Spring Bluegill Fishing – 3 Essential Elements

Spring Bluegill Fishing

Springtime brings excitement to the lives of eager fisherman. Watching ice melt or checking extended forecasts becomes an hourly ritual in many parts of the country. The anticipation of getting out on an open lake or casting from the banks of the local river can get the most patient person giddy for fishing. Many believe early spring is the best time of the year to catch trophy fish. Bluegills are no exception. Here are 3 essential elements to spring bluegill fishing

Water Temperature

spring bluegill fishing temperature

A light switch flips on in those first few warming weeks once the water hits that perfect temperature. Many believe that magical temperature is 50 degrees. Some have it down to an exact number like 52 or 53 degrees. When the water reaches that magic number, bluegills begin to migrate from their wintering holes to the closest shallow areas they find with some cover. Most modern depth finders or fish finders have temperature gauges. If you’re bank fishing or wading, try using a common cooking thermometer.

Water temperature also varies greatly based on which part of a lake or river you are on. Shallow areas on sunny sides will almost certainly be up to a few degrees warmer than other locations. That degree or two can make all the difference. Start at the warmest location first. Early season Bluegill tend to congregate to these locations.

Structure

Finding habitat is vital in any season. Spring is no different. Despite being aggressive, predatory fish, bluegills still worry about being eaten. And rightfully so. Muskies, northern pike, catfish and even large bass can chomp down on 8+ inch bluegill with ease. Cover varies from water body to water body. In some lakes, rock piles and sunken logs can be the ticket.  Weeds typically aren’t too prevalent in early spring but you might find some hardy weeds off the bottom. Docks and boat houses that are near deep water can also hold schools in the right settings.

Spring Bluegill Fishing Sunken tree Cover

Sunken trees can provide cover for concentrations of spring bluegills. photo via Joelk75 flickr

Structure is vital to spring bluegill fishing because it’s the best way to find concentrations of fish. You might stumble across a bull in transit or get lucky in a spot. However, to catch multiple fish, you need structure. If you aren’t having luck with a specific type of structure, mix it up and try another type. Rocks or trees or weeds.

Presentation

Presentation, in fishing terms, is the lure or bait you use, how you use it. Obviously, there’s no way you’re catching a fish without presenting something it wants to eat. Spring bluegill fishing is a great way to test out different presentations. A variety of techniques will work.

Despite this, there are a few consistent elements that all bluegill fishermen should apply. The best advice is to fish slow. In any season, bluegills aren’t known for following baits long distances or striking from far away. In the spring time, this is double true. They can be slow to make a run at a jig or bait. It’s almost as if they are debating it in their small fish mind. Little or even no movement can land a large amount of bluegills. Consider utilizing a float to control depth and movement.

Common early spring bluegill fishing live baits include wax worms, red worm/night crawler pieces, and crickets. Small leeches can also work very well but bluegills are masters at pecking them off. A number 8 hook works really well. Never go bigger than a number 6 hook if you’re looking for just bluegills.

Spring Fishing Atlas Mike's Glo Scents

Some fishermen have great success using artificial baits as well. Small plastics and Berkley power grubs will frequently catch fish. A surprisingly few amount of panfish anglers use bait sprays. Bait sprays give you’re your jig that little extra kick that can be the difference between a small nibble that’s spit out and full slurp. Berkley Gulp! Alive! Attractant Spray is widely available and comes in many flavors. Atlas Mike’s Glo Scents is another cheap oil that does the trick.

Go Fish!

Spring bluegill fishing is fantastic. You can’t catch fish sitting on your couch or at your computer. Get out there and slay them!

Thick Cover Bluegill Fishing

Thick Cover Bluegill Fishing

Dense cover is ideal for panfish. They are safe to feed nearby. Think of lily pads, thick weeds and other heavy vegetation as a wooded forest – full of places to live, hide, and pounce on prey. This wooded forest is full of both large predatory fish and small minnows, larvae, nymphs, tadpoles and more. This creates the perfect bluegill fishing environment.

Large, fat bluegills stalk prey in the shadows of cover, rarely seeing artificial lures, boats and fisherman. Fishing in these parts requires different equipment to catch these elusive beasts.

Finding Fish

One of the biggest problems with fishing thick vegetation is mobility. Kayak and canoe typically works best when sneaking into pockets inside these holes. Motorized boats can quickly be damaged by tangled propellers and get stuck in narrow or shallow stretches. Flat bed or small paddle boats will also work in the right environments using a push pole or paddles.

Fortunately, locating fish is these thick forests is not challenging. Find the edge of one habitat that leads into another. For example, find reeds that line the edge of lily pads. According to several research studies, lake fish are more likely to live in areas with diverse vegetation. Small critters like invertebrates, tadpoles, and minnows have more places to hide (or so they think) near the surface of the water. However, bluegills hide in the shadows, waiting for that one wrong move by prey.

