Summertime on West Okoboji brings some of the most predictable fishing of the year for big bluegill. Summertime also brings with it some challenges that include clear, warm water, high boat traffic and heavy fishing pressure. This combination of challenges, along with the growth of weed lines down to 20 plus foot depths, is what leads to the fantastic, predictable fishing anglers can enjoy throughout July, August, and often well into September.
As the amount of daylight grows longer each summer day and the sun warms the clear water of West Okoboji, weed growth continues further into the depths. By late June a distinct weed edge is well established, reaching 20-25 feet depths. Warmer water allows for deeper bug hatches and movements of small baitfish and crawdads. All of this draws schools of bluegill looking for easy feeding opportunities. Finding a bluegill bite is as easy as finding this weed edge. However, finding the bigger ’gills can often take some searching. I rely heavily on my Humminbird depth finder to help pinpoint schools of larger than average bluegill. I start by looking at the map feature that is enhanced by using a Lakemaster SD card showing detailed contour lines, points, flats, humps, and inside turns that usually hold the biggest fish of any species. Once in a likely area I turn to a split screen with traditional 2 dimensional sonar on one side of the screen and Down Imaging on the other side. The 2D sonar allows me to move quickly, looking for schools of bluegill. Once a school is found, I slow down to make best use the features of Down Imaging, which has great target separation. This allows me to assess a school and make an educated guess whether the school holds larger than average size ’gills. One of the first things I look for in making this assessment is how many fish are in a school.
I have found that the really large schools may hold some big bluegill but they mostly consist of small to average size fish. The schools of above average size Bulls, big male bluegill, often contain only 20-30 fish and mark completely differently on my depth finder. These schools may be higher off the bottom, closer to the bottom, or suspended out away from the weed edge by up to 50 yards or more. Taking the time to search for these smaller schools can really pay dividends. These big Bulls are great fun to catch. But, as with any species, if we wish to maintain this great fishery we must practice selective harvest. Studies have shown that releasing Bulls over 9-9 1/2 inches is vital to sustaining the best growth of the entire bluegill population. So please release the big Bulls and keep your average 7-9 inch gills.
Catching bluegills out on these deep weed edges is a fairly simple task, but some tweaks here and there are needed on a day to day basis. I often have clients as young as 4-5 years old, and some older that have never fished before, so the good old slip bobber is the mainstay of my presentations. The variables come in what bait goes under the slip bobber on a particular day. Most often a simple #6 octopus hook tipped with a red worm will keep the rod bent. Substituting a medium to large leech can help deter some of the smaller fish from biting. Some days the leech is just plain a better choice. After a cold front even bluegill can get a little persnickety. That’s when I like to switch to a small hair jig or tube jig tipped with a waxworm or silver wiggler below the slip bobber. Adjusting the depth of slip bobber is always a key step in the process. Some days the bigger fish will only hit a bait that is within inches of the bottom. Other days suspending a bait just over the weed tops is the ticket to getting bigger bites. If I have four lines out at the start of a guide trip, all four lines will be set at slightly different depths until one depth starts to produce better results.
For anglers willing to pay more attention than just watching a bobber go under the Shuck’s Jigger Spoon is a great option for pulling lots of bluegill over the gunnels. These little spoons, made right here in Okoboji, get down to the depths quickly and really trigger gills to bite. Tipping with either red worms, wigglers, or waxworms works great. Leeches tend to ball up around the spoon so I save them for the slip bobber rigs. Fishing these Jigger spoons is much like ice fishing, just drop them to the bottom and reel up slightly. Adjust how far off the bottom according to the response you get from the fish. I like to shake the spoon as opposed to jigging it up and down. When the spoon is shaken it flashes a lot and the chain rattles slightly calling in biters. After a shake hold the spoon still, this is when the bite will happen. Don’t make a hard hookset, just lift smoothly and you will hook nearly every biter.
Bluegill are my favorite panfish, they fight hard, taste great, and are plentiful. So grab some bobber rigs, some bait, and some Shuck’s Jigger spoons. Then you are ready for some summer fun Okoboji style.