Bluegills are on their spawning beds, crappie are either spawning or still very close to shore, bass are biting, Lake Erie walleye and perch are producing unusually well, and channel cats are cruising nighttime bays and backwaters looking for dinner. It’s hard to wrong these days.
There are plenty of fishermen that say bluegills and crappie are a top table food right up there with yellow perch, and when these panfish are spawning it’s a perfect time to catch a lot of fish. If you know what you’re doing. One person who does know a lot is Shelbian Steve Haverfield, a man I consider the best crappie and bluegill hunter around, and last week the two of us headed forth once again to catch some fish. The lake we chose was a private one of 225 acres, which lies between Norwalk and Shelby and to which Steve has access since he has a lot there.
For readers who aren’t familiar with bluegill spawning habits, rising water temperatures each spring bring male bluegills into one to three or four feet of water seeking proper spawning places. These are sections of near shoreline where there’s a good mixture of gravel, sand and silt. The males fan out a small circular nest about 12 inches across with their tails, then hover over it waiting for females to swim in. It’s a togetherness thing and there may be 50 to 100 nests, even more, in a small area, nests that are easy to spot in reasonably clear water.
When a drab colored female chooses one of them, she’ll move over his nest, and release her many hundreds of eggs while he fertilizes them with milt. Then she swims away and the male remains to guard the eggs, getting hungrier and hungrier as the days and weeks pass until the eggs hatch into fry and he can leave. It’s a great situation for anglers who can fill a cooler very quickly with good sized fish. Crappie do much the same, though they may spawn a little earlier.
On this trip which occurred on a fairly windy morning not long after a front with rain had dropped water temperatures a bit, we boarded his pontoon boat, headed around the first lake curve and anchored near a bluegill bed Steve had fished before. Our rigs were the same as always: 1/16 ounce jigs a half inch long with a plastic body attached that was usually red on its head and white behind with the end separated into a skirt. The whole offering was about an inch long. We baited with a waxworm (vitally important), and started casting, tossing the tiny jigs to near shore, and retrieving them slowly.
On my first cast I looked into a nice and very hard fighting male bluegill, and on my second cast hooked another, then another. Bed fishing is like that and we caught about 30 nice fish between us before he decided to move on and check out other beds. We caught more at several others, then when we had plenty, Steve switched to crappie, and we began casting the same rigs around likely brush piles and drowned timber. Again, the crappie were near shore, and we did very well around wood, and particularly around and under boat docks . The falling water temperatures had driven some fish offshore, so we caught them not only in thin water, but often when we’d retrieved nearly back to the boat, sometimes just a foot or two down, in 15 feet of water.
Our final tally, believe it or not, was 164 fish for three hours of casting, 91 crappie from five inches up to 13 and 73 fine bluegills. Not a bad morning at all, but typical of my previous several trips other years with Steve. Can you do the same? Very likely if you use the same techniques, but one thing is very important – you must move. Fish one spot, skim the cream, then move on to other likely spots and move again.
Does taking so many spawning fish hurt the population? Not at all. There are always too many panfish competing for food, and removing a goodly number leaves more food for the remainder which grow faster and produce more good fishing. And now’s the time to get them.
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HOOKS & BULLETS
• Magee Marsh Wildlife Area is holding youth fishing days for anglers 15 years and younger every Friday, Saturday and Sunday through June 18. Magee Marsh Wildlife Area is located at 13229 West Ohio 2, Oak Harbor. Youth anglers can fish the pond surrounding the Sportsmen’s Migratory Bird Center, located about a mile from the entrance of the wildlife area. Fishing will be held every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. All youth anglers must be accompanied by a parent or guardian but adults are not required to have a fishing license. Adults are not allowed to fish in the youth area, but may assist young anglers. Parking and restroom facilities are available at the Sportsmen’s Migratory Bird Center. Fishing poles are available to borrow, but anglers will need to provide their own bait. Species that can be caught include channel catfish, largemouth bass, bluegill and crappie. The ODNR Division of Wildlife would like to encourage youth anglers to keep all legal fish caught in the pond, as the water will be drawn down this summer to allow for bridge replacements. For more details, call 419-898-0960 or visit wildohio.gov.
• Ohio hunters checked a total of 21,015 wild turkeys during the combined 2017 spring wild turkey south zone hunting season; northeast zone hunting season; and the youth wild turkey hunting season, April 22-May 28, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). In 2016, hunters checked a total of 17,793 wild turkeys. In Huron County, 170 wild turkeys were checked this year, compared to 113 last year. Here are the harvest numbers (with 2016 numbers are in parentheses) for surrounding counties: Ashland: 275 (202); Crawford: 75 (74); Erie: 57 (55); Lorain: 165 (141); Richland: 347 (280); Sandusky: 21 (25); and Seneca: 179 (141). Wild turkeys were extirpated in Ohio by 1904 and were reintroduced in the 1950s by the ODNR Division of Wildlife. Ohio’s first modern day wild turkey season opened in 1966 in nine counties, and hunters checked 12 birds. The wild turkey harvest topped 1,000 for the first time in 1984. Spring turkey hunting opened statewide in 2000, and Ohio hunters checked more than 20,000 wild turkeys for the first time that year.
• Applications are being accepted for controlled deer and waterfowl hunts on selected areas during the 2017-2018 season. The application period runs through Monday, July 31. These special hunts are held on selected areas to provide additional opportunities for Ohio’s hunting enthusiasts. All applicants, youth and adult, must possess a 2017-2018 Ohio hunting license and meet the age requirements in order to apply for a controlled hunt. Hunters can apply for the controlled hunts by completing the application process online using Ohio’s Wildlife Licensing System at wildohio.gov. There is a non-refundable application fee of $3 per hunt. Hunters will be randomly drawn from submitted applications. Successful applicants will be notified and provided additional hunt information by mail and email. Applicants are encouraged to visit Ohio’s Wildlife Licensing System online to view the status of their application and, if selected, print their controlled hunt permit. More details can found at wildohio.gov on the Controlled Hunts page.
Dick Martin is a free-lance writer from Shelby. Reach him at email@example.com. You can also visit his blog at outdoors withmartin.com.