Locating Bluegills in Cover like lily pads, reeds, cattails and weeds

Target edges of one cover to another.

Listen for the popping sound. Bluegills will make a slurp or popping noise when feeding. In thick vegetation, this comes from them plucking grubs or worms off of the bottom of lily or dollar pads. If you consistently hear the noise, you know they are there and they are active.

Equipment

Next, using a float like a thill shy bite is both fun and an effective way to catch bulls. It serves two purposes – 1) It allows you to identify bites easily and 2) It allows you to regulate the depth of your bait or jig. Try suspending your bait in different depths. The best place to start is about half way in thick cover.  If your float does not stand straight up, you know you have it set too deep, a fish is on the line, or you are caught or tangled on weed.

Thill Gold Medal Mini Shy Bite Float Bobber

Thill Shy Bite Float

The bait and line you use can vary on the location and season. In summer weather, small leeches, worms or soft plastic jigs are most effective. In the spring, maggots can be the ticket to slaying big bulls. As for line, 4 to 6 lb line works the best to give you a combination of strength and sensitivity. If you’re not a budget fisherman, splurge and purchase braided line. Braided line tends to be much stronger and doesn’t stretch. This makes cutting through weeds and battling fish a little easier.

A proper hook strategy is also critical to catching fish and not weeds. The hook you use should have just enough space shown to hook into a bluegill’s mouth nothing left to snag onto. Big bulls will attempt to take off for the weeds or deeper water. Avoiding getting hung up on snags is a must in order to catch these big boys. The preferred hooks are a #10 or maybe a 1/64 oz weighted jig is all you need. This may seem tiny but keep in mind how small bluegill mouths are. Some anglers also will bend their hook in slightly to ensure it wraps along the mouth of the fish.

Other Thick Cover Bluegill Fishing Techniques

Using flies can also be a tactic for catching slop bluegills. Casting poppers is both fun and natural in these environments. The thud of the popper hitting on top of a lily pad will sometimes get the attention of a bull and they’ll strike it the second it hits the water.

Other strategies include using small spoons like lindy frostee spoons or a Johnson Sprite but replace the treble hook with a smaller #10 or #8 size hook. Horizontal jigs like Bait Rig’s Slo-Poke and Kalin’s Ultimate jig can be fun to use. Try dancing the jig with a worm or grub tipped on the end. Make sure to you either have a clear path to reel it up or you’re close enough to be able to lift it out of the water.

Original Johnson Sprite Spoon

Johnson Sprite Spoon

Get out there and fish!

Regardless of the strategy, thick cover bluegill fishing is a challenging, yet rewarding tactic. Big fish live in places that are hard to reach. Fishing reeds, weeds, and lilies can be a great way to catch monster, dinner plate sized bluegills

Hybrid Bluegill

 

Big Hybrid Bluegill

MD DNR

What are Hybrid Bluegill?

Hybrid Bluegills are a cross between purebred bluegills and other members of the sunfish family. The most common hybrid bluegill is a cross of a female green sunfish and a male bluegill. This hybrid bluegill will have the general shape of a bluegill but will have more of a spotted scale pattern on the gill plate and body, whereas a traditional bluegill has a more distinct set of stripes. Purebred bluegills have more of a distinct red patch on their throat. The hybrid bluegill’s mouth is much larger than a regular bluegill as well.

 

Denton Taylor via flickr

Note the large mouth size. Photo: Denton Taylor via flickr

Pond Stocking Hybrid Bluegills

The bluegill hybrid species (bluegill/green sunfish) is common in pond stocking. This is due to their notoriously aggressive nature and large size. Their tremendous appetite allows them to grow extraordinary fast. Hybrid bluegills can grow at rates of ½ lbs or larger per year. This creates an amazing and enjoyable fishing experience.  Despite the large size and aggressiveness of the fish, there are some downsides to stocking hybrid bluegills. The biggest one being reproduction limitations. Offspring of hybrid bluegills will be extremely skewed towards males. About 9 out of 10 bluegill hybrid offspring will be male. This means re-stocking and monitoring of fish numbers. Additionally, hybrid bluegill species will compete directly with largemouth bass for food and habitat.

Other Hybrid Bluegill Species

According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, over 20 different combinations of hybrid sunfish have been found in natural environments. A study done by the Illinois Natural History Survey was able to produce 12 combinations of red-ear sunfish, bluegill, green sunfish and warmouth hybrids. The results showed that while these combinations are possible, environmental factors play a large part in determining hybrid success. The study also concluded that hybrid species are not sterile and can produce offspring.