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It's happening now in quiet ponds, lakes and backwaters across Wisconsin. Small, feisty fish are congregating in the shallows. The males are scooping saucers in sandy or soft bottoms with their tails, inviting females to deposit eggs.
This first, frenzied call of the mating season reaches anglers too: The bluegills are on the beds!
On such a day, I remember being 10 and having a cane pole with stout fishing line, a clumsy cork bobber and a hook big enough to hold a glob of garden worms. These were the days before ultralight spinning tackle, synthetic lines, thin leaders and plastic lures. I would fish from the shore of an old millpond on June mornings and become mesmerized by the bobber dancing amid the slanted reflections of the early sun.
When the bobber scooted sideways across the water, I would yank the pole tip skyward. That's when the 'gill was holding the hook, or so I thought. I missed more often than not. But on that occasion when I hooked my quarry, it would rocket from the water, swinging pendulum-like toward me on the heavy line. I would grab the line left-handed, holding the pole upright with my right. Sometimes I missed, and the flopping fish would make an unceremonious swing or two before I made the grab. Then I would admire my catch.
Often, it was an orange-breasted seven-or eight-inch mature male with purple sides and a dark-spotted gill cover. He would seem more colorful than a fish should. Most of my catch were females or immature males, less colorful, but full of fight. The small ones were set free; those over five inches were added to a rope stringer.
For an hour or two, I was immersed in the world of the bluegill. Homework was forgotten, the neighbor girl who always wanted to tag along had to take music lessons, and I had convinced Dad that I wasn't big enough to mow the lawn. Of course, that would soon change.
That was long ago. Much has changed since...except the bluegills. They're still plentiful and available. When they are on their beds, they can be fished from shore, boat or by wading. Cane poles will still do the job, but the ultralight gear is more fun. The 'gills attack variously tipped jigs as well as small poppers and colorful flies. Bluegills still aren't finicky.
I still like getting lost in that world of dancing bobbers, pungent algal fragrance and red-winged blackbird territorial song. The action is often constant and even the misses are exciting. Each bluegill added to the basket is a thing of beauty and a source of delight. My concentration is total. And still, the world seems a far-away thing. There are no jobs, no pressures, no deadlines. My boss is a nice guy. I love the lady ahead of me at the checkout counter who writes a personal check for a 65-cent item. I feel only mildly guilty about my wife at home mowing the lawn. And for an hour or two, I'm 10 years old again. Bluegills on the beds will do that to a person.
Dick Hall is an outdoor writer from Oshkosh, Wis.