Time to Run With the Bulls (Fish) in South Jersey
No, not the horned bovines rampaging the streets of Pamplona, Spain, but the “bull” bluegills, those pugnacious males guarding the nests that have been the recent recipients of the procreation spawn load.
Sure, these are sunfish, but not the 3-4 inch sunnies associated with kids, a Barbie or Spiderman push button outfit, a bobber and a nib of garden worm.
These are the bruisers that will reach nine-inches, possibly longer and will approach the 3/4-pound mark. These are the pug-headed busters that will assault artificials with a ferocity that, based on respective size, certainly rival that of its larger kin, the largemouth and smallmouth bass. Their wide bodies put a bend in an ultra-light spinning rod and #3-5 weight fly rod as they turn broadside with their wide bodies and make strong, circular pulls.
The best part? Predicated on venue (read: water quality), the thick fillets fry up nicely and rival the sweetness of a crappie or perch.
There’s no mistaking a bull: it will be displaying the purple/black body bars, apricot-hued breast and telltale indigo gill flap. They can be easily located over or along the circular nests that are scooped depressions in anywhere from 1-4 feet and within a short cast from the bank. The nesting sites will be guarded until the fry hatch and disperse, and this period will run from early May into mid- June, sometimes longer as the mating is oftentimes staggered.
The bulls are aggressive, for sure and will strike anything that appears a threat. Ultra-lite artificials such as the Trout Magnet, a one or two-inch curly tail grub on a 1/16-oz. jig head, a small hair jig, a tiny plug such as a Yo-Zuri Snap Bean or Aile Goby...all will get whacked. A small cork popper, a high floating #10 dry fly such as a Wulff or Irresistible, or brightly colored wet fly like a Royal Coachman, will get sucked in.
They can be fearless, too, sometimes taking shots at lures meant for bass. A recent foray on an Atlantic County pond saw a bull pummel a wacky rigged Senko that was targeted alongside a laydown where a largemouth was suspected to be hiding. The toss was a bit off and Boom! went the bull.
Southern New Jersey is loaded, packed and otherwise full of lakes, ponds and creeks that play host to the ubiquitous bluegill. In fact, it’s difficult not to find a body of freshwater where they are not present and thriving. These are a ton of fun on the appropriate tackle, and the next few weeks can give one an appreciation for what this mighty mite has to offer.