Bluegill Held in Hand

How to Catch Bluegill (An In-Depth Guide)

A lot of anglers have one-track minds…

All they want to do is land a lunker! 

They go after trophy-size fish they can mount on their wall.

The adrenaline rush is intoxicating, so I don’t blame them.

But they’re missing out on something awesome…

Catching bluegill!

So without further delay here’s our fisherman’s guide to bluegill fishing —

More than meets the eye…

There’s a lot more to it than a cane pole and crickets.

Similar to fishing for bass, there’s plenty you need to know to have success.

First things first. Know what bluegills look like!

To make sure you’re catching bluegill, give it a quick visual exam….

Look at its pectoral fins. They’re the side-fins near the chest, close to the eyes and mouth.

TIP

If its pectoral fins are narrow and long, it’s likely a bluegill. Other sunfish tend to have short pectoral fins.

What do Bluegills look like?

The main feature to look for is its “ear”.

It’s the dark oval that covers its gills —not an actual ear of course.

This dark oval flap is located above its pectoral fin.

It’s easy to spot and sets it apart from other panfish.

How to Identify Bluegill

These fish also have a unique color

They sport a dark green tone. The gradient goes from dark green to white/grey —from the dorsal fin towards the tummy.

Bluegills with rusty red colored chests are breeding males. The ones with yellow chests are females.

DID YOU KNOW?

Redbreast sunfish also have a red color on their chest —but it’s a bright rooster red.

So be careful. Don’t mistake a redbreast for a male bluegill.

Okay, you have a good idea of how they look.

Now let’s talk about where to find them…

Where Do I Find Bluegill?

They’re native to the Great Lakes and Mississippi River region.

However…

You can catch them in creeks, lakes and rivers across the US.

Bluegill are pretty much everywhere.

Lots of people fish for them in small bodies of water such as farm ponds.

There tend to be large numbers in old ponds.

But as mentioned… they are pretty much everywhere.

Find them from Bluegill Lake (Oneida County Wisconsin) down to Lake Okeechobee Florida.

They’re also overseas. Countries such as Japan, Mexico and Canada have plenty.

Where are the usual spots to find Bluegill?

They hang near aquatic plants and structures…

Bluegill lurk inside fallen logs and roost under low-hanging limbs.

Like most fish, they love cover and vegetation.

These fish prefer the shallows.

But they also thrive in deep waters. Where they dwell depends on the water temperature.

TIP

The season is a huge factor when bluegill fishing. It’s actually the most important thing to consider.

Are you ready to dive into bluegill’s seasonal behavior? Nice. And we’re off..

Spring 

Sunny weather sneaks in and warms the shallows. There’s new plant growth and more insects. Female bluegills are spawning.

When the water temperature hits about 70 degrees females move into the shallows.

In 3 feet of water or less spawning between 10,000 and 60,000 eggs.

The Right Moment

It’s easy to catch loads of bluegill when they’re “on the bed”.

Basically, they’re guarding their eggs and strike to protect the nest.

If the waters are clear, you can see the fish beds…

That makes it possible to drop your line in the perfect spot.

Remember, male bluegill take over guard duty…

Sometimes they spook easy. Other times they bite almost anything.

Where to Drop the Lure?

Find a bed with a fat bull protecting the eggs and run your lure or bait beside it. That’s one way to land a big bluegill.

Drag a jig across the bed. That can antagonize them into striking.

Especially if it’s a grass shrimp bait or lure.

They may move your lure or bait off the bed. But they can also deliver a hard strike.

Targeting them on the bed works quite well.

But keep in mind that bluegill are vulnerable during this time.

RECOMMENDATION

If you catch lots of bluegill, please be fair. Once you’ve reached your take-home limit, practice catch-and-release. This helps preserve the population.

Man in a Boat About to Go Fishing
Man in a Boat About to Go Fishing

Summer 

Early summer is when hungry females are patrolling for food. The males are still guarding the beds.

You can target bulls on the bed.

But it may be more fun to go after the females. They’re ready to gorge after spawning.

Go Further

It’s a good time to fish deeper. Target weedines and mudflats.

You’re liable to land a nice-sized mama bluegill.

Once all the eggs have hatched, males head into deeper waters with the females.

Another reason to fish further offshore.

TIP

Summer is a great time to hit the river to fish bluegill. Look for them in shallow backwaters and side channels.

Cast into fallen trees or stumps —they love to hide there.

Men on a Boat Fishing in Fall
Men on a Boat Fishing in Fall

Fall 

This is also a great time to fish bluegill in the river.

They feed in the shallows to prepare for winter —hungry and aggressive.

As the water temperature approaches around 50 degrees, lake bluegill go deeper.

Big males enjoy the high oxygen levels of deeper fall waters.

Fish for them at depths of 5 – 15 feet.

