Tape measures can get in the way of a good fishing story.
Twenty-inch smallmouth bass, 30-inch walleyes and honest 10-inch bluegills are not that common in most Wisconsin fisheries most of the time.
There are exceptions, of course.
Chequamegon Bay on Lake Superior and waters which surround the Door County peninsula regularly produce whopping big brown bass.
The waters of northern Green Bay and Fox River at the far south end are a taxidermist’s dream for eye-chasers. A 10-inch bluegill can come out of waters big and small all over the state—but most 10-inch bluegills reported only measure up at about eight inches.
Locally, Lake Kegonsa has some wide-bodied bull gills, which cover 10 inches on a ruler. Nelson Lake in Sawyer County has quite a few orange-chinned slabs.
My youngest daughter caught a beast just shy of 12 inches there when she was just a little girl. Actually, it was about an inch-and-a-half shy of a foot. I told her it was a “foot long” to help her perfect-story telling skills.
Fish stories can lead to foolish wagers.
There is only one lake in the state where you might come out ahead when challenged in a panfish prevarication claim: Prairie Lake just north of Chetek. Bluegills probably average 8 inches in this 1,584-acre lake fed by Rice Creek. Anyone harvesting an outrageously high 25-fish limit of keepers in this northernmost water of the Chetek chain will almost certainly have at least a couple of bluegills that are honest 10-inchers.
Prairie Lake was a perfect venue to try out my new St. Croix specialty panfish rod last week, with my buddy Dan “Bimbo” Gifford, who lives just a stone’s throw from Prairie Lake. Gifford created the Bimbo Skunk, arguably the best bluegill lure I’ve ever seen.
The ’Skunk weighs a scant 1/80 ounce. This bait’s slow fall through the water column is tough for a bluegill to resist. Add a waxworm to the mix and you might as well just leave the livewell open.
Bluegills in Prairie are post-spawn and holding in deeper water on Prairie Lake right now, especially around wood and the edges of deep-water weeds along the 9- to 10-foot contour. Gifford and I had limited time to catch a mess of fish, so we tied on Teddy Skunk Perchanators. The Perchanator has a generally orange color scheme and is considerably heavier at 1/32 of an ounce.
This weight is right in the ballpark for those St. Croix panfish rods. Bimbo has one too, nine feet of fishin’ pole.
Just more than a year ago, a tornado blew across the middle of Prairie Lake, scattering countless limbs, debris—and about 10,000 domestic turkeys—in its wake. Evidence of the big blow can be clearly seen in the twisted trees on both east and west sides of the lake.
The turkey carcasses are long gone, but it’s hard not to muse that bluegills relating to the debris field grew to gargantuan proportion feeding on displaced poultry.
Bimbo caught the biggest fish on this outing, beating me by 3/8 inch. We kept 10 panfish, more than enough to feed a family.
We anchored up over a tree on the bottom to catch most of our fish. There were a half-dozen boats in the vicinity. Most of the anglers were drift fishing. It looked like everybody was catching fish.
Catching bluegills in June is not rocket science. Most folks could probably find success on Prairie Lake with little more than a stick, string and safety pin if they kept a hook in the water.
“Keeper” status is an individual decision. There is no minimum-size requirement for bluegills in Wisconsin.
A bluegill measuring 8 inches is truly a quality fish. The dominant year class of bluegills swimming in Prairie Lake is in the 8 inch range. But don’t be surprised if you catch a couple of fish that make 8-inchers look small.