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This should be called 'around the ol' fishin' hole since its coming to that time of year again. Summer is upon us and summer means 'gone fishin'. In previous columns I've given you recipes for my favorite fish eatin' – bluegills. A lot of my friends are dyed in the wool bass fishermen and some others are musky anglers. This or these are all well and good but how does one get to be a 'hawg hauler' or experienced 'big fish' fisherman? Start fishing small.

My dad started my brothers and me out by letting us catch sunfish (bluegill, rock bass, goggle eyes, chubs, and bullhead catfish) and the only fishing tackle we had were cane poles, braided fishing line, small fish hooks in a match box, a pocket full of washers (for sinkers), and a Barlow pocket knife. Pieces of small dead limbs were all the bobbers we needed and we could pick those up anywhere along the river bank. Oh, and we used a Prince Albert tobacco can to keep the red worms in that we dug out of the neighbor's manure pile. From there we graduated to fishing for carp and catfish which gave us the experience of hauling in bigger fish. After that we started our training on fishing for the elusive bass and after that, trout.

The DNR sent me this fact sheet on bluegill population and I'll pass it on to you.

BLUEGILL FISHING AS GOOD AS EVER

Bluegills are the most abundant and sought-after fish in northern Indiana natural lakes, according to DNR Division of Fish & Wildlife statistics. But perhaps most important to anglers, they are catching as many, if not more, big bluegills now as they did years ago, despite claims that bluegill fishing quality has declined. "Bluegill fishing in our lakes is as good as we've ever seen it," said Jed Pearson, who at age 60 is the oldest fisheries biologist still on the water for the DNR.

Pearson, who grew up on Skinner Lake near Albion in the 1950s and 1960s, has monitored fish populations at hundreds of lakes since the 1970s. His data, along with those from other biologists, show angler catches of 7-inch and larger bluegills have remained steady since the 1980s. "Years ago anglers caught 7-inch and larger bluegills at an average rate of one per 98 minutes of bluegill fishing. Now they catch them at a slightly faster rate of one per 77 minutes," Pearson said. "Although that represents a 27-percent increase, the trend is technically not different." That is because angler catch rates vary widely by lake.

Pearson also has data that show average catch rates of 8-inch and larger bluegills doubled from the early 1980s through 2010. That trend, while positive, is also not technically significant. "Statistically, we can't say angler catch rates of big bluegills have gone up, but we can say they haven't gone down," Pearson said. Although big bluegills are still abundant in Indiana natural lakes, numbers of small bluegills have declined.

Biologists estimate the number of bluegills in a lake based on how many they capture with electro-shocking boats. The typical catch rate is 86 bluegills per minutes of sampling. Of these, 67 percent are 3 to 6 inches long, 17 percent are 6 to 7 inches, 12 percent are 7 to 8 inches, and 4 percent are 8 inches or larger. "We've seen a significant drop in catches of 3- to 6-inch bluegills over the years, down from 97 to only 27 per 15 minutes of sampling," Pearson said.

This decrease may be related to a build-up of largemouth bass, a major predator on small bluegills. Since the 1980s bass numbers have doubled in Indiana natural lakes due to the 14-inch minimum limit on the size of bass that can be taken home by anglers. "Our bluegill populations may be in better balance now than they were years ago," Pearson said. Other trends in bluegill fishing at Indiana natural lakes include a slight drop in the percentage of anglers who prefer to fish for bluegills, down from 50 percent to 40 percent. Bluegill fishing effort since the 1980s has remained steady, about 25 hours per 100 acres of water.

With this information go forth and teach a youngster the joys of angling for 'gills; you won't regret it.


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