Finding Big Bluegills

You will find smaller bluegills near the top. But the deeper you go, the bigger the reward.

Look for lunker ‘gills by weedines, points, and drop-offs.

This is where many anglers snag trophy-size bluegill. Early to mid-fall is an ideal time to fish.

NOTE

Remember, as it gets closer to winter the bluegills’ metabolism slows. Once it gets close to winter, they become less active.

Winter

At the beginning of winter, they still feed in the shallows.

Cast into the edge of weeds and fallen trees. They’re havens for winter ‘gills.

As it gets colder, start to fish deeper

Temperatures are more stable in deep waters. Try coves, bluffs and dock edges.

Once the water temperature reaches 42 degrees bluegill bite less…

Their metabolism slows and they’re hard to catch.

Man Fishing During Winter In Snowbank

Some places in the US are frozen during winter. If you’re planning on ice fishing, remember to bring the proper gear —such as warm clothes and an ice auger.

TIP

To avoid frozen waters, target warmer areas. Water temperature drops everywhere, but some places don’t get very cold.

Now you know where to find them. But catching them is a different story…

Worms

As a general rule of thumb, use baits that are found naturally in the area. If you’re fishing a river or lake, worms work like a charm.

Nearly every freshwater body has these wriggly crawlers. They are never a bad choice. Find out what types of worms are native to the waters you’re fishing. Then use them to fish bluegills.

TIP

Earthworms can be found at almost any live bait store. Just be prepared to get your fingers a bit sticky.

Bluegill Caught on Hook with Worm
Bluegill Caught on Hook with a Worm

Can Large Worms be Used?

You can also use bigger worms such as nightcrawlers. If you’re using a large worm, make sure the fish can still bite it. Baiting a piece of a nightcrawler tends to work best. 

RECOMMENDATION

Use a classic bobber with a small split shot baited about 8 inches above the hook. This will keep the worm at the right depth. 

In deeper waters, bait your worm 1 to 3 feet. Adjust it to the depth. 

Crickets

Bluegills love crickets. They wait for them to fall in the water. Then —pow! Lunch time. 

You will find crickets at most any bait shop. Get a number 6 hook, bobber and sinker. You may also try a number 8 or 10 light-wire hook.

Baiting a cricket is pretty easy. But there is a right and wrong way to do it. For a little cricket-baiting 101, check out this video.

Fishing with Crickets for Bluegill, Panfish, Bream

Grasshoppers

Crickets and grasshoppers are a lot alike. But there are times when grasshoppers are the food of choice.

It depends on what insects are natural to the area you’re fishing. If you see lots of grasshoppers in trees or on the grass, then go with it.

TIP

Remember, fish are looking for what they’re used to. They’re attracted to what’s already in their ecosystem.

Take a look around. See what insects are hopping. Try crickets and grasshoppers to determine which works best.

Grass Shrimp

These critters work well during spawning season. This is because grass shrimp eat bluegill eggs.

Bait one up and drop it near a bed. This triggers them to protect the nest and usually results in a bite.

TIP

Not all tackle shops have grass shrimp. You can catch them yourself with a fine-meshed net. Look for them near the surface of underwater vegetation.

Grubs 

These fat white wigglers are a favorite of bluegills. Rig one up on a size 6 hook and cast it near vegetation.

They attract large bluegills looking to store protein. If you want to catch a fat bluegill, grubs work great.

TIP

You can catch grubs yourself, in rich soil. They mostly can be found at any bait shop. 

Minnows

If you’re looking to catch big bluegills —this may be the best way. Smaller bluegills are prone to biting smaller bait such as worms or grubs. Bigger ‘gills will go after minnows. 

It’s important to make sure you keep your minnows lively. In other words, keep them in a cool water bucket.

TIP

Bluegills are more likely to pounce on a minnow if they see it struggling. If it’s floating lifeless, chances are it will be ignored.

Make sure you have plenty of them. After being on the hook a while, they tend to get sluggish. It’s okay to replace them when this happens.

A Collection of Different Types of  Artificial Fishing Lures
A Collection of Different Types of Artificial Fishing Lures

Easy to Access Bait

Minnows can be found at any live bait store. Just make sure you get enough, and have a bucket to keep them fresh.

If you’re a novice fisherman, it’s okay. Here’s a good way to easily hook your minnows.

Now you know what baits to use. But there’s a whole world of plastic lures that work quite well for bluegill fishing.

Let’s take a look.

It’s because it resembles a wounded flying insect struggling in the water.

Not just that…

Beetle spins are good for spring and summer…

Their presentation and noise pulls bulls off the bed and triggers them to bite.

Rooster tails also work like a charm.

They’re kind of similar to a beetle spin. They have a longer body and a treble hook.

A Versatile Lure

You can run both in shallow or deep water.

Most anglers say it’s best to reel them in slow and steady.

Others recommend a “ start and stop “ technique.

