They say we need to enjoy the simple things in life. Well, in the world of fishing there is no easier fish than Bluegill. These small panfish are easy to find, eat almost anything, and are one of the most populous fish in North America with a range that stretches from southern Canada to northern Mexico. While there are sure to be many more popular gamefish species out there, Bluegill is unique in that I don’t think there’s an angler out there that didn’t cut their teeth getting a few gills out of a farm pond or slow as a kid flowing stream has drawn .
Almost all of us have caught at least a few bluegills over the years, but many anglers only know of a way or two to fish them. Additionally, when most of these anglers are not having any luck catching bluegill using their usual methods, they simply shrug and move on to a different species of panfish. However, if you’re a big Bluegill fan like me, you’ll want to be able to catch them throughout the season. This is entirely possible as long as you use the right bait at the right time of year.
Best baits for bluegill
When it comes to Bluegill bait, there is no question that the worm is the most popular and widely used. In the summer, a quick stop at the gas station to pick up a pack of dillies or crawlers is almost tantamount to a trip to Bluegill Pond. These worms are easily assembled, threading small earthworms fully onto the hook, or small chunks of larger nightcrawlers poking onto the hook tip. Worm rigs for bluegill are usually suspended a few feet below a float and then thrown randomly into fishy-looking water around weed beds and spawning areas.
While this is an effective method as there are always some fish to be found in shallow water, many true Bluegill enthusiasts know that the true plates are found in deeper water. In midsummer, when water temperatures have risen, most of the largest bluegills to be had in any given body of water move from the shallow sandbars and herbaceous shelves they inhabit in spring and early summer and congregate at depths of 10 to 20 feet of water immediately adjacent to their source sites.
These fish are true carnivores and while they can be caught with worms and floats you are much better off using larger, livelier baits such as leeches or minnows attached to small jigs or a small weighted 8 or 10 bait hook are having a few split shots. Use your electronics to locate the deep edges of weed lines or small sandbars where you saw or caught sunfish earlier in the season and drop your baits to the bottom. Reel them so they are a few inches off the bottom and then start jigging your lures in a small twitch motion, using only the tip of your rod. You’ll have an ice chest full of fat bluegills before you know it.
In addition to worms, leeches and small bait fish, the sunfish also has a special affinity for land insects such as grasshoppers and especially crickets. If you don’t have a lot of deep water or weed beds at your local bluegill spot, these can be a great option for increasing your bluegill catch. Crickets and grasshoppers can be purchased from many bait shops or simply caught yourself. Attach the bugs by threading the tip of a small baited hook through their thorax, then add a bee skewer, shooting the line about 5 to 6 inches above the bait. Toss these rigs onto the edges of shallow structures such as docks or logjams on lakes and ponds, or into swirling dorsal eddies on rivers or streams. Slowly let them sink to the bottom of the water, occasionally twitching as they fall until they are slammed by a hungry Bluegill.
Best baits for bluegill
Not many anglers realize how effective certain lures can be for bluegill. The small panfish are generally considered to be rather docile and opportunistic feeders that only eat live bait, but they also have a serious predatory side when they feel like it.
The best time to use bait for bluegill is either when they are leaving or about to leave their spawning beds in early spring or late fall when the fish are eating aggressively in preparation for winter. A variety of baits can be effective during this time, as long as they are fished either near or on the water’s surface.
Hands down the best bluegill bait out there is a small soft lure like a 1 to 2 inch squirming grub or Mister Crappie paired with a 1/64 to 1/4 ounce jig head. Thread the caterpillar onto the hook so the tail is sticking out completely behind the rig, then cast it in a spot that looks likely. Let the caterpillar sink a few inches below the surface before reeling it in with a quick jigging retrieve that keeps the rig just inches below the surface.
While the grub is most effective when you know where the fish are, it’s difficult to beat a small in-line trout spinner like a Panther Martin or Roostertail when you’re covering the water in search of bluegills. These little flashy lures can be cast far with a light action rod and line and retrieved just below the surface at a fast pace. Any crossing gill swarms that spot the spinner moving by will find it impossible to resist.
If you need some more intense bluegill action in your life, you need to hunt them upstream. Using small baits like the Micro Popper and Tiny Torpedo is the ultimate way to hunt down bluegill, especially when the fish are congregating in large schools in the shallows. Slamming these baits in between the collected fish and making them twitch and pop across the surface can create some really explosive shots and give you a whole different perspective on the tiny, docile bluegill.
Best Flies for Bluegill
Fly fishermen have a ton of options when it comes to chasing down bluegill. The fish will eat a variety of small nymphs and surface insects just like a trout and will even chase a small streamer like a woolly bugger when given the chance. Combine these flies with a 2 or 3 weight fly rod and some light hooklink and fly fishing for Bluegill can become one of your favorite pastimes.
My personal favorite way to hunt bluegill with a fly rod is with a tandem nymph rig. This is a fairly simple setup which consists of tying a pearlhead nymph like a pheasant tail or rabbit ear to the end of your hooklink and then attaching a piece of hooklink to the hook shank. Tie a second light-hearted nymph such as a Prince Nymph or Soft Hackle to the end of the hooklink for a drip and then toss in the water. Using short, sharp streaks, reel in the two nymphs like you would with a streamer and hold the line tight as it will absolutely smash.
As previously mentioned, Bluegill has a particular affinity for surface baits and terrestrial insects. As such, fly fishermen looking to catch them on the surface will have easy success with small mosshopper and beetle patterns like the Foam Park Hopper and Flash Beetle. These flies can be washed down and floated on the edges of lakes and ponds, or plucked across the surface of the water in the evenings when the bluegills are more aggressive. Tiny poppers like mini pop and Bett’s bream can also be very effective at this point, especially if you’re looking for really large bluegill fillets to freeze. In midsummer, smack one of these poppers across a deep hole between lily pads or brush piles and try not to be alarmed when a pan-sized bluegill darts up from below to gobble it up.
Keep it simple
There comes a point in every angler’s life when fishing gets pretty complicated. From buying the latest bait, to hunting a new species, to picking up a whole new method of fishing, it seems that the more advanced and committed we become to the sport of fishing, the more stressful it can become. I’ve spent a lot of my time swinging flies for winter steelheads, casting for hours in search of a musk, or trying to get a wily old trout to eat my dry fly, and I’ve been pretty stressed out about it. I have found that once in a while it is a great relief to go out and fish for bluegills.
There’s a simplicity and innocence to simply casting a line for a few bluegills that not many other fishing methods have. The willingness with which the fish take the bait and the strong fluttering pull they give during the fight can be almost therapeutic. It takes you back to a time in your fishing life when your whole being was focused on a gently floating float, waiting for it to disappear. Because at that time in your life, all the happiness in the world could be found just by having a little struggling bluegill at the end of your line, and every now and then it’s good to remember that.