BROOKLYN — It’s been more than two years since I shared a day with Bluegill Bob Miskowski, the first time it’s been anywhere near that long since I met him 20 years ago. Generally, we fish at least two or three days a year, sometimes more.
In 2010, when we had safe ice before Christmas, Miskowski — who is as close to a bluegill-fishing legend as there is in these parts — and I smacked the ’gills on a southern Michigan lake. A week or so later, I had a disagreement with a tree stand that put me on my back for a while. It was during my recuperation that Miskowski called to tell me he was going to be out of the game, too, after falling on the ice. He needed surgery to repair his knee.
That’s where our paths diverged. My cracked pelvis came around quickly. Miskowski’s knee didn’t. Fast forward to now and I am not much worse for the wear. Miskowski’s using a walker. So when I called him recently to fish, he hemmed and hawed about not wanting to be too much trouble. But I convinced him I could handle it if he could and there’s very little quit in Bluegill Bob.
We didn’t get started until the afternoon as Miskowski said the medication he takes to sleep puts him out of commission in the mornings. We chose Vineyard Lake, a Jackson County lake not far from his Lenawee County home, a place we’d shared many a sunfish safari over the years.
Our plan was simple: motor around until we found some bedding ‘gills. It was tougher than it should have been; the wind was up — making it difficult to spot the beds — and because he was unable to stand, I had run to run the six-horse outboard and watch the bottom. I found a spot, we anchored and started catching some fish almost immediately, but they were runts, well short of the seven-inch mark Miskowski considers an honorable ‘gill.
“There’s nothing wrong with a seven-inch fish,” Miskowski said. “You hear guys all the time talking about catching nine- and 10-inch ‘gills and I say, ‘show them to me.’ They’re usually 8 inches, maybe 8¼. There’s not that many nines and 10s.”
The next two places we tried were the same: all runts. Two hours into it we didn’t have a fish in the bucket, which, if you know Bluegill Bob, is almost unheard of. We headed for the far side of the lake — a significant run in a 12-footer, but when we got there and I motored along the edge of a weedy, drop-off, I saw the pie-plate sized gravel divots that the sunfish had fanned out on the flat. We anchored and cast. I caught an 8-inch bluegill.
Over the next few minutes, I caught two more beauties — another ‘gill and a redear that would scare the heck out of nine inches. Miskowski caught a nice one and then we started catching bass. We pulled anchor and started looking again.
“The wind is killing us,” Miskowski said. “If we can’t go early in the day, it’s hard to see the beds.”
We found another spot and the catching commenced.
We were using Miskowki’s long-time technique; he uses a two-eyed practice plug as a float and ties a four-pound test dropper — long enough that it’s kissing the bottom — on the business end. From there, we diverged. Bluegill Bob used small flies tipped with wax worms. I used a hook and a worm.
Miskowski chided me about that when I stopped to buy the bait. “You’re wasting your money,” he said. “Wax worms are all you need.”
Maybe so, but the sunfish seemed to prefer the earthworms that day. Although I didn’t have exactly what I wanted — the bait shop didn’t have any red worms — I was using a half nightcrawler and I was out-fishing Miskowski, which I believe was the first time that’s ever happened.
It wasn’t easy; the chop on the water made it difficult to see any movement of the float and it takes a whopper of a sunfish to pull that practice plug under. But we stayed with it, picked up a few more and moved again.
Miskowski, 70 now, has refined his technique over the decades. When he first started, he just used the flies (no bait), size 12 or 14, but now he’s using a bigger one (size 10) and sweetening the offering. The flies alone just aren’t producing like they used to, he said.
And the fishing’s different, too — better, he said.
“They started putting those redears in these lakes and they cross bred with the bluegills,” he said. “The fish are bigger now.”
Indeed, we caught plenty of fish that appeared to redear/bluegill hybrids. And the ones were kept were running better than eight inches on average.
Around 6 p.m., I could see Miskowski was getting tired. I asked if he wanted to go. He said, anytime.
That’s different, too. I can’t tell you how many times, with darkness approaching, we’d count fish and Miskowski would say “we can catch six more,” or however many it would take to reach the limit and he wanted to stay until we did. (And we did.)
This time, well, I pulled anchor. We had about 30 in the bucket — all nice, filletable-sized sunfish.
“We’ll go again, won’t we?” Miskowski asked as we motored back to the launch ramp.
Sure, Bob. We’ll go again. How about tomorrow?