Of all species fishers target, bluegills are one of the favorites regardless of age, experience or skill level. This might be because they are voracious eaters, and pound-for-pound they fight with the best of them. Regardless, understanding how to fish bluegill is key to maximizing your catch.
The top 20 tips for catching blue gill are:
- Tackle is key
- Live bait works best
- You can fish them at dusk
- Bluegill are prey fish
- Go slow
- Use Rooster Tails when all else fails
- Flyfishing for bluegill can be very fun
- Bluegill prefer hardcover
- Fish according to the season
- They school together
- Bluegill love grubs
- Use small hooks
- Smaller lures work best
- Watch what they eat
- Mix and match lures
- Micro cranks are very useful
- Poppers are great in summer
- Go under if topwater isn’t getting solid strikes
- Focus on submerged stream beds with tributary openings
- Don’t rule out the bobber
When no other fish are biting, chances are high you can still easily catch a few bluegill. Getting the big bluegills, though, takes know-how and practice as well as a little luck. Below, we dive into these tips in more detail. But first, let’s give you some background on bluegill.
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Understanding The Bluegill
If you have ever been fishing on a lazy summer’s night and hear some fish attacking the surface with little smacks mere feet from shore, chances are you are witnessing a bluegill getting a nighttime snack.
The same holds true if you are fishing cover in deep water in winter, grass lines in summer, around rocks all year long and under docks in the fall. Luckily for the bluegill, however, most anglers catch them despite what they are actually fishing for, rather than because they are targeting the bluegills.
They are the quintessential “accident” fish because they hang out everywhere, including prime habitats for bass, pickerel, pike, other sunfish, dace, crappie, other sunfish and virtually every other fish in any particular body of water.
They Eat Just About Anything
If it moves in the water and is not too large, chances are a bluegill has tried to eat it at some point. When bluegill are in a feeding mood, nothing it can fit in its mouth is safe. They will go after insects, worms, grubs, minnows, fry and even other bluegills. They will also attack jigs, spinners, spoons, poppers, topwater lures and plastic bait.
Anything that makes a bass in the summertime seem like a fussy eater is not terribly selective. They are omnivorous, which means that you can use just about any bait that looks natural to the fish and it will at least give it a once-over.
That doesn’t mean that bluegills will eat anything they find. Because their mouths are small, the size of the bait you use is important. They will not usually try and eat something they perceive as too large to fit in their mouth. There are exceptions, such as when a bluegill gets hooked on a larger bait, but that is usually the result of a reaction strike.
Why Bluegill Are Popular
There are a few reasons America’s most prolific sunfish is also one of the most popular to catch, apart from the larger sunfish like large and smallmouth bass and crappie.
They Are Feisty
As a fish to catch, bluegill are spirited fighters that are fairly selective in what type of bait they will go after. When you hook a bluegill, depending on the size of rod you are using, you will experience a fight that is comparable to a small bass, even though it is only about half the size of a two year old bass.
They Are Challenging To Catch
While some sunfish, or panfish, seem like they will go after anything that moves, bluegill are not so voracious that they lose their natural caution. They have excellent eyesight in and out of the water and tend to be very cautious when approaching bait.
Most anglers will acknowledge that while you can catch a number of bluegills in one fishing trip, they seem to “learn” what baits to avoid after a few of their own go missing. Additionally, if they get spooked, enticing a bluegill to eat can be very challenging. They will only reluctantly return to wherever they were spooked from.
They Don’t Require Special Equipment
With some fish, an angler needs specialized equipment or lures. About the only equipment tips that pertain to bluegill relate to the size of the bait and the fact that they can see very clearly underwater. Because of that, presentation is vital.
Their Habitat Is Accessible
Some fish you can catch anywhere you find them. Others, you must be able to access their habitat. It is difficult, although not impossible, to catch a pickerel trolling in open water, for example. With pickerel, you generally need to present bait near where it lurks, waiting for prey. While bluegill have preferred habitats, that habitat is easily found.
