Havalon Nation Stories: A Family Affair

By Zach Rogers

Hunting with the family takes
on new meaning!

The McCoy family with their latest deer hunting catch

Marshall, Corissa and little Levi McCoy with the family’s big catch. Hunting provides the McCoy’s with over 90 percent of their meat throughout the year. (Photo: McCoy’s)

Imagine this: you draw your home state’s competitive deer tag. During the hunt, you manage to land your biggest buck yet. Sounds perfect, right? Now imagine doing all of this while eight months pregnant. Sound like an even bigger challenge?

That’s exactly what happened to Corissa McCoy and her husband Marshall. The two submitted their applications for deer tags in Nevada, only to find out they would be expecting another addition to their family around the same time. Already excited about the welcoming news, Corissa and Marshall soon received even more good news — they had drawn the tags. Now the question remained: with Corissa being pregnant, would the two have to give up their coveted deer tags? Not a chance.

“I honestly didn’t think there would be any issues hunting while I was pregnant,” recalled Corissa. “My first thought was having someone there to take care of Levi, our 2 year old son at the time, so I wasn’t hunting pregnant and caring for a toddler at the same time!”

Corissa McCoy points the family in the direction of more deer hunting

Despite the odds, Corissa managed to get out on the hunt while being eight months pregnant. (Photo: Marshall McCoy)

Determined to embark on the hunt, Corissa and Marshall took all the necessary steps needed to ensure a safe trip.

“After I talked to my OB about the concerns, I knew I would be fine and knew we had measures in place in case of an emergency,” Corissa said. “Hunting is a part of our life, and it’s how we provide 90 percent of the meat for our family. We knew we could make it work.”

Of course, there were more than a few concerns, ones that the McCoy’s took into account before taking off. Above all else was the concern for the baby’s health, and after confirming through multiple check-ups that the baby was healthy as could be, the couple felt at ease. They also had the help of family and friends with them to watch over Levi while mom and dad took care of business. Water and food was a top priority in order to keep Corissa hydrated and nourished, and the McCoy’s also kept handy a SPOT Satellite Messenger equipped with a 911 helicopter emergency button. Marshall also did some extra preparations before leaving.

“I carried extra game bags in my packs in case I needed to create a makeshift delivery table,” he said. “I was praying I would not have to deliver a baby in the mountains.”

Corissa McCoy on the hunt for her next buck

Next stop, that way! Corissa surveys the land, with antlers in tow. (Photo: Marshall McCoy)

Throughout the hunt, as Corissa was defying the odds, Marshall found a target of his own: Walrus.

“Walrus was my nemesis,” he explained. “He was one of the largest mule deer I ever had a chance at during an open season.”

Walrus had a massive 190+ rack, and Marshall was hooked. After a few days of heavy pursuit, Walrus evaded the chase, but Marshall didn’t walk away empty handed. He managed to harvest a trophy mule deer only two days after giving up on Walrus.

“It’s not always about the prize,” said Marshall. “It’s about the adventure and the challenges that we encounter.”

The McCoy's children on a hunt with mom and dad

Levi with his little sister Ricki Lynn, who provided her parents with plenty of good luck before she was even born. (Photo: McCoy’s)

Overcoming the challenges of being pregnant on the hunt, Corissa landed of nice buck of her own. Although excited, more important was what the kill meant for her and her family.

“Each time I take an animal, I feel an overwhelming amount of appreciation for that life,” she said. “More importantly than the size of the buck is the meat it will provide to feed our family.”

For the McCoy’s, hunting isn’t just another hobby, it’s their life. Both grew up in a hunting household, with Marshall taking his first tag at the age of 12. He tries to get in at least two or three hunts per season, saving all of his vacation time for hunting. Corissa started at a young age as well, even missing a school dance so she could take a hunter’s safety course. By 12, she had killed her first buck. The two are a match made in hunting heaven — they even opted to miss their honeymoon to go out on a hunt, which they dubbed their “huntingmoon.”

The McCoys are a family of hunters

Hunting is a family sport for the McCoy’s, and these little ones are following in their parent’s footsteps. (Photo: Marshall McCoy)

Of course, neither of the McCoy’s would be caught on a hunt without their Havalon. They use it for everything from skinning and quartering to boning and caping.

