KINDERHOOK — The rule of thumb for anglers is that as summer lengthens, fish go deeper. And though that is largely true for a number of species, there are still plenty of fish to be caught shallow. That’s the mantra of one of my fishing buddies, who showed me again recently that there’s no need to go deep for sunfish species during the summer — as long as you fish shallow water properly.
I was on Lake George, a body of water that spans the Michigan/Indiana border, with Buck Leazier, an Indiana resident I’ve known and fished with (in Michigan) for a number of years. Leazier, who brought his buddy Ed Freiburger with him, always fishes shallow water, whether for bass or bluegills. And he pretty much always catches them.
Leazier has two rules for summertime bluegill (and redear sunfish) angling in shallow water: get started early and fish hard.
“It’s just like bass fishing,” says Leazier, a mostly retired mason by trade. “Just cover water and keep casting.”
We were fishing with what Leazier called red wigglers — earthworms that were slightly larger than basic red worms and appeared to me to be juvenile nightcrawlers; I remember buying similar worms labeled “African crawlers” at a bait shop many year ago — with a simple hook (no. 6 Aberdeen) and a small split shot (about the size of a .22 slug) pinched on about 5 inches up the line from the hook. Leazier kept the boat out in about 5 feet of water and cast his bait toward the bank.
We started catching fish — not just bluegills, but redears, bass, perch and rock bass, too — almost immediately at 6:30 a.m. By 8:30 we had 40 in the ice chest.
“I like to keep it moving,” Leazier explained as he “cracked ‘em,” as he put it. “They’re up here to feed and when they see that thing moving they come over to eat.”
Leazier said he does most of his damage in “1 to 3 feet of water” and though that’s not the only way to catch them, he said, it works best for him.
“Most guys go out and fish deeper, on the outside of the weed lines,” he said. “You can catch fish out there, but the weed beds are loaded with small fish. There’s small fish up here, too, but you don’t run into the big pods of them like you do in the weed beds.”
That’s one of the keys, Leazier said. Avoid the weeds. He fishes along lake shores that have hard bottoms, like gravel or sand, and will leave an area if he starts finding significant weeds.
“If you’ve got weeds, this doesn’t work,” he said. “You’ve got to use a bobber to fish in the weeds. You can’t work it along the bottom.”
Leazier hooks his worm once through the nose and then back through the body again just a smidgen away from the first hook penetration. The second hooking just helps keep the bait on the hook better and helps keep the fish from stealing it. The result is presenting a fairly long worm that, according to Leazier “has the right profile” to get them to bite.
We caught nice panfish; we were keeping sunfish that measured about 7.5 inches (by eye) though we tossed an occasional smaller one on ice if it took the hook too deeply to survive. We had plenty of very nice (say 8 inches) ‘gills and some redears that would scare the heck out of 10 inches. Nice fish.
There were a couple of other boats out bluegill fishing — they were all out in deeper water — and they didn’t seem to be enjoying the success we had. But they were not covering water like we were, either.
“You’re not going to pull up on one spot and fill your live well doing this,” Leazier said. “You’ll catch one here, two there, maybe three or four or five out of one spot. But if you keep moving, next thing you know you’ve got 35 or 40 or 50 of them.”
The fishing slowed as the sun rose — Leazier said that’s the way it is — and over the next hour or so we only caught about a dozen more keepers. We quit around 10 a.m., which is what Leazier usually does because the bite slows down “and you’ve usually got a pretty good mess of fish by then, anyway.”
Leazier theorizes it’s the high sun and warming water temperatures that cause the bite to slow, and increasing boat traffic — the water skiers were out by 10 — drive the fish from the shallows out to deeper water refuges.
“In the fall you can catch them like this all day long,” he said. “Maybe it’s because the water is cooler, but I’ve had plenty of days when I’ll go deer hunting in the morning then get out on the lake later and I catch them.
“I’m not going to say this will work on every lake,” he added. “On those real weedy lakes where there’s a lot of milfoil, this doesn’t work that well. And you’ve got to be on the right bank; on this lake a lot of the other banks have weeds on them so I don’t fish those.”
We could come back again tomorrow and do the same thing, Leazier said, because there are always new fish moving into the shallows.
“Just keep your trolling motor on and your head down,” he said, “and keep casting.”