Tuesday, June 6, 2017

bluegills !

Please to excuse the excitable post. Bluegill fishing according to myth and legend is easy, and they spawn prolifically. By these lights, it is one of the few fish species remaining where you can catch and kill a mess of 'em for a fish fry, guilt-free. In twenty-seven years of living in the US this would be the first time I've found bluegill as described in these foundational myths of US fly-fishing. So yes, I am excited, sufficiently to put up a post to commemorate this possibly singular occurrence.


John Gierach, himself something of a legend, got his start in paid writing with the aid of bluegill.
"I wrote a story about fly-fishing. I think it was about bluegills, because I used to go out to the ponds and catch bluegills for food. And I sold it, and I remember it was like, $75, which was huge money back then. And I just thought, “Well, maybe I can do this to finance my ‘real’ writing career instead of driving a garbage truck.” "
Paid writing is of course very different from writing, as witness this. An opportunity for gratitude, since I have derived tremendous pleasure and consolation from John's books over the years: thank you the bluegill.


An elderly fisherman needs elderly gear, a 1941 Heddon cane rod, and an English reel from the 50s, JW Young Landex. For me there is a small but constant pleasure to be found in fishing this outfit. The reel is nicely engineered and solidly built, long outlasting its owners. I confidently expect it to outlive me and hope that my sons will sell it on through ebay, to another eccentric. There is an element of pity and terror in this new enthusiasm for old fishing gear - like Frodo speaking of Gollum, "I have to believe he can come back." - if I can save these oddments from the teeth of time, perhaps I too may yet be saved. Perhaps not, but at least the fishing has been fine meantime.


The biggest bluegill I ever caught, some 9" or so. That's not large enough to qualify as a 'bull' bluegill which is 10-12" but quite big enough for who it's for. Bull bluegill indeed, it is impressive how fishermen can find a way to be macho even about little fish.


This is not a bluegill but some other representative of the glorious panoply of sunfish native to the US. First guess was a punkinseed but those have orange markers on their black ears (the little black tab at the top of the gill cover or operculum). 


I was standing in the shade, casting to fish in the shade. Upon hooking one it would dart out to deeper water, flashing in the sun, suspended in clear water above the dense green weeds. That much I remember.


The original plan was to catch bass, some hawgs as we fishermen like to say, but did not manage that. The bass were all fun-size like this one.

OK back to the bluegill, I may have been wandering a bit. It turns out that killing a mess of 'em is most likely counterproductive. An enterprising fisheries biologist in Wisconsin questioned the conventional wisdom than overpopulation produces stunted fish. Andrew Rypel set up a study using the ponds under his management. More restrictive size and number limits allow the 'stunted' populations to start growing again. Not only that, but the limit reductions will produce more fish flesh. As the bluegill get bigger in length, they get exponentially bigger in weight, so a few bigger fish weigh more than many small ones. The next step is a ten-year study in Wisconsin using varied regulations across many different ponds.

Later found another study which gets into the deep weeds of bluegill sexuality. The tale of big bull bluegill getting the babes is simple, clear, and wrong. There are two approaches to spawning. The second one is the sneaker or satellite male, who puts his efforts into growing massive gonads instead of simply growing massive. Then he waits for the rapture of the breeding pair, darts in and spreads his seed across the eggs, and escapes before the bull notices. These males are smaller but tend to produce larger offspring. The sneak then runs off to enjoy life, while the bull is left guarding his (and other fishes') progeny. Once the sneaker gets too big to sneak, he starts cross-dressing, and becomes a satellite breeder. These imitate the female colouring and hang around the breeding pair. The bull probably thinks he's getting some hot two-girl-fish action and feels all manly/bullish/bluegillish. Nature is always weirder than I imagined, it's wonderful.