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How To Find And Catch Sunfish In Spring

April 26, 2020 in Articles, Fishing

By Dan Johnson
Spring is a great time to find and catch bluegills and other sunfish. Like their speckled crappie cousins, sunfish invade fast-warming shallows each spring to feast on a variety of forage. Shortly after the feeding binge subsides, their thoughts turn to continuing the species, and the action shifts toward the spawning grounds.

To help you stay on the bite, the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance offers these time-tested tips on how to catch spring sunfish by the score.

Throughout spring, fish location and behavior is governed by factors including water temperature and weather conditions. In early spring, sunny days with balmy air temperatures draw hordes of hungry bluegills, pumpkinseeds and other sunfish into fast-warming shallows to feed. But cool nights and brutal cold fronts often force them out into deeper water offshore.

In many fisheries, panfish don’t get serious about hanging around the shallows until there are major insect hatches and young-of-the-year forage fish (such as perch fry) arrive on the scene. The timing of this depends on your location. It can be mid-May in northern fisheries and much earlier across the South.

In between shallow feeding flurries, veteran Northwoods fishing guide and USA friend Jeff Sundin targets offshore hotspots nearby. “Before the spawn begins, you can usually find fish hanging out along primary drop-offs that lead into deeper water,” he says.

He favors soft, marl-bottom flats near the bases of these shoreline breaks. “I look for the kind of bottom that sticks to the anchor when you bring it up, so you have to swish it back and forth in the water a minute or two before lifting it in the boat,” he laughs. “That kind of sticky mix of sand and clay breeds all forms of insect life.”

When fishing deep water, Sundin often ties on a 1/16-ounce standard jig head, but notes that, “Insect-imitating ice fishing jigs like the Lindy Toad and Ice Worm are great, too.” Tippings range from waxworms to crawler parts and tiny leeches. “This time of year you have all sorts of baits available, so you can mix and match until the bluegills show a preference for something,” he says.

“The presentation is similar to late-winter ice fishing,” he continues. “Get over the fish and hold the jig as still as possible, so sunfish can sneak up and inhale it.” While Sundin prefers tight-lining, he notes that bobber rigs work well, too.

Paul Fournier hits soft-bottom feeding areas early, then switches to firmer foundations once the spawn approaches.

Pressure-Cooker Panfish
Fellow sunfish stalker and USA ally Paul Fournier focuses on pressured lakes in Minnesota’s Twin Cities metropolitan area. “Big bluegills are skittish on these systems, so stealth and silence are key,” he cautions.

During the prespawn, Fournier focuses on bays rich in soft, mucky substrates. “Crappies are roamers and can show up anywhere, even on sand and rubble shorelines, but bluegills like to root around in the mud,” he says.

Given his quarry’s spookiness, Fournier favors long-range strikes with light jigs suspended under small bobbers. Wielding a 9½-foot steelhead-style rod loaded with 4- to 6-pound monofilament mainline, he fires Lindy Little Nippers and small ice lures into the strike zone. “Because sunfish have such amazing vision, I use a three-foot leader of 2-pound fluorocarbon,” he adds.

Addressing other tackle considerations, he says a USA-made Thill Wobble Bobber extends his reach and adds animation to the jig below. “Wobble Bobbers are extra dense for great casting, and their pear-shaped design makes them rock back and forth with the slightest twitch or ripple,” he explains.

To see the Wobble Bobber in action, courtesy of USA conservation and outreach supporters Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, CLICK HERE.

Secrets Of The Spawn
Water temperatures rising into the upper 60s trigger spawning activity. Sunfish nest in colonies, excavating beds on firm bottoms such as sand or gravel. Some fish stay in early season feeding areas if they can find suitable spawning habitat, but they’ll move if they have to. On one of my favorite central Minnesota sunfish lakes, for example, the fish flood into a complex of bays and canals to feed. Once the spawn draws near, most leave for hard-bottomed areas around the main lake shoreline, and along the edges of islands.

Sunfish are social butterflies and like to spawn in large colonies. Slip on a pair of polarized glasses and scout potential bedding areas, either by boat or on foot. Once you find a colony, make a mental note of its location—or better yet, jot it in a journal. The same spots tend to attract fish year after year, so once you establish a milk run of bedding areas, you can usually count on it for years to come.

