Fish, Fish and More Fish!!
May has to be my favorite month for fishing. The weather is not yet steaming hot, the bass are hungry and active after spawning and the bream are preparing to bed. The full moon of May, which occurs this month on the 14th, will see bluegill and shellcracker bedding. Several days before, as well as several days after the full moon, bedding activity will be at a peak. Let's take a look at some fishing tactics that will help you fill your stringer this spring.
Most of us started our fishing career by catching bream, primarily bluegill and shellcrackers. I did, and I still love to catch them. Almost any body of water in the state, regardless of size or locale, will have a good population of bluegill and to a lesser extent, shellcracker. These panfish are abundant, strong fighters for their size and usually willing to bite. Add to that the fact that they taste great when rolled in corn meal and deep-fried and you have a combination that's hard to beat. While shellcracker tend to bed in May, bluegill will bed around the full moon of April, May, June, July and August.
When fishing for bluegill and shellcracker, there are a few differences to keep in mind. Shellcracker don't usually slam the bait like a bluegill. They just move off with it, slowly. For this reason, a sensitive float is needed. I prefer the "quill" type floats, because they seem to telegraph the slightest movement better. Also, shellcracker prefer a bait almost on the bottom. Bluegills, on the other hand, are much more aggressive. When a bluegill strikes, the float usually disappears immediately. Small bream will nibble on the bait before taking it under, but a larger bluegill will usually take it under right away. The key to finding these larger fish is locating a bedding area. There is a certain smell associated with bedding blue gill; somewhat of a sweet cross between watermelon and a fish market. Once you encounter this odor, you won't forget it and using your nose to locate beds can work as well as relying on your eyes, especially in stained water.
In all but the most stained water, finding a bream bed is easy. Just use your eyes. Bream fan out a shallow depression in which to lay their eggs. Once the nest is fanned clean, the saucer-like depression often appears as a light spot on an otherwise dark background. Put together a group of these individual nests, and the result is a cratered bottom that is hard to miss, once you know what to look for.
Bream typically form their spawning colonies in 2 to 6 feet of water over a firm bottom. If gravel is present and there are a few stumps around, that is even better. As I mentioned earlier, in the South, the first spawn is likely to be in April, and you may find bedding fish as late as Labor Day. However, bream don't spawn continuously throughout that time. For a few days every month, you can expect to find bream hard on the beds. So, when is the time right? Quite simply, when the moon is full during the months of April through August. Other conditions must be met though, including temperature and photoperiod (day length). Once the water is from 65 to 70 degrees, and the longer days of spring have arrived, the bream are ready to go, and the only other ingredient needed is the full moon. Generally speaking, four days before and a few days after the full moon, bream are at the peak of spawning activity. I have also noticed renewed bream activity around the new moon of these months, although it's not nearly as pronounced as the full moon periods.
When bream are on the beds, they are extremely aggressive. That's what makes catching bedding bream so much fun. For all their aggressiveness though, there is one way to ruin a good bream bed, and that is to get too close. Bedding bream may have breeding on their mind, but they haven't completely lost all of their senses. Get too close, and they spook, especially in clear water.
If filling a stringer is your goal, a couple of techniques are sure fire winners.
A lightweight float, a few BB split shot, and a small Aberdeen hook is a rig both simple and deadly effective. Crickets make excellent bait, as do red wigglers. Weight the float so it just barely stays on the surface. This cuts down on the resistance the fish feels when it takes the bait, and better detects light nibbles.
Some anglers prefer artificial lures, and my favorite is a Renosky jig in the Keystone Perch pattern, fished below a small cork. This combo can be just as effective as live bait. Start casting to the outer edges of the bream bed, and then work your way into the heart of the spawning area. And while this is a great technique to use on bedding fish, it works especially well when they aren't spawning. Fishing the deeper water and structure near a deserted spawning colony with this rig can result in good catches of bluegill, biding their time and feeding while waiting for the next full moon.
Although catching bedding bream can be like taking candy from a baby, don't worry about taking home your legal limit. Bream are extremely prolific spawners, and their numbers need to be kept in check to prevent overpopulation and stunting. Keeping some fish not only provides you the main course for a great meal, it also helps ensure you have nice, big bream to catch on future trips, not just little bait-stealing runts.
Bass fishing is also good this month. Spinnerbaits, lizards and worms will all catch fish, as will topwater lures, but in my humble opinion, the best pond lure ever made is the 1/8 ounce Rattle Trap. I prefer a chrome "trap" with a black or blue back. It doesn't take much skill to use this lure, simply cast it out and reel it back in. You want to use a rapid enough retrieve to keep the lure off of the bottom, but sometimes a stop and go retrieve is what the fish want. Try reeling it for several yards, stop the reel for a second and then continue reeling. The strike will usually come as you start your retrieve after stopping it. I caught the 7 pound 12 ounce bass, the one you see at the top of this article, using a 1/8 ounce chrome Rattle Trap with a black back.
Next month, we'll take a look at some fishing tactics to use during the warmer months of early summer. Until then, be safe on the water and remember that bream fishing is the perfect way to introduce youngsters to this sport. The bream are usually cooperative and it doesn't require a lot of expensive tackle. A cane pole and some worms or crickets are all you need.