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The broad category of sunfish and bluegills commonly referred to as "sunnies'' not only provide great eating, but great sport. (Dennis Anderson/Minneapolis Tribune/MCT)
Sunday, April 29, 2012

Young anglers can train on ‘sunnies’


The Outdoor Notebook

Ever since I was a young lad setting out with a hand me down pole rigged with cheap braided line and nickel a box fishing hooks I’ve pursued the “glamour fish” of the angling world.

Trout laid claim to the top spot with their spots of vivid color or flanks of rainbow hues, enticing anglers of all ages to covet and pursue this colorful fish.

Bass, both of the largemouth and smallmouth variety, filled in the next niche and were sought out for their smashing strikes and acrobatic leaps when they engaged in a hooked battle.

Pickerel fit in their somewhere, mostly for the savagery of their attack and their co-operation as a game fish that would eat just about anything you could throw their way as an offering.

Unfortunately for a young lad, prime waters for the glamour species were not to be found close at hand. There were several bog ponds near my home and this is where my fishing buddies and I would spend most of our time trying to perfect our skills as anglers.

The basic inhabitants of these silt-bottomed ponds consisted of horn pout, shiners, small yellow perch and the ever-willing sunfish and bluegills. The latter species became our glamour fish because of the magical colors they exhibited on their head and sides especially in the spring during nesting time. The bright yellows, rich reds and oranges and of course the metallic sheen of blue around the gill plates were the identity markers of these fish. Brightly decorated with rich and vibrant colors they shamed the pout, perch and shiners that co-existed with them in these ponds.

Of course there were the usual rumors circulated by the older teenaged boys that out 75 yards or so along the cattails and bullrushes lived broad shouldered largemouth bass that would break our old poles with their size and strength. This was a tantalizing tease to those of us younger, shorebound anglers and many a fantasy was created around our active imaginations of the size and fighting abilities of these mythical fish. Our feeble equipment couldn’t attempt casting to the reaches of the special lair these trophies inhabited so we had to content ourselves with what was available.

Therein a special appreciation for sunnies and bluegills developed, not just for their colorful appearance but their willingness to satisfy the urge of a youngster to develop angling skills sure to be brought into play as one grew older and the expanse of the angling world became more readily available. A bluegill is by virtue of its shape an upright flat sided fish that can effectively use this slab form by turning sidewise to an anglers pull. The flat shape acts as built-in resistance and helps the bluegill in avoiding capture. Without the size or built in bulk of his cousin the bass, bluegills use every trick they can employ for their small size and the fight they put up can be impressive. To the adventuresome spirit of a 10-year-old boy, bluegills and sunfish were just the ticket to cut your angling teeth on.

Time marched on and bog ponds gave way to bigger adventures as a fledgling angler grew into manhood and the lure of bigger waters holding bigger fish became an attainable reality.

The legendary trout, once the dream of a young boy, and the pounding surge of large bass straining the rod and testing the skills of an angler are finally at hand. Stripers in the crashing surf enter the realm of the angler or maybe it’s the bone jarring jump of a mangrove backwater tarpon shaking his head at you as he jumps 6 feet in the air beside the boat.

Certainly the bluegills and sunfish of yesterday pale by comparison to the real glamour fish of today. After all – who comes home bragging that they caught a bluegill after spending so much time and effort in preparing oneself for the task of serious angling?

But then everything has a way of coming around full circle and as we grow older there is a maturing need within us to slow it down a notch or two. Those long ago basics learned fishing on that bog pond grow larger in the angling memory and an itch soon develops deep inside to make it all simpler and easier. Oh, I know, there is still that urge to catch bigger fish and larger trophies to adorn one’s memory banks with but the urge seems to diminish in importance. The simplistic pleasure of catching a bluegill or two seems to restore a sense of adventure that began long ago inside an angler’s soul. The old hand me down pole gets upgraded to an ultra light handling wisp of a rod and tiny reel to competitively match the size of our opponent.

The bluegill of today’s modern world holds up his ancestral end of the equation between fish and angler as well as those of many years ago. An engaging little battler, the bluegill and sunfish I meet today still brings a smile of pleasure to my lips when all else out there is beyond my cast.

Gordon Lewis can be reached at