Bed-fishing tactics include anything that triggers nest-guarding fish to strike. Fournier grabs a flyrod and fishes 1/64- to 1/32-ounce Little Nippers. “I use a pull-pause retrieve just like you would a streamer fly,” he explains.

Sundin works the shallows with a long, telescoping pole, dropping bobber rigs into colonies from afar.

“I set a small float a foot or two above a small jig tipped with bait, and fish it through the beds,” he says. “Sunfish hit just about anything that comes near the nest. To make it easier for them to see my presentation, I often slip a size 2 spinner blade on the line before tying on the jig. To keep it from interfering with hooksets, I pinch a split shot or two on the line a couple inches above the jig.”

Bedding fish are extremely aggressive and easy to catch, making it easy to quickly gather a few fish for a fine meal. Just remember to be selective about your harvest, leaving plenty of spawners to continue this rite of spring well into the future.

Union Volunteers Take Minnesota Kids Ice Fishing

January 19, 2020 in Fishing, General, Press Release, Work Boots On The Ground

Volunteer Mike Rodger (center) of Cement Masons Local 633 showed a pair of young participants the finer points of ice fishing tactics.

Dire predictions of an apocalyptic blizzard didn’t stop more than 75 young anglers from celebrating winter with local labor union volunteers at the Minneapolis Area Take Kids Ice Fishing Day on Chisago Lake Saturday, January 18.

A joint effort by the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA), International Union of Elevator Constructors (IUEC) Local 9 and a coalition of other supporters, the free event was aimed at introducing the next generation of anglers and conservationists to the joys of ice fishing.

As it turned out, the area received only 2 to 4 inches of snow—a mere “dusting” by Minnesota standards–coupled with mild morning temperatures that made for excellent fishing conditions.

Over 25 union volunteers and B.A.S.S. High School Fishing members provided participants with hands-on ice fishing instruction and assistance. Much to their delight, the budding anglers each received a free Pure Fishing ice fishing rod and reel, game calls from Plano Synergy and other goodies. As a bonus from local unions and other supporters, more than $3,000 in door prizes were given away as well.

Elevator Constructors Local 9 member Dave Morin (left) greeted guests with free fishing tackle.

“We had a great turnout and the event went really well,” said local volunteer project leader Dave Morin, a member of IUEC Local 9. “It’s awesome to see all these kids getting out to experience ice fishing, some for the first time. I’m thankful to our sponsors, the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance and all the volunteers who pitched in to make this possible.”

Participants came from across the Twin Cities and around the region. Tony Wilking made the 70-mile drive from St. Cloud so his 6-year-old son Jack could enjoy the festivities. “We’re grateful for everyone who put this event together,” said Wilking, a retired U.S. Army veteran. “Activities like ice fishing are so much better for kids than sitting inside playing video games.”

Participants Tony Wilking (left) and son Jack were all smiles waiting for a fish to take the bait.

“This is a really cool idea,” added David Brandner, of Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota, who brought his son Mason to the event. “You’re getting kids involved in the outdoors, which is wonderful. Plus, how many people can say they took their kid fishing and got a free fishing pole?”

Volunteer Jarrod Asleson, a member of Cement Masons (OPCMIA) Local 633, said donating time to take kids fishing was a labor of love. “My wife is an AFSCME union member and we’re both happy to be out here doing something positive for our community,” he said. “This is our second time volunteering at a Union Sportsmen’s Alliance youth ice fishing event and we’re already looking forward to next year!”

The Chisago Lake Take Kids Ice Fishing Day was organized through the USA’s Work Boots on the Ground conservation program, which is supported by USA national conservation partners Bass Pro Shops, Plano Synergy, Provost Umphrey Law Firm, Pure Fishing, Remington Arms and the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation.

The event was sponsored by IUEC Local 9 and the Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s Outdoor Fund, with support from: IBEW Local 110, Operating Engineers Local 49, OPCMIA Local 633, Pipefitters Local 539, UA Plumbers Local 15, Roofers Local 96 and the Minneapolis and Saint Paul Building and Construction Trades councils. Additional corporate partners included Clam Outdoors, Joe’s Sporting Goods, Maynard’s Tackle, Northland Fishing Tackle and Today’s Tackle.

Chisago Lake was a hub of activity as more than 75 youth and their families turned out for the USA’s Take Kids Ice Fishing Day.

