longest duration possible without hanging up or leaving the strike zone. A cast fly sinks when you stop stripping and will hang up on the bottom unless you continue to strip the fly and then it leaves the strike zone quickly giving the fish only a brief moment to decide to eat it or not. (Which at times can be a trigger for more aggressive fish. That is another story for another day!) Where as a fly suspended under an indicator maintains a controlled depth and will stay in one spot almost indefinitely thus giving the fish a long time to make up his mind to eat it or to just get curious or fed up with the fly and bite it. Remember, bluegills are not an ambush feeder like top line predators, they’re more like grazers. They just slowly wander about seeing what type of food is just floating around for them to eat. So the longer you can keep the fly in front of them, the better chance you have that they will eat it. As the Wee Willie Wiggler hangs horizontal and looking natural under an indicator, any wind and wave action will add just enough life to the fly to make it seem alive without you doing a thing.
Places to find bigger bluegill starts with deeper water. See I didn’t say deep water but rather the relative term deeper. By deeper I mean deeper than where the little guys are to start. Bluegill typically school by size so if you find a grass flat or weed bed full of small bream in say, in four feet of water you’re close. Small fish and large fish are both looking for the same thing, food and security. Just the bigger you are the more water you need to feel secure. Now start looking for the outer edges of the surface weeds or bottom grass you found the little guys in (you can sometimes visually see weed edges but electronics really help). This usually indicates the end of light penetration or the change in bottom composition. Sometimes deeper is just a depression on that weed flat the little fish are roaming on. The weeds all look the same on the surface but there is a pot hole on the flat that may be just a foot or two deeper. Bigger fish will gravitate towards this. So now you’re getting closer. Add a change in direction in the weed growth. An inside or outside bend in the weeds and you’re really onto something. If you can find this with a log, stump, rock, a dock or other obstruction on it, you’ve hit the jack pot. Put all of this in close proximity to actual deep water and you’re probably sitting on the biggest bluegills in the lake. Remember, the weed edge/bottom transition/cover does not have to be in “deep” water itself, just close to it to be the home of the big boys. They always want to have a quick exit if needed. I guess you could say that the bruisers tend to sit in the back row of the theater. Deep is relative to a lake and or area. In a shallow lake or pond, a two foot drop is huge! Really deep might only be eight feet in some lakes. In truly deep and clear lakes, look for coves with a dirty water creek inflow, heavy cover or fish the windy side of the lake to help draw the fish shallower into more comfortable fly fishing range.
To fish these spots, tie on your Wee Willy Wiggler under a half inch diameter indicator. For me, the starting depth is usually two-thirds the depth of the water (unless I’m trying to suspend over some underwater obstruction that rises off the true bottom. Then set the indicator as near the obstruction without getting hung up). Six feet of water means a four foot leader setting, twelve foot of water means setting the indicator at eight foot and so on. The bigger fish tend to hold lower in the water column. Shellcrackers tend to be right on the bottom so adjust for them. For open water suspended fish, set the indicator for a foot above them. Bream tend to be looking up when not directly on the bottom. I fish this technique down to about fifteen foot. This is a “starting depth” as insect activity or rising plankton later in the day could bring the fish shallower, a cold front or blood worms (midge larva) could put them on the bottom. Play around with depth more than color. Change colors when you’ve been on fish and they suddenly stop hitting or start “nibbling”.
Cast your rig into “the promised land” and wait. Let the fly sink fully under the indicator and just hang there awhile. The Wee Willy Wiggler with suspend horizontally and bob in the current looking alive and vulnerable while you’re doing nothing. Wait maybe ten seconds (sometimes less, sometimes up to a full minute in cold water) before giving the rig a six to twelve inch strip. Repeat this until you believe your fly is out of the strike zone then recast. If you notice that you’re getting most of your strikes before the fly sinks all the way down, you may have your indicator set too deep. If you’re not getting hits, try a little deep before moving to a new spot.
Well, that’s it. I told you its’ simple, bobber fishing minus the messy bait. Yes it’s my fly pattern and I’m partial to it and I sell them but that doesn’t change the fact that they work and well. Also, don’t be surprised with what other species of fish you may end up with while targeting bream with “Wigglers”. Give them a try and I’ll bet you’ll become addicted to this type of fishing too.