One of the most popular panfish species in North America, the bluegill is the quintessential game fish for beginning anglers.
Whether you started fishing for these fish with a very basic fishing pole or you occasionally cast for them from time to time, these fish should not be overlooked.
Sure, they might be smaller than the average game species, like bass or salmon.
However, bluegill are not only fun to go after but can easily fill your belly with some delicious food, too.
If you’re new to this type of fishing, consider these tips so you know how to catch bluegill no matter where you might be fishing.
Tips For Identifying Bluegill
There are more than a dozen species of sunfish, of which bluegill is one, in North America. Some are only regionally available, but bluegills can be found just about everywhere.
The bluegill sunfish is most easily identified by its long pectoral fin. The fin extends past the eye of the fish when it’s folded inward toward the mouth.
Using this trick can help you differentiate between the bluegill and similar types of sunfish.
Another way to tell it’s a bluegill you are looking at is that it will have a dark blue ear flap, known as an operculum, that covers the gills.
The body will be a dark green – usually olive – in color and the sides and the breast will be red or yellow.
These fish mate longer than most other types of fish, breeding from late spring until early fall, depending on where they live.
Females of this species can spawn an impressive nine times each year! It’s so easy to catch bluegill because they spawn for such a long period of time.
Spawning is an opportune time for fishing because fish tend to bite at anything that comes into its spawning zone.
These fish are small, rarely coming in at more than five pounds.
However, despite being at the bottom of the food chain, these small fish are undoubtedly fun to catch and great to eat.
How to Locate Bluegill
Usually, bluegill will spawn on the flattest, firmest bottom possible. That said, they aren’t averse to making their nests on silt or rocks, either.
These fish build large nests that look somewhat like depressions on the bottom of the water.
They usually do this near cover, typically beneath overhanging tree branches or the corners of dams.
The nests are up to four feet deep in murky water and as much as 15 feet deep in clear water.
In larger bodies of water, you might find bluegill spawning around five or six feet deep, usually in pockets of water along flat banks.
They will nest on rocky or muddy banks, ideally near some form of cover.
The rest of the year, bluegill can be found all over. They might hang out in open water as they travel around, feeding on plankton in large schools.
They can also be found under vegetative cover along banks, where they will feed on invertebrates in the weeds.
Depths for bluegill can vary. You might find these fish as far as 25 feet down, but you might find them at just 10 feet, too.
Generally, though, they’ll stay in shallow areas before and during spawning.
They are especially common in the shallows during the pre-spawn period, where they will start to feed to gain enough energy for breeding.
Once spawning ends, bluegills and sunfish will pop out to the deeper waters.
To find them, you will want to focus on outside weed edges and other prime feeding areas with stable water conditions.
Don’t Forget the Small Ponds
In your haste to find lots of bluegills to catch, you might immediately run to the closest lake or a similar large body of water.
But don’t forget the tiny ponds! These offer great habitat for large bluegills.
Any kind of pond can work, including manicured ponds, rural livestock and irrigation ponds, seepage ponds, and natural ponds.
Just make sure you have legal access to the pond – if it’s located on private property, you’ll need to gain permission.
Then, see if you can find a map that will show you the topography of the pond. If not, try to identify key areas that might hold fish, like weedy patches, inlets, deep breaks, and rocky areas.
Use Quiet Flies When Bluegill Fishing
Because bluegill are so jumpy when they are spawning, it can be tough to avoid spooking them when they’re in the shallows.
To prevent scaring the smaller fish, you should use a light, quiet-presenting fly.
Cast along the edges of a colony and you should be able to catch fish on the exterior without disturbing those in the interior.
Here is a video below that will show you how to cast for bluegills in the spring.
Some popular options include woolly worms of any size along with woolly buggers in yellow, brown, olive, or black colors.
…Or Get a Little Noisy!
If you’re going after large bluegill, one thing you need to know is that these fish, especially the big guys, absolutely love munching on crayfish.