“Thanks to Dave Morin and his diehard crew of volunteers from various unions and the local community, the event was a great success,” said USA Conservation Manager Robert Stroede. “Participants were treated to a fun morning of ice fishing in heated shelters with everything they needed to experience the fun of ice fishing and hopefully get hooked on the sport.”

The Minneapolis-area event was the latest in series of free, community-based Take Kids Fishing Day activities held through Work Boots on the Ground, which organizes union volunteers to complete conservation, public access, education, youth outreach and adult mentorship projects that would otherwise go undone.

Launched in 2010, the program has completed 230 projects in 31 states. The value of volunteer labor donated through WBG is fast approaching $1.5 million, while outreach events have engaged nearly 13,000 participants, including more than 6,000 in 2019.

Participants David Brandner and son Mason savored a chance to get out on the ice together.

Union Sportsmen’s Alliance Youth Outreach Program Awarded $25,000 Grant from Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s Outdoor Fund

December 16, 2019 in Conservation News, Press Release, Work Boots On The Ground

The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance’s (USA) community-based youth outreach events recently received a boost in the form of a $25,000 grant from the Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s Outdoor Fund.

The donation will support youth events in the USA’s Work Boots on the Ground program. Portions of the grant funds will be applied to at least a half-dozen events, including the USA’s second-annual Take Kids Ice Fishing Day in Minnesota next January.

By all accounts, the new partnership is a perfect match. Each year, the USA organizes free fishing, recreational shooting and hunting events through Work Boots on the Ground—which unites union volunteers to complete conservation, public access, education, youth outreach and adult mentorship projects that would otherwise go undone.

Launched in 2010, the program has completed 230 projects in 31 states. The value of volunteer labor donated through WBG is approaching $1.5 million, while outreach events have engaged nearly 13,000 participants, including more than 6,000 in 2019 alone.

Each outreach event is designed to connect participants with the nation’s outdoor heritage by teaching practical outdoor skills while instilling an appreciation of nature and desire to conserve and protect it.

A $25,000 grant from the Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s Outdoor Fund will help thousands of youth experience fishing and hunting through the USA’s outreach events.

Guided by the visionary leadership of Bass Pro founder Johnny Morris, the Outdoor Fund empowers Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s 200 million annual customers to support conservation efforts by roundup up their purchases. Rallying passionate customers alongside dedicated team members, industry partners and leading conservation organizations like the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance, Bass Pro is creating North America’s largest conservation movement to collectively shape the future of the outdoors and all who love it for generations to come.

“Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s and the USA share the same goal,” said USA CEO and Executive Director Scott Vance, “to introduce new people to hunting and fishing so our outdoor heritage and conservation ethics survive and flourish.”

Many of the USA’s youth events are held in urban and semi-urban areas where young people have little or no opportunity to engage in traditional outdoor activities on their own, Vance noted. “Local union members, in service to their community, volunteer their time to mentor young participants, with the hope of igniting a spark that turns into a life-long passion for the outdoors,” he explained.

“The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance is thrilled with the opportunity to partner with Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s—great organizations that share the vision of preserving our outdoor traditions and natural resources for generations to come,” added USA Conservation and Communications Director Forrest Parker. “This partnership will allow the USA to continue to grow our mission and engage even more youth and communities with the outdoors.”

Though the USA-Bass Pro Shops partnership is still in its infancy, Bass Pro Shops also supported a USA-led youth event marking the Nov. 2 dedication of a new wheelchair-accessible fishing pier at the Suncoast Youth Conservation Center (SYCC) in Apollo Beach, Florida.

Part of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Florida Youth Conservation Centers Network, the center focuses on aquatic conservation education and annually serves more than 11,000 youth and adults.

The massive new pier is the result of a multi-year community service project organized by the USA through Work Boots on the Ground. Donations in funds, volunteer union labor, materials and other construction expenses from project partners topped $800,000. The effort is the USA’s largest to date and marks the organization’s 200th Work Boots on the Ground project completion.

More than 500 youth signed up to participate in a free fishing event built into the day’s festivities. Volunteers from local labor unions, the FWC and members of the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) assisted the excited young anglers. Bass Pro Shops donated $2,000 in clothing and gear to help outfit the young anglers, while the USA used the occasion to proudly announce the Outdoor Fund grant.