A May morning triple treat

By Jim McGuire

Contributing columnist

For my money, a thick-shouldered male bluegill is one of the prettiest and sportiest fish that swims.

I was fishing an old gravel pit pond—now part of a public nature area—located a short drive from my home. Moments earlier, I’d dropped a little lime-green sponge spider a few yards out from the shadowed bank.

Two seconds after my bug hit the water, the surface bulged. There was a smacking splash and the imitation disappeared in a flashing swirl.

I lifted the fly rod and felt the telltale tugging weight of a good bluegill. An instant later the spunky fish began hightailing for deeper water. I added pressure to keep the rambunctious sunfish from reaching a nearby tangle of stickups.

After a few minutes of lively skirmishing, the bluegill began to tire and started to make figure-eights in the water. I stripped in line, led the fish close, and derricked him onto the grass.

What a gorgeous fellow!

The chunky ‘gill was the size and shape of a dinner plate—more round than elongated, perhaps 9 inches in length and easily two inches thick across the shoulders. Well over a pound.

His fancy dress colors ran the spectrum from olive to orange, turquoise to lemon, with accents of copper, gold, red, purple, lavender. An undertone of luxurious green was so dark it appeared as emerald mixed with ebony.

Pretentious anglers are prone to dismiss bluegill as nothing more than panfish—fare suitable only for kids and neophytes.

I’ve fished all my life, from Canada to the offshore Keys. And caught everything from Atlantic salmon to tarpon, bonefish to muskie, steelhead, brown trout as long as your leg, 10-pound largemouth bass and monster catfish the size of Rottweilers—along with practically every other species of game and panfish available in the salt or fresh waters of North America.

But here’s the truth—point me to a lake or pond with bull bluegill big enough to put a deep bend in a light fly rod or ultralight spinning rig, and I’ll spend that day in piscatorial bliss!

Big bluegill are just unbeatable fun!

The acre-sized pond’s bluegill were on the spawn beds—looking to nail anything which came their way. This was the fifth dandy I’d taken in the half-hour since I began. One or two more and I’d have a fine mess to pan-fry up for a tasty supper.

I clipped the fish to the stringer, rinsed my hands, and inspected my tippet for nicks and wind knots.

Even without the excellent fishing, this was a great day to be afield. The sun was bright and warm. Birds were singing—including an oriole and at least a couple of different warblers.

Suddenly the breeze shifted and the air filled with a rich, honey-sweet fragrance. Blooming black locust!

I temporarily forgot catching bluegill and looked around. The scent-emitting tree—gorgeously bedecked in showy bouquets of cascading white flowers—stood at the edge of the nearby woods. Apparently, I’d been too focused on fishing to notice it earlier.

Blooming black locust is May’s signature perfume—the month’s most quintessential and I think deliciously pleasurable scent. Certainly one of my all-time favorite outdoor olfactory treats.

I leaned the fly rod against a handy bankside bush and walked over for a closer look and sniff. At the tree, I closed my eyes and inhaled.

Phenology is the fancy term for connecting the timing of various natural events. Not only is the distinctive scent of blooming black locust associated in my mind with May, it’s equally linked to numerous bluegill outings with my father. Many of those fondly remembered forays occurred amid the tree’s luscious perfume-blitz period—thus becoming the background scent of our day’s shared adventures.

Memory has a way of serving up unexpectedly bittersweet moments. For the space of a few heartbeats, I got transported back to bygone days of green and gold. Good days—times I cherish and wish I could have held onto forever.

After a few more breaths and a few more thoughts, I shook my head and began looking about.

A fallen ash, its desiccated bark chinked off in patches, lay a few feet from the bloom-laden locust. After giving it a cursory glance, I turned, intending to head back to the pond and my fishing…until my semi-addled brain kicked in and I realized those whitish blobs in the grass near the decaying trunk weren’t locust blooms but morel mushrooms!

Whoo-hoo!I whirled and quickly switched gears from sniffing and fishing to foraging. And in less time than it takes to tell, I picked and plucked and filled my hat with a bounty of mycological treasure!

Buster bluegill, sweet black locust blooms, and bonus morels! This fine May morning served up a triple treat! Sometimes things just work out.

Question or comment? Reach me at: [email protected]

Jim McGuire, a nature columnist, resides in Englewood.