Try both ways. Find what’s working and stick with it!

Bass Caught in Plastic Worm with Carolina Rig Lure
Fish Caught in Plastic Worm with Carolina Rig Lure

Plastic Worm with Carolina Rig 

This is a popular lure for bass…

It works well for bluegill fishing as well.

Use a small-size plastic worm, lizard, crawfish or minnow. Rig it Carolina style for a natural presentation.

A Carolina rig uses a bullet head sinker, bead and swivel. It’s designed to run deep and weedless.

However…

It can be used in the shallows too. This rig looks natural moving on top and bottom.

When to use this type of lure?

It’s ideal for any time of year…

It can be used in the shallows during spring and summer. Run it on the bottom during fall and winter.

It runs smoother than a Texas rig. You can even reel it straight in. 

RECOMMENDATION

Just make sure your line weight is prepared to catch something bigger than bluegills. Bass are prone to hitting them.

Small Plastic Jigs

When bluegill hunker deep in cover, jigs are a nice choice. Move them up and down to entice big ‘gills to bite.

Small jigs are perfect for fishing mossy, clumpy areas. Rig it weedless, and invade their hiding hole.

Choosing the Right Size

To target bigger bluegills, keep your jig-size up to par. In other words, don’t go too small. 

This helps avoid catching really small bluegills.

Keep the size small, but not too small. That way you can have a crack at bigger bluegills.

Also, small jigs are excellent ice fishing lures.

They’re one of the best ways to catch these creatures after the lakes freeze. 

Spoons

Bluegills love shiny things. So naturally, they will pounce on a spoon like it’s no one’s business.

Fishing for Bluegills Using Spoon Lures

Spoons are great for summer bluegill fishing. Run them in the shallows or through deep waters.

If you’re going deep, jig the spoon up and down. This usually gets the attention of bluegills held up in cover.

TIP

Be prepared. More often than not, fish will strike your spoon as it’s falling. So make sure you anticipate it.

Spoons also work for ice fishing. Bluegill love their shine and motion.

Mini Crankbait

From Rebel Crickhoppers to Rapala Minnows, crankbaits get the attention of bluegills

They see them as wounded insects or baitfish.

The best time to use them is after a rain. They wait for fallen insects and will bite these lures in a hurry.

TIP

Run Crankbaits near lily pads in the shallows or through deep waters. Start at about 3 feet. If you’re not having any luck, gradually go deeper.

These lures work well in lakes and ponds. It can be used in rivers too for trophy ‘gills.

Topwater Poppers
Topwater Poppers

Topwater Poppers

If you’re into fly fishing, then try a topwater popper…

These fun lures work great in clear or murky waters. Their sound makes them irresistible to bluegills.

Remember, pick a color that blends in with the water…

If the waters are clear, go with a bright color.

If the waters are murky go with a darker color.

Do you have to use a fly rod setup for poppers? The short answer is no.

TIP

It’s okay to use a regular rod and spinning reel. But keep in mind that fly poppers are light.

What Kind of Line to Use for Topwater Poppers?

You will need to make sure your line is heavy enough to carry the lure.

There are poppers that work for regular fishing rods as well.

You can use a small hula popper. These lures are heavier and imitate a dying bug on the water surface.

Now that you’ve got some baits and lures in your arsenal, let’s look at what gear and tackle you need.

Rods, Reels and Line. 

Use a rod 6 – 7 feet in length.

This gives you enough length to easily jig lures and properly set the hook.

Spinning reels work well for these creatures.

They’re lightweight and make panfishing exciting. 

Choose 4 – 8 pound test fishing lines.

You can go as light as 2 pound test, if you want more of a “fight”.

But if the lines break — hey, we warned you! 

RECOMMENDATION

Remember, bluegills hit all sorts of topwater flies and poppers. Choose a line with 4 or 5 pound weight. This helps you get more distance on your casts.

Baits and Lures

Use what works…

We mentioned many effective baits and lures.

If you’re using bait, make sure it’s something bluegills love.

If you’re going artificial, make sure you did your homework.

Some lures work better than others.

Use the information I mentioned for the most success. 

Other Fishing Necessities

If you want to be meticulous, you can bring more gear. Pliers, fishing net, stringer and bug spray will come in handy.

But again, these are extras. Most bluegill are within the 1 – 2 pound range. It’s not as intense as bass fishing —but man, it’s fun. 

All Set

Well, are you excited to go on a bluegill adventure? Is the truck cranked? Do you feel armed with enough knowledge?

I hope you answered yes, yes and yes. You know what they look like. You know how and where to catch them. The hour is upon us!

The only thing left to do? Go out and catch a load of plump bluegill! And don’t forget to show off your catch on Instagram or Facebook!

Share

Share on twitter
Share on facebook
Share on email
Share on print

Share

Share on twitter
Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Share on print