“Havalon knives are the sharpest, most lightweight tools I have ever used,” said Marshall. “I can carry the extra blades and never worry about dulling a knife or taking a break to sharpen. This year alone I used my Havalon to bone out three bull elk and two deer without using any other knife.”

Marshall was first introduced to Havalon in 2010 after drawing the “trifecta” of tags in Nevada for mule deer, bull elk and desert sheep. He’s been an avid fan ever since.

“During that season I found out the knife was worth its weight in gold. I can cape an animal in half the time, which allows me to pack up and start my trek out much sooner.”

Little hunters out with their parents on a deer hunt

It didn’t take long for Levi and Ricki Lynn to get out on a hunt with mom and dad. One day they’ll be able to catch a few big bucks of their own. (Photo: McCoy’s)

Today, Corissa and Marshall are the proud parents of two young up-and-coming hunters in the making. Levi’s already an experienced pro, and little Ricki Lynn isn’t far behind.

“We believe the sooner you expose your children to camping, hunting, fishing, etc., the sooner they learn to respect it,” said Corissa. “Levi begs us all year long for hunting season!”

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How to Net a Fish — Here’s a Boatload of Tips on Doing It Right!

By Darl Black

Don’t assume everyone knows
how to use a fishing net!

Two anglers netting a fish together

When fishing from a boat, it’s always nice to have a partner to handle the net when you hook a big fish. But be sure everyone knows the best way to land a fish with a net. (Photo: Darl Black)

A landing net … practically every fishing boat has one. And if you head out on the lake without one, you should feel inadequately equipped.

A net seems like a foolproof method for landing a nice fish. It will minimize injury to the fish and help the fisherman avoid being impaled by hooks, cut by the fish’s teeth or whacked in the face by a tailfin. I’ve been taught by experience — using one incorrectly or using a net too small for the hooked fish is a recipe for disaster.

Use the Right Size Net

Landing nets come in many styles, handle lengths and hoop sizes to meet anglers’ needs in pursuing a wide variety of freshwater fish. A “normal” size net with a hoop of roughly 20″ x 17″ to 20″ x 20″ is suitable for bass, walleye and the average catfish. However, when targeting large walleye, monster cats, northern pike and almost any salmon you should be looking at something in the 25″ x 30″ or even 30″ x 38″ size.

When it comes to catch and release musky fishing, skip the regular hoop net and get Frabill’s Cradle Net, which does less harm to the King of Freshwater Fish than a hoop net. (Scooping up a large musky in a hoop net often causes substantial internal injury by bending the fish into a “U” shape.)

Rubber net used to catch fish

Nets with rubber mesh do the least amount of damage to a fish’s slime coat, scales and fins. The rubber bag may look shallow, but it stretches to accommodate the fish. (Photo: Darl Black)

Use the Right Net Mesh

The mesh material of a net is of critical importance, too. Inexpensive nets of knotted nylon can injure a fish you plan to release; it’s like rubbing a rasping file on the side of a fish. Furthermore, the standard nylon net bag acts like Velcro when it comes in contact with hooks — you can spend a lot of time getting hooks out of the multi-stranded mesh while the fish gasps.

Alternative mesh materials less harmful to fish include soft knotless nylon, coated mesh and “rubber” (a smooth stretchable polymer). Collectively, these nets are often referred to as “catch-n-release” or “conservation nets.”

For the bass, walleye, catfish and large crappies I typically catch, I prefer the rubber net. Hooks can tangle in coated fiber or soft flat nylon mesh, but rubber nets are 99 percent free of entanglement.

Don’t Use a Net to “Chase” the Fish

However, due to resistance of the thicker mesh material, some anglers complain rubber nets are too slow in the water when “chasing” the fish. That complaint itself is telling. It tells me they are not netting fish properly.

Never, Never, Never!

Three things not to do when attempting to net a fish:

  1. Never chase a fish with a net — the fish will always out maneuver you.
  2. Never jab a net at a fish as it surges past the boat — the outcome is often knocking the fish off or tangling the lure hook in the mesh.
  3. Never attempt to scoop a fish from the tail — you are giving the fish a clear escape route and it will be able to shoot out before you can lift the net.