They prefer grass beds, rock and timber cover and structure that allows them to hide from larger predators. They will also suspend in open water provided they have access to a hiding space. While they will hide under or among aquatic plants, they will usually lurk near the edges.
You can find bluegill, depending on the season, in extremely shallow water all the way down to about 20 feet in winter. They can go deeper, but only if they must, to avoid a predator. If they have a choice, 20 feet with cover is much better than 50 feet deep with none.
What all that means is any angler can catch bluegill from any type of fishing platform, like from shore, a dock, wading, a boat etc. Even kids fishing from shore can catch a bluegill fairly easily if their presentation is correct. So, let’s look at some tips to ensure you have the best chance of catching the biggest bluegill.
20 Top Tips On How To Catch Bluegill
1. Tackle Is Key
Bluegill are not large fish, so a rod that is lighter with faster action is preferable. Many anglers use micro-rods and reels for bluegills, which makes a fairly smaller fish seem like a giant because you can feel every little tug, switch of direction, and jerk the fish employs to try and unhook itself.
Because bluegill have excellent eyesight, your line choice is also very important. 4-6 lb-test line is best and you should use either monofilament or fluorocarbon line because they are more difficult to see in the water. If a bluegill notices a fishing line attached to a bait, it will generally not go after it except as a reaction strike.
With regard to reels, a lighter spinning reel, spincast or fly reel work best. If you use heavier reels, the regular motion of cranking the lever can rip the hook from a bluegill’s mouth.
2. Live Bait Works Best
Bluegill will go after lures, but live bait always works better. They love grubs and waxworms as well as mealworms. Bluegill will bite virtually any insect underwater or on top, including bees, crickets, grasshoppers, flies, and even smaller dragonflies that are resting on the water.
If you use live baits, only use enough weight to allow yourself to cast to your target area. Too much weight limits the action of the bait and can make it obvious to a bluegill that something is wrong.
3. You Can Fish Them At Dusk
There is a common misconception that bluegill will not bite after dark. This is only partially true. A more correct summation is that bluegill become very picky after dark and will not leave cover unless they are sure they have an easy meal – they will not work for your bait.
With that said, the more active feeding time for bluegill is from first light through dusk. The best times tend to be closer to dusk if it is during the late spring and summer, or very early in the morning before the water heats up. You can catch bluegill during the heat of the day, but you must place your bait very close to where they are suspending or hiding.
4. Bluegill Are Prey Fish
Smaller adult bluegills are food for bass, pickerel, pike, snakefish, and pretty much any omnivore or carnivore fish. Bluegill fry are food for anything that eats meat and lives in the water. Raccoons have even been known to go bluegill fishing on occasion.
Being a universal source of food makes a bluegill extremely cautious. You will not usually find them making a huge scene, like bass can do. While they will chase bait on occasion, they generally will not leave whatever area they have found that has suitable cover. Understanding that can help you pick target areas more accurately and waste less time fishing the wrong places.
5. Go Slow
Bluegills are cautious when it comes to sizing up a bait. They will occasionally react to a bait and strike on impulse. But they will usually eye it up, approach it, almost appear as if they are sniffing it, and try it out a little before committing to a full-on strike. That means any presentation you make must be offered in a way that is natural.
A good way to look at it is to compare fishing for bluegill and bass when the water is optimum for fish’s metabolism. Let’s use a floating, jointed minnow lure as an example.
When offered this bait, a bass will see it and begin stalking it for a strike almost immediately. It likely will breach the surface to go after it and if you rip it through its territory at high speed, and if the environment is right, it will strike as if it has never eaten before.
In fact, the more action you can put in a topwater, jointed minnow, the more likely it is the bass will strike in reaction.
Bluegill will not usually go after a fast moving bait. If you play the minnow along the surface of slowly reel it in, letting its natural action dictate its movement, bluegill will follow it, pull off to the side, watch it, approach it, drop off, then tentatively approach it before striking. Many times, if the bait is moving too fast or if it looks unnatural, it will not strike at all.
