Bad Bait Blues: Trolling with Live Bluegill

In a perfect world, good bait would always be plentiful and easy to catch and every fishing trip would be filled with memorable catches. Unfortunately, I live in the real world and good bait can be hard to find during certain times of the year. I spent several hours this past week in search of my favorite catfish bait, the skipjack herring. Countless casts at several different locations produced a grand total of zero skipjack for my trouble. Since I still wanted to do some catfishing, I had to move on to an alternative bait choice.

Bluegill are one of my favorite fish to catch. Truth be told, I probably spend as much time ultralight fishing for bluegill throughout the year as I do in search of monster blue cats. There is just something appealing about ultralight fishing. I don't know if it is the fact you never get skunked, that everything feels big on ultralight, that 50-100 fish days are a reality every day of the year, or just the simplicity of it but it is one of my favorite pass times. While bluegill are a blast to catch, they don't tend to make a very good bait for trophy size catfish around here. I have had days where either live or cut bluegill worked well, but those days have been the exception not the rule. Nevertheless, when times are hard, I always find myself going back to bluegill with the hopes that this will be the time they produce a monster blue cat for me. That was my hope when I fished this past week.

After catching some live bluegill, I set out to do some trolling on Watts Bar. Trolling has become my preferred technique when there is no current flow. It allows you to cover a lot of water and put your bait in front of as many fish as possible. On that particular day, TVA didn't turn the generators on until 9am. Because I was fishing several miles downstream of the dam, I figured I would be off the water by the time the current flow reached the area I was fishing.

I started out trolling along a drop-off. My live bluegill were suspended 3-4 feet off the bottom as I moved around 0.5mph along the structure. I was fishing the main breakline where the main river channel starts to come up. The bites came early and often. This drop-off was loaded with small blue cats in the 2 to 5lb range. I was fishing with four rods and could barely keep all my lines in the water. After quickly being cleaned out of bait, I caught some more bluegill and went back to fishing.

As much fun as the constant action was giving me, after being cleaned out of bait for a second time, I decided to move about a mile downstream and fish along a bar to try to find some bigger size fish. By that time, the current had caught up to me which allowed me to drift. I drifted for another hour and caught a few more small blue cats before bad weather forced me off the water.

While the size of the fish I caught left a lot to be desired, I ended up catching a ton of fish and had an absolute blast that day. Here is the video footage of all the action.

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