Life at the Lake

a diary of living at a small lowland lake


Early moonrise over Lake Ketchum

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Bluegill, in full spawning dress


The bluegills here at the lake have been spawning since spring, and I had thought they were about done. They dig redds in shallow water along the shoreline, which are visible to all the lake denizens, who in time become very protective of their "personal" fish. But young boys target them on the redds, where the eggs are guarded by fierce males. The female will spawn over and over, each time creating a fresh redd, which is easily visible because it consists of pale small stones. The redds stand out along the algae-covered bottom like sore thumbs.

I've caught them in past years unintentionally. This year, and last, I've avoided fishing anywhere near to where they nest, knowing the male will swim out to grab my fly even if it is not near to him. I treasure this small, feisty fish and wish him well. in spite of its great fecundity, we are not overrun with bluegills, as we are the other zooplankton feeders, the yellow perch.

Last night the spinyrays were hitting, and I was catching one- and two-year old bass regularly. they are not very big, but fight well for their size and are easily (and nearly harmlessly) released from a small flyhook and their big mouth. They fight surprisingly well, and I know at once that it is a bass, and not a perch, I've hooked at first strike.
But this fish was a bluegill, and for a moment I thought it might be its cousin, the pumpkinseed, of which this lake has but a few. How bright was its orange-and-cream belly, and how large. Swollen. She must have still contained eggs.

What, egg masses still at the end of August? Guess so. Once this summer Norma and I observed a pair going at it. The male looked quite different from the female, who had tiger stripes. They seemed not at all aware of us pornographically watching and continued spawning, which is not at all sexual in the conventional, human sense. (Or need I not have said this?)

The bluegill fought well and had enough of a toothless lower lip that I could grip it and thereby still her for the release. I dropped her unceremoniously back in the warm lake and she instantly disappeared into the murky depth.

How lucky I was, for this brief instance, to have come in touch once again with the invisible but vital life of this lake.

And "touch" is the right word.

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