So, for bluegill, carefully take the minnow through the water and let its natural rhythm and movement entice the bluegill. If you are fishing strictly topwater, try and make the bait look like an injured bait fish as much as possible.
Do not try and get a reaction strike from a bluegill. Let the fish decide if it wants to bite. An added benefit besides possibly enticing a bluegill to strike is that if there is a bass in the vicinity, it will probably strike the minnow bait.
6. Use Rooster Tails When All Else Fails
Worden’s Rooster Tail lure is a sure thing attractant for most fish. This is true of bluegill as well. Use a 1/8 to 1/6 sized lure, depending on the hook size, and retrieve it steadily across the bluegill fishing zone you are targeting. Make sure you give the lure a little jerk when first starting to retrieve to get the spinner going.
In most bodies of water, however, the best colors to use mimic baitfish a bluegill might eat. A larger sized Rooster Tail will attract larger bluegill, but it also might dissuade slightly smaller fish from biting.
7. Flyfishing For Bluegill Can Be Very Fun
If you were debating whether to pick up flyfishing, even it if was just to try it out, bluegills are a good enough reason. While other fishers target trout and salmon, or bonefish and tarpon in the tropics, a bluegill on a flyrod is about as much fun fishing as one can have (once you get the casting down).
The longer flyrod also lets you “drop” your lure or bait further out onto the water or into a nook than you can with a usual freshwater fishing rod. This can come in handy if you are fishing around a lot of trees and shrubs or trying to access pools where bluegills are lurking from a distance.
8. Bluegill Prefer Hardcover
No matter the season, the harder the cover the more likely you will find bluegill. It is true that in summer they prefer weed beds and aquatic growth they can hide in, but in almost every case, there is also some form of hard cover they can flee to if necessary.
In deep water in winter, hardcover in the form of rocks, tree trunks and submerged structure are “go-to” places for bluegill. They will typically be in water around 20 feet or slightly less.
A good way to gauge the depth to target is to start with the closest structure you can identify, closest to shore (that gives bluegill access to shallow, warmer water when they want it). Work your way into deeper water, stopping at about 25 feet of depth. The best baits to use for this type of fishing are worms, and if you are using artificial lures, use jigs.
9. Fish According To The Season
Like most fish, a bluegill’s metabolism is regulated by water temperature. The warmer the water the higher the metabolism. Bluegill stay active in cold water, however, which is a characteristic that sets them apart from many other fish.
Bluegill are usually very aggressive once the water temperature starts to rise. You can find them in deeper water all the way up the water column. They will move to shallower water as things heat up. Look for sandy flats with access to docks, rocks and fallen tree cover.
Weed beds are the preferred stalking ground when the water temperature really takes off, but always with some access to hiding structure. The optimum depth is 5 to 12 feet with the larger fish staying in the deeper water. When the temperatures get really hot, bluegill will limit their daytime foraging and move to deeper, cooler water.
They spawn in the summer around weed beds in gravelly or sandy bottoms. When they are spawning, they will eat and strike to protect their nest. Live bait works best in this circumstance. The optimum time to fish for bluegill is between late afternoon and dusk, depending on where you are located and how hot it was during the day.
Topwater lures work for bluegills in spring and summer if you fish them more slowly than you do for bass.
As the water cools, bluegills will move to the warmer shallows at first and then migrate to deeper water. They will hide in weed beds, near grassy shorelines, and around docks and hard structure in 1-5 feet of water. As the water cools, they will move slowly towards water in the 5-10 foot range.
Lures work best during this time of the year. Spinners, spoons, jigs, topwater lures and flies can all trigger a strike. Just remember to fish them slow!
Unlike many fish, bluegill eat a lot during the winter months. The key is finding them. Target deeper creek channels, rocky outcrops and cliff-like drop offs. You can find them in 10-20 feet of water, depending on where the cover is located. Jigs and weighted worms work best in colder water.
