By Doug Leier

Late in the 1980s my family moved from LaMoure to Valley City. I'd fished the Jim River and Lake LaMoure prior to the move, and enjoyed an array of fish, from pike to perch and even the lowly carp.

In Barnes County around Valley City, I spent a good chunk of time fishing Lake Ashtabula and the Sheyenne River, and found a few favorite bluegill ponds. In fact, looking at my time living in towns from Bismarck, Stanley and Bottineau to Moffit, Kulm and now West Fargo, I've always enjoyed the small-fish bite - not 10-inch walleye, but bluegill, perch and even bullhead.

In my experience, and I suspect that of most everyone else, perch and bluegill taste better than bullhead, so I now find myself and the family seeking out a steady bluegill bite as first priority. Right about now is a good time to start looking, as water tempertures heat up and turn on the bluegill spawning effort.

Crappie, bluegill and pumpkinseed and green sunfish are often slapped with the catch-all label of "sunny" before an angler takes the time to discern the correct association. Bluegill are members of the sunfish family and do vary in coloration, but usually are dark olive above, with dark vertical bars on the upper sides and orange or yellow on the throat and belly. Its gill covers are blue - hence the name - with a black tip on the flap.

Beneath the shallow depths this time of year, male bluegill select nest sites and prepare the spawning grounds, moving away mud, sand and vegetation, with the final goal of a plate-sized depression in the lake bottom.

After the site is ready, the male begins the process of attracting a female with an assortment noises. Eggs hatch in a matter of days after they are deposited in the nest.

The peak of the bluegill spawn in North Dakota is from mid-June to about the end of the month. Male bluegill are on call the entire time, guarding eggs from any disturbance or threat, and continually watching over the nest and using fins to disperse unwanted mud and removed unfertilized eggs with no chance to hatching from the nest. Scientists say that several females typically spawn in one nest and hatching success is high. But despite the best efforts of diligent males guarding eggs and newly hatched fry, mortality of young is correspondingly high.

I've learned through a few decades that prime time bluegill fishing comes during the spawning season, as male bluegills will attack most any type of bait. The only real skill you need is the ability to cast a bait within striking distance of a nest. The fish don't seem to care what is in the water. A hook tipped with a bit of nightcrawler, or a small spinner or jig and twister tail, all can generate attention from fiesty bluegill.

I'm not trying to convince anyone that catching a bluegill is like fighting pike or bass, but those of us who appreciate a bobber popping the water have nothing to apologize for.

Odds are you won't find many best-sellers on tips and tactics for catching bigger and more bluegill, but a quick search around the area and odds are you'll find panfish just a few casts from any corner of North Dakota.

Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Department. He can be reached by email:[email protected]