You might not know a lot about the anatomy of a crayfish, but one thing that you should be aware of is that crayfish are noisy little buggers.
As these creatures scuttle along, they’ll clack their pincers together and make tapping noises as they move across the rocks.
You can get the attention of fish by mimicking these sounds with lipless crankbaits. This will draw in both fish that are on the prowl as well as those that are actively feeding.
To maximize the effect, consider spooling up with an ultra-thin braided line (ideally a four to eight-pound test).
You will feel more vibrations and be able to make more confident hooksets, too.
Consider Live Baits for Bluegill
A few good live baits to consider using include worms, crickets, and grasshoppers.
You will want to use smaller size baits since these fish have tiny mouths and small hooks. A #6 hooks should suffice, as should ultralight tackle and no more than 6-pound test line.
When you set your live baits, do so no more than one to three feet below a small bobber.
Also, if you use live baits, remember to keep them fresh. This can be tough to do in the summer when the warm temperatures make it tough to keep bait cool and healthy.
However, healthy bait is active bait, and that’s exactly what you need for a productive catch.
If you need them, use insulated coolers or even aerators to keep the bait box well-oxygenated.
A few signs that your bait isn’t healthy? When minnows start coming to the surface of the water, they’re stressed.
Add and change water as frequently as you can and consider adding frozen water bottles to the containers to keep the temperatures low.
If you’re fishing for bluegill with nightcrawlers, get them out of the sun and use ice packs to insulate the coolers.
Choose a Spoon
When you’re fishing the weedy edges of a lake for bluegill, use a slender spoon that’s heavy and will drop to the bottom quickly.
As the spoon hits the bottom of the lake, it will create a “puff!” of dirt and debris that will attract fish and encourage them to take a closer look.
Go Slow and Light
When you are learning how to catch bluegill, one of the best pieces of advice to follow is that you need to go slow.
Something as simple as a plain hook with a bit of crawler hung beneath a pencil bobber in a weightless set-up, can offer all the movement you need.
After you cast, the hook will settle slowly and the bobble will tip just ever so slightly.
This movement mimics the movement of a bug falling into the water, and if you get too particular about moving your line a lot, you’re going to scare the fish away.
Instead, aim for ultralight, slow-moving lures that will be more lifelike in their presentation.
Using a lightweight lure is also important for a couple of reasons.
First, bluegills have small mouths, even when they are adults. Young bluegills feed on small zooplankton, and as they grow, they can feed on insects.
Nevertheless, these are some pretty small foods.
Use an ultra-light rod and reel with light line and light lures. Light lines will be harder for the fish to detect in clear water.
If you’re using a super heavy lure, it’s going to fall more quickly. A light lure will give the fish time to evaluate what’s going on as the lure drops from the surface of the water to the bottom.
Use a micro jig head in the 1/80-1/16 oz range on a light 2-pound line for best results. This will produce a more natural fall rate and presentation.
Float On By or Crank it Up
Consider using a round bobber in a classic style when you’re fishing for bluegills in shallow bodies of water. You can rip these forward to make noise and attract fish.
In deeper water, you can use a slip float. This will let you present depth at any depth you want. There are some specialty bobbers that can even be used in windy weather, too.
Another option is to use a crankbait. Medium-sized crankbaits are best for male bluegills, who tend to be territorial during pre-spawning and spawning.
The crankbait might look too big to even fit in the fish’s mouth, but if you can steadily retrieve the bait at a quick speed, you’ll have some great success. You need to move quickly, though – don’t let that bait stall!
Try a Variety of Techniques to Catch Bluegill
Bluegills can be caught with many kinds of techniques, including bottom, drift, fly, and bobber fishing. They can also be jigged for through the ice- but that’s a separate topic!
When you fish for bluegills with bobbers, you’re going to be offering a slow, practically motionless presentation.
This method is popular – especially with kids – because it’s easy and it works. You’ll want to use a small bait suspended just below a bobber.
