For the past 22 years, the week following Memorial Day has been a week of fun fishing with my wife's side of the family. They stay at Triggs Bay Resort on East Okoboji, and it always coincides with some of the finest bluegill fishing in the Midwest.
My job is to help three brothers in their mid-80s and older, along with one of the most special people I have ever met. His name is Tom Scheffel, son of the eldest brother, Lloyd, and they hale from Chicago. Tom, who is mentally handicapped, lives to fish. With a long cane pole, bobber and a tiny jig tipped with a worm, Tom keeps us busy helping bait his hook and take off the many bluegills he catches every day. When it comes to using a cane pole, Tom is a master at his trade!
This week is always the perfect week for us to catch bluegills, yellow bass, perch and a few crappies. You pick the lake: Minnewashta, Upper Gar, East Okoboji or West Okoboji. Although the year might be just a little different, it's pretty much of a guarantee that we will be able to locate the fish on one of these lakes.
The stable platform of my Crestliner pontoon is perfect for the fishing we like to do. Plus, it has four swivel fishing seats located at each corner of the platform, perfect for spreading us out. Usually, it is the five of us, along with my grandson and sometimes as many as eight of us that fish on the pontoon. Still, there is plenty of casting room for this many.
The fish are shallow, usually in the pre-spawn mode. An important key to this type of fishing is finding good wooden docks (structure) that have some weed growth nearby and a good sandy bottom for the bluegills to be able to make their spawning beds.
It is important to get the bait down to the bluegills at this time of year. They are hanging near the spawning area, so you need to get the bait in their face. If you do, they will attack and inhale the entire worm, and the battle will be on. Invariably, we will have our encounters with both largemouth and smallmouth bass, and maybe even a walleye or two. It seems as if all fish love a fat, juicy garden worm this time of year. You can also purchase worms at the local bait shops.
Best fishing occurs during sunny, warm days with calm waters. Even if the wind blows, I have found areas that we can always get out of the wind. Quite often, it is clear enough that you can actually see the fish go after the bait.
We all use light line, preferably 3 to 4-pound test with No. 12 Rat Finkee jigs (white, chartreuse and orange). If we are fishing West Lake, the water is clear enough that you can see the fish, so we sometimes straight-line and let the bait drop right down to them. At other times, we will clip on a small bobber so that the bait is just off the bottom and cast in and around the docks. On those warm, sunny afternoons, the fish often suspend, so the bait must be brought up to that level.
One of my favorite recipes for panfish is to filet all of the bones and then prepare a mixture of parmesan cheese and flour. Wet the filets and dip them in the mixture. Then pan fry at 350 degrees. Serve with your favorite side dishes!