10. They School Together
The bluegill tends to be a sociable fish. They will usually hang out with at least a few other bluegills and will also join larger schools. It is not unusual to find 20 or 30 fish in a school, so if you catch one, there is a good chance there are at least a few more down there waiting for your bait.
11. Bluegill Love Grubs
For some reason, more than most fish, bluegills love grubs. You can find them under logs and rocks and, in some cases, by digging for them. Hook them on small hooks and fish them with a dropshot weight or go weightless. Allow them to sink or flow with the current naturally.
12. Use Small Hooks
Bluegills have really small mouths. Even larger bluegills have mouths that are a fraction of the size of a bass that is the same age. Because of that, they are limited in the size of bait they can go after. Use smaller hooks on lures and if you fish with live bait.
13. Smaller Lures Work Best
Have you ever caught a bass on a lure that was at least the size of the bass or even larger? That will only rarely happen with a bluegill. Generally, bluegills will not strike at anything that will not easily fit in their mouth. That includes lures and bait.
In some circumstances, usually in summer when their metabolism is running at full throttle, bluegills will go after larger bait. The majority of the time, however, a larger bait will remain untouched and may even spook bluegills because they perceive the bait as a threat.
14. Watch What They Eat
With fish like bass, perch or pickerel, whatever you throw at them could qualify as a meal. Those fish might prefer a certain type of bait over another, but all three fish are supreme opportunists and will go after whatever is presented. Because of that, it is very difficult to match your bait to what each is eating.
Bluegill are similar, but there is a little more structure to what and how they eat. For example, if it is late August and grasshoppers are landing in the water and becoming bluegill meals, the bluegills in that area will respond to grasshoppers more frequently than any other bait.
That is not to say that an entirely new type of bait will not be devoured. What they are eating at that moment, though, is a sure thing. So, find out what they’re eating, and match your bait to that.
15. Mix And Match Lures
One trick is to attach a spinner with a bead just above your hook when fishing with live bait. This adds a flash and a knock to any live bait rig. The bead will knock, which attracts attention and the spinner flutters, which provides a visual attractant. Use this setup whether you are using a bobber or drop shot.
The key is to make sure your spinner and bead are small, so it does not make your bait look bigger than it is.
16. Micro Cranks Are Very Useful
If you are using artificial lures, try using a micro crankbait. These are tiny, often weighing less than 0.08 of an ounce. Retrieve them steadily or use a stop-and-go technique. If the bluegills are striking at them but not hitting, slow your retrieve down, stop-and-start, and jerk it when starting.
17. Poppers Are Great In Summer
Poppers used in fly fishing drive bluegills crazy. They work best with a flyrod and line, but you can use regular line if there is a current. Let the bait drop naturally and then drift before twitching it. Twitch it once and let it sit for about 10 seconds, then twitch it again.
18. Go Under If Topwater Isn’t Getting Solid Strikes
This works with any type of fishing. If you are using a topwater bait and the fish are going after it, but not engulfing your bait, switch out to something that runs just under the surface. Most of the time, you will get a strike in short order after you do so.
19. Focus On Submerged Stream Beds With Tributary Openings
Bluegill chase warm water all year long. Even in winter, if a few days pass with direct sunlight that warms the water a few degrees, bluegill will move to the shallows. In fall, winter and early spring, look for a small stream that dumps into a pond, lake or river and also has a shallow flat area adjacent to the stream bed.
In summer, reverse that. Look for a stream that dumps into a flatter area, but has access to deeper, cooler water.
20. Don’t Rule Out The Bobber
Many anglers above the age of 10 never use bobbers. Sometimes, though, a bobber is the only way to figure out where the bluegill are hanging out. Drift a worm with an attached float and watch where the fish attack it. Then, continue bobber fishing or switch to a different bait, but use the bobber as your guide to locate bluegill.
These 20 tips will get you started on making bluegill fishing part of your repertoire, even if you only do it when other fish are not biting. The most important tips are to keep things smaller and to slow down your presentation, even when bluegill are feeding. Finally, if you catch any bluegill over 8”, put them back to develop into trophy fish.