In most circumstances when fishing from a boat, one angler is fighting the fish (“rod man”) while a second individual handles the net (“net man”). It is vitally important that both fishermen have a basic understanding of how to net and that both anglers communicate back and forth during the landing process. Be sure to have a conversation with any newbie in the boat stressing what to do and not to do when manning the net.

How to net a fish insertPractice Using a Net

Don’t consider a fish too small to net. It’s a good idea to practice proper netting on smaller fish — not just the big ones.

Keep Your Net Handy

When fishing, I always have the net out and easily accessible, not buried in a compartment. Make sure the net isn’t tangled with spare rods, tackle box, line tie cleats or other gear. In my 16-foot boat, I usually lay the net over the splash well so it’s ready to use.

6 Steps for Proper Netting:

  1. First, play the fish properly. With energetic fish, never rush the fish to the boat. Most fish are lost at boat side after being brought in too quickly; fish full of fight make unpredictable moves on a short line and the outcome is rarely in your favor. Battle the fish away from the boat where it is easier to compensate for surges. Engage the fish just long enough that some of its energy is reduced. But never wear it down to the point of exhaustion if planning to release it.
  2. As soon as the angler with hooked fish determines it should be netted, a second angler immediately grabs the net and stands ready.
  3. When the rod man determines the fish is tiring, he should work the fish to boat side and call for the net. The net man should never move on the fish until rod man says he has the fish under control.
  4. At this point the net man should place the net in the water (within a couple feet of the rod man) with roughly 1/2 of the hoop buried in the water at approximately a 45-degree angle.
  5. The rod man will lead the fish into the net — head first! If the fish darts left or right, or dives below the net, the net man should immediately remove the net from the water and wait until the rod man has the fish back under control.
  6. The rod man leads the fish by keeping line pressure so its head is up slightly; gently pull the fish to the positioned net. When about half of the fish’s length is inside the net, the net man should lift the net with a slight forward sweep. Success!
How to net a fish photo series 1

Net about halfway in the water at a 45-degree angle, ahead of the fish. (Photo: Darl Black)

How to net a fish photo series 2

The rod man leads the fish head first into the net! (Photo: Darl Black)

How to net a fish photo series 3

When about half of the fish is inside the net, the net man lifts the net with a forward sweep. (Photo: Darl Black)

The Solo Fisherman

If fishing alone, you will act as your own net man. The steps are the same, although you are carrying out the duties of two individuals. Trying to grip, maneuver and lift a net with one hand is difficult. However, I’ve tested a unique device called a RoboHandle which attaches to the net handle thereby allowing the angler to manage netting procedure with one hand. Check the pistol grip and arm support version out at www.robohandle.com.

Angler with a fish caught in a net

A fish in a net brings closure to the fight waged with rod and line — and a smile to an angler’s face! (Photo: Darl Black)

For Your Next State-Record Fish

In addition to a standard-size hoop net, I also carry a cradle net on the chance I hook a really BIG fish. This is basically a 50-inch narrow minnow seine between two floating aluminum poles. One end of the seine is blocked with an additional netting piece sewn in place; the other end is open. The cradle net is like those box canyons we saw in old TV westerns — one way in. The net man positions the cradle on the surface next to the boat and the musky (or large catfish) is guided into the open end. The fish can be held at boat side in the cradle for photo-taking then released without lifting it aboard.

Grab your net — it’s time to go fishing!

About Darl Black:

Darl BlackDarl Black is a lifelong freshwater angler and veteran writer/photographer. Darl tackles a wide variety of fishing related stories for print publications and websites. Of all fishing, angling for smallmouth bass is his favorite pastime. He may be reached for assignment at darlblack@windstream.net.

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How to Catch River Smallies on a Fly

By William Clunie

From tackle to technique — a primer for
smallmouth bass fishing in local rivers!

Smallmouth bass fly fishing catch

Another big specimen taken from the swift, river current. (Photo: William Clunie)

Have you ever tried fly fishing rivers and streams for smallmouth bass? While warmer summer water tends to diminish trout and salmon activity, smallmouth bass tie on the feed bag. That’s the time to give river smallmouths a whirl on the fly rod, otherwise you’ll miss all the action!

Here are a few fly fishing basics — from tackle to techniques — for successfully hooking smallmouth bass on fly rods in the moving waters of rivers and streams.

