Strategies for stunted bass-bluegill lakes

Strategies for stunted bass-bluegill lakes

Aug 1, 2012

Fishing a Stunted Bass/Bull Bluegill Lake

By Mike Pehanich

One hundred bass in a day!

When I was young, 100 bass was a dream catch. Still today, “100 bass per day!” is  the kind of destination marketing promise that bass anglers everywhere find irresistible.

Recently, my frequent fishing partner, Mike Albano, and I tallied 104 bass in not much more than three afternoon hours.

Where was this “dream” destination?

A residential development lake less than an hour from home!

Mike Albano shows off the first of 40 bluegill caught in a classic stunted bass/big bluegill lake.

Now before you hire some hacker to scour my emails for a hint of where this lake is, let me make two points:

1) You may have several such lakes within a short radius of your home right now; and

2) Bass were only our secondary targets that day!

The predator/panfish equation

In freshwater fisheries management and Nature alike, bass and bluegill go together like bacon and eggs. Bluegill and other members of the sunfish family often comprise the bulk of the diet of bass. The numbers of one often have substantial impact on the health and numbers of the other.

“Show me a lake with a ton of stunted bass, and I’ll be there fishing for bluegill!” said Nate Herman of Herman Brothers Pond Management (Peoria, Ill.) during a recent tour of private Illinois lakes that he manages.

Herman, who is rapidly becoming one of the Midwest’s rising stars in the lake management business, understands the dynamics of fish populations in small waters in ways the rest of us can’t imagine.

If you have been following SWF’s lake management posts and videos, you have picked up on Nate’s very simple equation: Lakes overpopulated with a prime and potentially prolific predator (i.e., “bass”) population are often great lakes for big bluegill!

I first observed this dynamic decades ago on a small Michigan reservoir and have seen it repeated numerous times since.

Members of the sunfish family comprises the bulk of the diet of bass on many lakes. And when the bass-sunfish ratio tips too heavily toward the bass end of the scale, most sunfish become easy eats for the bass.

But those that outgrow the oral cavity of the “cookie cutter” bass that become the norm on stunted bass lakes not only escape bass predation but have a lot more bluegill grub to feed on.

Often they grow quickly to hand-size dimensions or better.

Our story…and we’re stickin’ to it!

Albano is a standout “pan man,” open water or ice.

We anticipated this “small bass/big ‘gill” phenomenon. So we had brought along light and ultralight rods specifically for bluegill.  Albano rigged a tiny feathered jig beneath a small float and added one of the reliable Berkley Powerbait Honey Worms I had brought for the occasion.

Neither the bluegill nor the rigs disappointed us!

We caught nearly 40 bluegill, and there wasn’t a runt in the bunch! And, truth be told, many of the bass fell for the jig and Honey Worm as well.

Fish and enjoy!

I advise small waters anglers to take advantage of such mini-bass factories. Use them as practice fields and laboratories for new bass baits and new techniques. Bring new anglers there, too, and share your knowledge and the sheer joy of fishing with them.

But gear up for ‘gills, too, for variety and light tackle fun.

For the record, we caught our bass on squarebill crankbaits, Jackall Flick Shake worms, stickworms, a Rebel Pop-R, a curlytail grub and lipless crankbaits as well as on the sparse hair jig with Honey Worm.

One last note: be ready for the occasional monster largemouth on these lakes. Like the bluegill that outgrow the bite radius of a big bass, a few bass get large enough to go “cannibal” on small bass. Then they, too, grow fast!

On one such stunted bass lake in Alabama, my angling buddy took a 14-pound-plus bass. But that’s a tale of another lake for another day!

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