When June rolls around on the piscatorial calendar of Texas, most bass anglers will head offshore.
After all, that’s where a good number of sizable reservoir bass will go, migrating to deep water structure where they’ll hang out for a few months, ambushing schools of shad when the opportunity presents itself.
But not every largemouth will go deep in the summertime, and even those that do will occasionally come back into the skinny stuff, often looking to give a little payback.
Payback to the season’s spawning bluegills, which are once again making saucer-shaped beds in the shallows of many Texas lakes as the June moon goes full. And where spawning bluegills happen to be in a water body, a hungry bass isn’t usually too far behind.
“Sunfish species make up a pretty good portion of the largemouth bass diet, and bluegills perhaps more so than any other type of sunfish because of how abundant they (bluegills) are,” said Dan Bennett, head man of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Lake Texoma Fisheries Station. “That’s particularly true on smaller bodies of water that might not have the shad population numbers that are found on some of our bigger lakes. When the sunfish are on the beds like they are now, it can be a good opportunity for a hungry bass to take some of those (for sure).”
What about on waters where both bluegills and threadfin shad are plentiful?
“I know calorically speaking, a shad is going to have a higher fat content and give more energy than a bluegill of the same size will,” said Bennett. “But largemouths are opportunistic, and like other predatory species that like to ambush, they are not going to turn down a bluegill when they’re hungry and get a chance to take one.”
That includes a variety of sizes of bluegills and other local sunfish species like green sunfish, redears (shellcrackers) and longear sunfish.
“That all depends somewhat on the size of the bass we’re talking about, but in general, until they get into that eight-inch range and beyond, when it becomes harder for a typical three or four-pound bass to swallow a sunfish, most of the sunfish population is fair game,” said Bennett. “And since the lion’s share of our local bluegill population is typically less than eight-inches in length, there aren’t many sunfish around that are too big for a solid size bass to eat.”
Bluegills are such a key component in the establishment of successful largemouth bass populations that Bennett and his Inland Fisheries crew have already pre-stocked some bream at sites that will be flooded when the dam is closed on the new Bois d’Arc Lake construction that continues in northeastern Fannin County. While threadfin and gizzard shad will be a big part of the success of that future 16,000+ acre bass fishery, bluegills will certainly help that population gain a foothold and take off.
In fact, bluegills might be one of the most important factors in any bass water, from the brand new ones to the old ones that seem to keep going and going. In the most recent issue of Lone Star Outdoor News (June 14, 2019), one of Bennett’s old supervisors, TPWD biologist Rick Ott, was quoted in a story by Nate Skinner as saying that bluegill fry are very important at this time of year to growing juvenile bass.
You know, juvenile bass who hatched only a few weeks ago themselves, and then had to avoid being preyed upon by nest raiding bluegills.
But that was then and this is now, a season when the tables have been turned a bit.
In fact, so much so that Ott said in that mentioned story that bluegills and their fry are so important that: “Most of our bass populations would not make it without the bluegill spawn.”
That statement in the current LSON issue – a great publication, by the way - kind of surprised me. But when I asked Bennett for his thoughts on that idea, he agreed.
“The bass-to-bluegill connection is really important,” said Bennett. “One way to see that is how we stock new ponds, with both bluegills and largemouth bass. The bluegill is very important to bass in terms of the growth and survival of young of the year bass. They are a very important food resource for those young bass, and really, for all age classes of bass.”
If you’re convinced that bluegills – even in the early summer months – play a key role in terms of a water body’s bass fishing opportunities, how can you use this knowledge to your fishing advantage?
First, throw baits that mimic bluegills – a swimbait, a spinnerbait, a squarebill or shallow running crankbait, a topwater popper, or even something like Strike King’s Popping Perch can all work. And obviously, it helps to have those lures in bluegill colors.
For my friend Kelly Jordon, winner of the Major League Fishing Challenge Cup on Lake Ray Roberts a few years back and a member of MLF’s new Bass Pro Tour, his Lucky Craft Kelly J prop bait is a tough choice to beat.
“It just sits right in the water and the bass can really see it,” said KJ, who lives in Flint, Texas and was a guide back in the 1990s and early 2000s on Lake Fork. “Those props on the bait make some pretty good noise as they turn. On the retrieve, you just pull it in, then stop and let it sit for a brief second or two. Then you pull it just hard enough to throw some spray before letting it sit again. And when those blades start to turn just a little bit more, bass will often come unglued.”
Jordon likes the Ghost Bluegill pattern the best, although he says just about any bluegill hued pattern with some orange in it will work, even into the early summertime.
“When the bass are on it, the bluegill bed bite will go on all day,” said KJ. “In fact, sometimes this bite even gets better in the heat of the day.”
After selecting the right bait, you’ll then want to find a few bluegill spawning beds on your favorite bass water. Look for the individual beds on the bottom of a lake near a shallow flat, near areas of sand or gravel, near woody cover, underneath an overhanging willow tree, in holes found in areas of vegetation, and near docks, all of this situated in one to five-foot depths.
While you can find individual beds on some water bodies, more than likely, they’ll be in a group of circular shapes that looks something like a collection of craters on the surface of the moon.
“In some spots, it will look like the bottom of the lake has been carpet bombed,” said Jordon, a three-time winner on the B.A.S.S. circuits and a one-time winner on the FLW Tour. “It looks like a honeycomb of sorts and some of those bedding areas can be really big, maybe 20 feet across.”
Keep in mind that bluegill beds can also be found using methods other than sight. One is smell – the smell resembles that of a watermelon rind – and the other is actually through the use of electronic fish finders.
“You can see them pretty readily on your side imaging,” said KJ. “And the bigger the area of bluegill beds is, the better, because you know there’s a bigger colony of sunfish in there. And the more sunfish there are, the more bass will be targeting them.”
Finally, after getting into an area of bluegill beds, work the outside deep water edge of such spawning areas, especially near breaklines where the lake bottom falls away into deeper water.
Just be sure to hang on when you do, because sometimes, the bass that comes calling on the bluegill bed bite can be surprisingly big.
Because it’s payback time right now as a summertime sowbelly largemouth turns the tables on a spunky little bluegill, a sunfish who thought it was all fun and games a few weeks ago in the shallows of spring.