Choosing Gear

Rod: A five- to eight-weight fly rod works just fine for casting heavier flies, like weighted Clousers and big surface poppers, out to where the biggest smallmouth bass are feeding. Most surface flies don’t weigh very much, even if they are large and gaudy — but weighted flies for fishing below the surface can be difficult to cast with a rod carrying light line.

Line: Even with a five-to eight-weight rod, anglers should use a line made for turning over big, heavy flies. I use Rio’s (www.rioproducts.com) “Clouser” line, made specifically for this purpose. It performs flawlessly, as long as I do my part. Several companies, including Scientific Angler (www.scientificanglers.com) and Cortland (www.cortlandline.com), also make lines that can handle the big and heavy flies typically used for taking river smallies.

Another smallmouth bass caught in a river

Micropterus dolomieu is one colorful predator in the river. No wonder fishermen call them “bronzebacks!” (Photo: William Clunie)

Leaders: Many fishermen don’t give much thought to leaders, but leaders must also be able to handle turning over heavy flies. Five-, six- and seven-weight line should be rigged with leaders that start off with a butt of 40-pound test and taper to a tippet of no smaller than six-pound test. A seven- or eight-weight line could jump up to a 50-pound test butt with the same taper and tippet.

Wading gear: If I’m smallmouth bass fishing in the heat, I prefer to wet-wade — a perfect way to keep cool. I wear a pair of neoprene socks or wool socks, with a comfortable pair of wading boots. I sometimes fish out of a kayak and hop out to approach fishy-looking holes with a little more stealth.

The heat factor: Anglers who fish in sweltering heat require extra drinking water to keep adequately hydrated. Also, be sure to cover all exposed skin with good sunscreen that carries a high Sun Protection Factor (SPF) rating. I like to wear a wide-brimmed hat to keep the sun off my head and neck. I also wear a neckerchief that I dip in cool water and tie loosely around my neck.

Tactical Techniques

Smallmouth bass caught in a stream

A healthy, river smallmouth bass taken on a fly rod thrills even the most dedicated trout and salmon angler. What could be more fun! (Photo: William Clunie)

Strive for accuracy: Casting flies to hook smallmouth bass successfully requires the ability to heave a heavy fly with long distance accuracy. At other times you must gently and skillfully place short casts to areas just off the tip of the rod.

Anglers must be able to drop flies with precision in and around surface structure without snagging on the objects. Any time you see branches, boulders, logs or other surface and subsurface structures, expect a smallie to hang out there. The best casts drop so the current brings them within inches of these structures, a task requiring skill, concentration and the ability to read the water.

Cope with current: Surface currents often defeat smallmouth river anglers. Casting across the current usually forms a belly in the line. The current pushes that line ahead of the fly, causing it to speed up unnaturally rather than drift along without drag.

To avoid an unnatural drag on a surface fly, cast across the current but slightly downstream, at a 45-degree angle. This gives the fly the most free-floating time possible. This works especially well when casting to the shore from a boat moving with the current.

Become a fish hunter: Fly fishing for smallmouth bass reminds me of hunting. Like a hunter, an angler needs to check pockets of varying habitat, searching out and investigating locations that look promising. Definitely drop a fly near shaded surface and subsurface structures, weed beds, shorelines with an immediate drop off or any place where the current has been broken by an eddy or any object in the water such as a log or rock. It’s no different from stomping brushpiles for rabbits, or focusing on edge habitat for deer.

Fly fishing smallmouth bass in rivers and streams

Pennsylvania angler Bill Cope shows how to cast a big fly and still maintain a tight loop. (Photo: William Clunie)

Final Tips

Learn:  My greatest improvement in smallmouth bass fishing with a fly rod came when I learned how to tie my own leaders. Tying leaders with enough butt strength to turn over heavy flies really helps an angler present the offering properly, and more accurately.

Fear not: Don’t be afraid to cast near objects that might cause a snag. Anglers with this fear will never get a fly into prime smallmouth habitat — predatory river smallies patrol the thick stuff where their prey hides. Learn how to cast accurately, so a fly can be placed under overhanging branches, near weedy shorelines and in close to banks with overhanging vegetation.