Make sure your bobber is small and just barely large enough to float the bait.
You will want to set your bobber at roughly one to three feet deep.
You can also fish the bottom. Just cast your bait and let it sink very slowly to the bottom (you’ll accomplish this slow movement by using very little weight).
Let it sit there for a few minutes. If you don’t get a bite after five minutes or so, reel in and cast somewhere else.
Drift fishing works well when you are fishing in a boat at depths down to 15 feet. All you have to do is drift through areas where you have caught fish in the past.
This tactic works well in the summer when bluegills tend to hang out, suspended, in open water.
Fly fishing is tricky and isn’t for the faint of heart. However, once you master the technique, it’s a great way to catch lots of bluegill.
Use a fly that resembles small insects but be aware that, unlike trout, bluegills aren’t picky – they’ll bite on just about any type of small, black fly.
Choose the Road Less Traveled
Or the…boat path?
Either Way, get off the popular lake that’s crawling with anglers. Head to a spot that’s not accessible to boats that have outboard motors – which tend to be much quieter – and fish for bluegill there.
There’s a couple of benefits to this.
Not only will you be able to enjoy your own fishing experience in peace, but the fish will also be less cautious as they haven’t been pressured as much by constant fishing.
You might have to do some research – as well as some hiking or paddling – to get to those spots, but trust me, it’s worth it.
Another option when you’re trying to find a place to fish for bluegills is to head to a public pier or platform.
These tend to be a bit more crowded, but what some folks don’t realize is that they serve as their own makeshift bays.
These bays provide great structure and cover for bluegills, especially those that have man-made structural elements that attract them in, too.
How to Catch Bluegill Through the Ice
While bluegills are easiest to catch when they are spawning, they are also vulnerable during the winter, too.
In the winter, bluegills cling closely together.
Despite being somewhat small, bluegills usually hang out in groups and offer a good fight when you’re fishing with light tackle.
You’ll have almost constant action, which is awesome when you’re fishing through the ice.
In the winter, bluegills feed on the same foods – usually insects, minnows, and larvae – that they do during the rest of the year.
During early ice, you’ll typically find bluegills in shallow bays with lots of vegetation.
Try not to fish any deeper than 15 to 20 feet and work from the deepest water in toward the vegetation.
Once the oxygen levels are depleted and vegetation starts to die off in midwinter, bluegills can be found between 15 and 35 feet.
They prefer areas with semi-soft and flat bottoms. They’ll work their way back toward shore, into the shallow bays, as the weather warms and they prepare for these pawns.
When you jig for bluegills, move the bait slowly through the water column. Short vibrations are key.
You can also hold your jig completely still, which will encourage shy, skeptical fish that aren’t interested in a noisy display.
Using a small bait and hook is essential when you are fishing for bluegills through the ice. They won’t be as aggressive in the winter simply because they aren’t feeding as often.
They bite lightly and less frequently, so be vigilant!
Avoid Taking Too Many Bluegill
It’s important to note that bluegills are a valuable source of food for larger predators, like pike and bass.
Therefore, it’s important you do your part to maintain a healthy population of bluegills in your local ecosystem.
Taking too many fish might seem tempting, especially because it takes a few fish to comprise a good meal for you, but it’s not fair.
As a human, you can easily impact the health of a species in a very negative way.
Instead of keeping every bluegill you catch, self-limit yourself. Make a plan for how many fish you will take and be prepared to measure it.
You can come up with your own selective harvest plan, too, telling yourself that you will only keep fish that are at least seven inches long instead of keeping every single one.
The Most Important Tip for Fishing Bluegills
The most important tip to keep in mind when you are fishing for bluegills?
Have fun doing it! Bring the kids, bring some drinks and snacks, and keep things simple. The whole point of fishing for bluegills is that they aren’t overly complicated species.
Knowing how to catch lots of bluegill comes down to some easy-to-learn tips and techniques that are easy to master no matter who you are.
So, make sure you have fun while you’re out there, too!