Bluegill Fishing 101

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Some die-hard pan fishermen say the mighty bluegill is the best fighting fish for its size, even rivaling the fight of a smallmouth bass!

There are two kinds of fishermen, those that fish for food and those that fish for fun! Bluegill fishing action is amazing, and most fisherman agree that they are one of the best eating fish on planet Earth!

Bluegills eat mainly aquatic insects, which are slow-moving creatures. They rarely chase other food items; it’s important to fish very slowly.

Most anglers use small floats with red worms on the business end, but live bait can also be fished on the bottom with success. Lowering your bait over the side of the boat or making short casts with a slow retrieve are also a proven technique. Shore fishing can be productive at times as well.

Spring and early summer is the best time to fish for bluegills. They gather in the shallows to spawn and become very aggressive and are easy to catch. I found that wading or fishing from a boat within easy casting distance of the nests with float with a red worm is about the best way to fish for the tasty devils. Cast a piece of worm, jig, or other bait beyond the bed and slowly retrieve it through the nesting area. Depth of the nests determines how deep to set the float. Fish close to the bottom, keep both lure and float as small as possible, and set the hook quickly, or the aggressive males may swallow the bait.

To catch mid-summer bluegills on the Mississippi, try the 10-foot water along undercut banks or near aquatic plants that crowd backwaters and near sunken trees. Working undercuts during summer is best done from downstream. Cast upstream and allow the current to move your bait or lure through the target habitat. Let the bait move naturally. It’s best to use natural bait, even when fishing with jigs.

In lakes, reservoirs, and ponds, use live bait or small lures near the edges of weed beds, submerged extensions of shoreline points, humps or flats that drop into creek channels. Bluegills often suspend over deep water where you can catch them by drift fishing. Try tying two lures on the same line 2-4 feet apart to fish different depths at the same time. Drift your boat with the wind letting the bait or lure to be suspended at 6 to 12 feet. Repeat drifts over areas that are productive. If there is not enough wind to drift, use an electric trolling motor.

Bluegills are not randomly spread in a lake; they gather in specific habitats, depending on the season. You must find these groups of fish to be successful. Take note of places where bluegills have been caught before, as these spots will be good year to year.

Bluegills gather in shallow areas to spawn in spring and early summer. Spawning peaks when the water temperature is 75 degrees F – usually around Memorial Day. Smaller and more turbid waters usually warm faster than larger, clearer, or deeper ones. It is often easy to spot the saucer-shaped nests in clear lakes or ponds, since bluegills build their nests in shallow water very close to shore. Carefully search in 2 to 6 feet water to find a spawning bed. It is easy to catch male bluegills guarding nests.

In large rivers, like the Mississippi, bluegill like to spawn among stumps and bottom-hugging trees as well as backwaters and sloughs where constant current will not bother the nest. A shallow flat next to a flooded creek channel is a good place to find spawning bluegill. Spawning sites in large rivers are much smaller than those in lakes and ponds.

Large river bluegills spend their summer in deeper water and gather along undercut banks often favoring fallen trees. Try also the edge of lily pads or other aquatic plants.

Bluegills move out from shore to deeper water in lakes, reservoirs and ponds in the hot days of summer. Summer-time bluegills, especially bigger ones, are usually found in 6 to 12 feet of water. They suspend just above the thermocline (a thermal water temperature barrier that forms in deeper lakes in the summer). They sometimes can be found along the edges of weeds or in deep coves. They are often on humps or areas that break into flooded creek channels or other deep water. Man-made underwater objects also attract bluegill during the summer. Many lakes and reservoirs have stake beds, brush shelters, tire reefs, rock piles and other fish-holding areas. These objects, along with boat docks or boats tied at one spot for several days, are good bluegill hangouts.

Large bluegills leave their summer hangouts around late September to prepare for fall and winter. They move from deep water to places with mid-depths, often near their spawning sites. Shoreline points that extend far out into the lake and drop off sharply often hold bluegill. Another “hot spot” is an underwater ridge or saddle in 8 to 10 feet of water. Flooded timber, brush or rock improves the fish-holding ability of these locations.

As autumn turns to winter and water cools, bluegills move to deeper water to spend in the cold months. They often are found over shoreline points and ridges or near brush in 15 to 20 feet of water. Often schools of similar-sized fish move onto flats 10 to 12 feet deep to feed before moving back to deep water.

Fly fishing for Bluegill

A great way to get some easy action and a thrill of a lifetime is to fly fish for bluegill! A 2 LB’Der feels like a 5 LB smallie on a spinning rod.  They are eager to hit and they aren’t selective about flies. You can easily catch bluegill on just about any fly you have in your box. Another benefit of fly fishing for bluegill is the way they attack dry flies. Everyone loves to see (and hear) the popping hit of a large bull bluegill eating a small dry fly.

This rock bass was caught on a large streamer. You can catch all types of pan fish on flies.

Catching these fish is not rocket science, so even beginners can have a great day fly fishing for bluegill by following these tips.

  • If you see the bluegill in close proximity to your fly but it won’t quite hit, give your fly a light twitch. The little bit of extra movement will usually convince the fish that your fly is in fact alive and provoke a strike.
  • If you don’t see bluegill up near the surface go down to them with some heavy nymphs or streamers and possibly grab a rod with sink tip line or even a full sink fly line to get right in their face.
  • The best strategy for cool water bluegills will be slow moving flies, the warmer the water temperature gets, the faster you can present your flies. It is best to start with very short strips of just a few inches and speed up your stripping and twitching from their.

Fly fishing for bluegill is a great way to teach kids the basics of the sport, it will also provide quick action for even the most seasoned angler.

Certainly, like all species of fish, there is no way of knowing exactly how, when or where bluegills can be caught from month to month, as fishing is not an exact science.  It’s is a good bet this article will help.

Thanks For Looking!

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