Work the shallows: Cast into shallow water, even if it looks too shallow to hold a big fish. I have caught huge smallmouth in water so shallow that I could see their dorsal fin sticking above the surface. As a matter of fact, don’t overlook any piece of water when fishing for smallies — they constantly surprise me by being where I would least expect.

Study the fish: Read as much as possible about this amazing fish. The more an angler knows about smallmouth bass, the more enjoyment he or she can get from fishing — and that’s really what it’s all about.

About William Clunie:

William Clunie outdoor writerWilliam Clunie is a registered Maine master guide, outdoor writer and nature photographer, blessed to be “living the dream” in the rugged mountains of Western Maine. He can be reached at: william.clunie@gmail.com.

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Camping with Kids: Leave Those E-Gadgets Behind and Have Some Fun

By Vikki Trout

It only takes two things to help a kid
enjoy the outdoors!

Setting up the tent for camping with kids

If you include your kid from the beginning, including camp setup, you have a better chance to keep his attention and teach him to be helpful. (Photo: John and Vikki Trout)

“The great outdoors” — three words we savor year ’round. Connect a kid to that concept and he or she will be hooked for life. If we don’t instill the joy and contentment that we discover around a campfire, who will? And how do you convince that child of yours that experiencing an outdoor adventure is much more fun than watching a nature show on television or having the latest apps on his iPhone? All you have to do is consider two questions to generate excitement for family camping in a child.

1. What can children do to assist?

Include them from the very beginning. In other words, let them know the location options you are considering, whether it’s a campground on national or state owned property or the comfort zone of your own backyard. Yes, the backyard can be a great starting place if you’re camping with kids. Once you have agreed on where to camp, you can include kids in nearly everything.

Kids can help a number of ways during family camping

Every child is different and you will know better than anyone what they are capable of accomplishing. Swinging a mallet may not be suitable for all kids, but other tasks are readily mastered. (Photo: John and Vikki Trout)

Food prep: Older kids can help with food prep at home such as packing the lunch basket with bread, lunch meat, weenies, snacks and marshmallows for roasting over the campfire. Kids can also pack graham crackers and chocolate to go with marshmallows and make s’mores by the campfire. You may also consider Mountain House freeze-dried meals. Add some water to the pouch and you have a delicious meal ready in minutes. Your child could be capable of filling the cooler with ice and drinks.

Campsite Prep: Even toddlers can do things that make them feel involved in family camping. I recall taking one of our grandchildren (Brittaney) camping many years ago and she assisted by picking up stones so we could put the tent stakes in the ground. Brittaney felt a true sense of accomplishment because we needed those stones out of the way. Picking up twigs to be used for kindling is also important and fun for the youngster. Children do not mind a little dirt under their fingernails!

Specific chores: My grandson Luke is 12 years old and spends a lot of time outdoors. He is a big asset when it comes to assisting around camp. Your child is no different, and you can find appropriate tasks no matter their age. Kids love to do simple chores on their own, whether it’s being “tent stake installer” or “mattress inflator” of your expedition. Any activity that involves them will provide fun and a sense of accomplishment. The more involved children are the more initiative they’ll take, which translates to more enjoyment for the entire family.

Family meals while camping with kids

Mountain House dehydrated meals are great for camping. Just add water for a scrumptious meal ready in minutes. (Photo: John and Vikki Trout)

Depending on the age of your child, many tasks can be completed with minimal effort on their part. Here’s a list of some chores children could master:

  • A camping checklist helps insure you pack everything you need. Let a young child check off the checklist and he’ll feel like a vital part of the adventure.
  • Helping with camp setup isn’t all heavy work. Let kids place the tarp under the tent. If you’re using a camping trailer, young children can open windows or clean countertops.
  • Kids as young as junior high can take leadership jobs such as heading up the hike, but make it easy for them to stop and ask questions.
  • Teach kids to bait hooks or attach lures while fishing, and team older youngsters with younger kids.

2. What kind of activities will entertain?

Fishing and hiking: With the camp set up, it’s time to have some fun! If a pond or lake is nearby, hike there and go fishing. Hiking while camping is great fun because it keeps them active (the best medicine for boredom) and gives them an outdoor education. Talking as you hike tightens the bond between parent and child. The stronger the bond, the more likely they are to travel the right roads and turn to you for advice later in life.

Nature study: Show them various trees and explain what they are and how they benefit wildlife. My granddaughter’s lessons about trees really helped when she started squirrel hunting. She learned the difference between nut-producing trees that provide a food source compared to ash trees that do nothing for wildlife. If you are camping with kids in early spring, try hunting for mushrooms, but make sure you know a good one from a bad one — teach which are safe and which should not even be touched. Some lessons you teach now remain valuable for the rest of their lives.

Take the family pet camping with you

Families that own pets may want to consider taking the animal along. If you do, make sure the place you select allows your furry friend, and always have complete control over the animal. Nothing will ruin a family camping adventure faster than losing track of kitty or dog, or having him bother other campers. (Photo: John and Vikki Trout)

Riding bikes: If hiking isn’t for you, consider riding bicycles. If you have not been on a bike in a while, you may want to take a spin before your camping adventure to gain confidence and insure your bicycle is in good working order. If you do not own a bike, some park vendors rent bicycles. Consider Old Faithful Snow Lodge in the heart of Yellowstone geyser country, a memorable place for kids and adults, but don’t expect to reserve a bike — it’s “first come, first serve” only.

Freeheel and Wheel specializes in bicycle rental for all of Yellowstone and is conveniently located near Yellowstone’s West Entrance. For more information, call (406) 646-7744 or visit their website at www.freeheelandwheel.com.

Another fantastic park for bicycling is Smoky Mountain National Park. Bicycles (plus accessories such as a helmet) can be reserved at Cades Cove, and you can even consider helmets that include a “Go-Pro” camera. Dialing (865) 448-9034 will give you more information, or you can visit the website at www.cadescovetrading.com.

Horseback riding: If you enjoy horses, Cades Cove also offers guided horseback rides. For additional information, visit their website at www.cadescovestables.com or call (865) 448-9009.

A one- or two-hour adventure on horseback, horse and wagon or horse-drawn stage coach is available at Roosevelt Lodge in Yellowstone, opening in early June. The Roosevelt Area includes the famous cowboy cookout, making it a popular place so it fills up quickly. For reservations, check the website www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com or call (866) 439-7375.

But you don’t need to go to a nationally known park, because you probably have a place within easy driving distance that offers similar options.

Father and son family camping

You never know what you may see when camping. Obviously, these two were extremely excited about the “visitor” they see! (Photo: John and Vikki Trout)

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is that our children learn about the outdoors and how much pleasure and satisfaction they can bring, and family camping can enhance the relationship between parents and children. The day will come when they need “stress relief,” and nothing satisfies the way God’s amazing creation can. Another bonus is that you might be creating a future hunting partner!

About Vikki Trout:

vikki-trout-hunter-outdoor-writer-160x160Vikki Trout is a full-time freelance writer and photographer from southern Indiana. She loves hunting turkey, deer, bear and small game. When she’s not hunting, she loves capturing wildlife thru the lens of her camera. Please visit her website at www.troutswildoutdoors.com.

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6 Expert Tips for Catching Your Next Big Bluegill

By Keith Sutton

Want to catch bluegills as big as
dinner plates? Follow these 6 tips!

A big bluegill caught using proper techniques

Trophy bluegills, like this 2-pound plus catch, are among the wariest and most difficult to catch of all sportfish. It can be done, however, if you employ the right techniques in the water. (Photo: Keith Sutton)

Bluegill fishing isn’t hard. Anyone can catch them. These scrappy panfish are not especially wary, and small ones will forgive even the most slipshod angling techniques.

Catching large bluegills — those that weigh 1½ pounds or more — is a different story altogether. When a big bluegill reaches the size of a man’s hand, it’s been around long enough to be considerably more guarded than its little buddies. By the time it’s the size of a dinner plate, it’s one of the most cautious creatures in freshwater. Only the most skillful anglers are savvy enough to entice one to bite.

It can be done, however, especially if you follow these tips.

1. Fish the right waters

The primary key to catching these trophy fish — and I can’t stress this enough — is fishing the right body of water. You could fish many lakes that produce thousands of 1-pounders annually without ever catching a 1½- or 2-pound fish. Trophy bluegill waters are special waters with an excellent forage base and near-perfect balance of predators (like largemouth bass) and prey (bluegills and other small fish).

One way to pinpoint trophy waters is to phone the freshwater fisheries agency in the state you’re fishing and speak to a fisheries biologist familiar with bluegill waters. A few questions presented to the right individual could help you find several choice locations.

Social media sites like Facebook can also help. Look for friends posting photos of extra-large fish and see if they’ll share where they were caught. If they’re stubborn, a bottle of bourbon or a couple of your favorite fishing lures will sometimes loosen tongues.

A bluegill caught while fishing at night

Few bluegill anglers fish at night, but big bluegills like this are often easier to catch after dark. (Photo: Keith Sutton)

2. Fish quietly

Small fish tolerate an amazing amount of disturbance – a paddle banged against the boat, a fallen tackle box, squeaky boat seats. But a big bluegill won’t abide the slightest bit of commotion. At the first hint of danger, they disappear into the depths. It’s important to be attentive to noisy distractions. Wear soft-soled shoes in your boat. Arrange gear so there’s little chance of accidentally creating a disturbance. Fish slowly and “quiet as a mouse.”

3. Fish at night

In some waters in summer, the largest bluegills feed primarily at night, just like catfish. You can sometimes catch them on spinners, small topwater plugs and other noisy or vibrating lures. But live baits like small minnows or night crawlers are usually best for enticing heavyweights after dark. Lively 2- to 3-inch minnows are especially good for nighttime bluegill fishing because those exceeding 1½ pounds often turn from a diet of invertebrates to a diet of small fish.

Big bluegill caught from fishing on the bottom

Fish on the bottom: that’s one way to target heavyweight bluegills, which often are most active in the sanctuary of deep, dark water. Small spinners like the Road Runner Natural Science Trout & Panfish spinner work great for this. (Photo: Keith Sutton)

4. Fish on bottom

Bigger bluegills tend to take a position below the rest of a school, usually on or very near the bottom. A tightline bait rig is one of the best for catching these bottom dwellers. Thread a small egg sinker on your line and, below it, tie on a barrel swivel just large enough to keep the sinker from sliding off. To the swivel’s lower eye, tie a 2- or 3-foot leader of light line tipped with a long-shanked Carlisle hook. Add a small minnow, cricket or other live bait, then cast the rig and allow it to settle to the bottom. When a fish takes the bait, the line moves freely through the sinker with no resistance to alert fish to a possible threat.

The best lures are ones that can also be worked on or near the bottom. My favorite is Road Runner’s Natural Science Trout & Panfish spinner. I’ve used it to catch several bluegills at or exceeding the 2-pound mark. The 1/32-ounce size is small enough for small-mouthed bream to inhale, and the spinner blade rotates quickly even when the lure is retrieved at the snail’s pace usually needed to entice these persnickety panfish. Few lures are as effective for bluegill fishing.

5. Fish naked

No, not you. Your fishing line. When heavyweight bluegills are persnickety, one of the best ways to tempt them is stripping your terminal tackle away to the bare essentials — nothing more than a baited hook. No sinkers. No floats. No swivels. No terminal tackle of any kind except a quality-made, sharp-as-the-dickens No. 4 or 6 Carlisle hook with a lively cricket, small minnow or small piece of worm impaled on it. Without any weight except that of the hook, the bait sinks very slowly, fluttering about as it does. A big bluegill will find such baits irresistible. You’ll have to watch your line very closely as the bait sinks, looking for any slight movement indicating a hit. When regular tactics fail, this one can save the day.

6. Fish fresh

If the tactics here don’t produce, employ some fresh, new ideas. Use a different bait, try a new rig or visit another fishing locale. Trophy bluegills are among the wariest and most difficult to catch of all North American sportfish, but innovation has led to success a million times. There’s no reason it can’t land you your next trophy fish.

About Keith Sutton:

Keith Sutton headshotKeith Sutton is the author of “The Crappie Fishing Handbook,” a 198-page, full-color book full of crappie-fishing tips for beginners and experts alike. To order an autographed copy, send a check or money order for $29.45 to C&C Outdoor Productions, 15601 Mountain Drive, Alexander, AR 72002. For credit card and PayPal orders, visit www.catfishsutton.com.

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