Bluegill Fishing 101

Bluegill Fishing 101

Bluegill fishing is some of the most exciting, entertaining and effective types of fishing in North America. Bluegills, by nature, are aggressive fish that can be caught easily if the correct techniques are used. Few other fish compare in abundance by quantity of fish and by bodies of water containing them. They are found in many lakes, rivers and ponds throughout the United States. They can also be found in Canada and Mexico.

This is a 9 minute video from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. I think it’s a great resource for beginners.

Where to Catch Bluegills

As stated earlier, bluegills are found throughout the United States. They can be caught in just about any body of water. To find a good lake or river to try, there are a few things you can do.

First, ask around. Speak with friends and family about where they go and what they catch there. Bait shops are also very good resources. They are usually very friendly and will give you a good word on where their customers are going and how the fishing is right now. There are also websites with forums and fishing reports that can give you good information on where fish are being caught and what techniques are being used.

Second, go online to your state’s DNR or Fish and Wildlife website.  Most sites have information on specific lakes and rivers. In fact, some states even post information on netting samples. Netting samples are a census process for fish conducted by the state. The results of these samples indicate how abundant fish species are in that body of water and you can even get an idea on how big the fish could potentially be! Here’s an example from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources:

MN DNR Lake Minnetonka Net Sample

A net sample chart that gives you a good idea on what fish species are present and how big they are.

Third, go out and fish. You’ll never know if the fishing is good unless you go out there are try it. Just because there’s no one bluegill fishing in a specific spot doesn’t mean there aren’t any fish there. Although bluegill fishing is very popular, many more serious fishermen prefer bass, walleyes, catfish or trout. Sometimes the best bluegill spots are in places with lower bass and catfish numbers.

What equipment to use

One of the most appealing aspects of bluegill fishing is you don’t have to spend a fortune on equipment.

Reel

A basic open or closed faced reel will work just fine. Many large retail stores sell starter kits that work great for bluegill fishing. Zebco produces a line of closed face reels that have been very popular for decades. They are easy to cast and are great for children. Open faced reels, also known as spinning reels, can also be effective. These are designed for casting and getting a little more feel when jigging. The downside is they are a little more complicated to handle and line twist can be more prevalent. A third type of reel, a baitcasting reel, is not recommended for bluegill. They are designed more for heavy duty fishing or for casting and retrieving quickly. They are more common for bass fishing and trolling.

Closed Face Zebco Reel

Zebco 33GOLD Gold Series Spincast Reel

Rod

Again, the rod type is not a critical factor in catching bluegill. Typically, lighter weight equipment works best. Flexible rods work well because you’ll feel more sensitivity. Length-wise, a 5’6” or 6’ rod will do for most basic fishing. A 6’6” foot rod or longer can also be effective if you are doing more “flipping.” Flipping is a technique of casting in a precise spot. For example: casting under a low hanging tree or around thick weeds.

Fishing Line

Of all of the equipment factors, line might be the most important (but still not critical). Bluegills are fairly small fish and have small mouths. Light line is your best bet. 2 or 4 pound test line is ideal in most situations. This will make casting and tying your knot much easier. I would not recommend going above 6 pound test unless you’re primarily fishing for larger fish like catfish, carp or northern pike. Besides tying knots and casting, fish can also be spooked or distracted by a thicker line. Bluegills tend to be reactionary so line thickness isn’t always a huge concern but during certain times of the year they can be spooked.

Bait

The best technique for bluegill fishing is using live bait. Bluegills can be nibblers. They will strike first gently to test if it’s edible, then strike again harder if it is. The most common, and probably most effective bait, is the earthworm (nightcrawler) on a straight hook.  All bait shops and even some larger retail stores sell nightcrawlers. For bluegills, small or medium size ‘crawlers work best.  Use a smaller hook – size 6 to 8. It is not necessary to use a whole nightcrawler and, in fact, may be to your detriment to do so. Since bluegills “slurp” or nibble, they often pull the bait right off the hook. If you have too much dangling off the end, you’ll likely lose more than you would if it’s strung on completely. In addition to nightcrawlers, waxworms and even small minnows can also work.

Lures

If live bait is not available or if pinching worms make you queasy, artificial lures can be suitable as well. The best artificial lure technique is using a jig with a plastic body. For our purposes, a jig is a hook with a large, weighted head located where you tie on at. The head can be different colors and shapes. For bluegill fishing, go no bigger than a 1/32 oz weight. The plastic body can be in a twister tail, worm, tube (tentacles), or many other shapes and designs. The important part is that the soft body of it gives the jig a little more realistic feel to it, which increases the likelihood of a catch. Many people will combine a jig with live bait as well. They’ll put a small piece of nightcrawler on the end of the hook part of the jig. For very aggressive and active bluegills, poppers and dry flies can be a fun and effective way to catch them.

Worms, nightcrawlers make great bait for bluegill fishing

Bluegill Fishing Techniques

The best technique advice is to just get something in the water! Bluegills are typically plentiful and will bite on just about anything. If something doesn’t work, try something different. For live bait, the most common technique is using a bobber. A bobber is a small floating marker that helps indicate when a bite or nibble is occurring. It is also effective in keeping bait in a specific area at a specific depth. Make sure to use a proper sized bobber. It doesn’t need to be much bigger than a ping pong ball.

Standard White and Red Bobber

Another live bait technique is to use a straight hook and use a sinker weight. A sinker on the front of the bait will cause it to sink to the bottom. Bluegill will poke around the bottom of lakes and rivers. Place the sinker a few inches away from the top of the hook on the line. This will give the bait a more natural look and feel.

Using artificial bait is much more active and involving. The best technique is to do slow retrievals. By slowly retrieving your bait, you are mimicking natural foods that bluegill eat like worms and other small critters. The key is to make it look like it’s alive. Wiggling the bait or lifting your rod tip up and then slowly dropping it down are both good ways to do this. Despite being active strikers, they do not generally follow bait over distances. It’s imperative to go slow and basically drop your bait in front of them.

Mister Twister Soft Plastic Body

Mister Twister Soft Plastic Body

Where and When to Go

Bluegill fishing can be a year round activity. They are active during just about every season. However, where they are and what techniques work vary depending on the season.

Spring

Spring is usually a fantastic time for bluegill fishing. Bluegills gather in shallow areas of lakes and rivers to spawn during this time. During this process, they become very aggressive while the males defend their nests. The peak spawning time is when water temperatures reach the mid-70’s. If you are at a lake with clear water, you can visually see the beds. Each bed contains individual nests made by a specific bluegill. They will look like a discolored round impression in sand or rocky bottom. It’s usually easier to see the nest than it is the actual fish but they are usually close by.

Summer

Summer bluegill fishing can also be a good time to catch quality fish. After spawning, bluegills tend to travel to deeper water to feed. 10-15 feet is the most common depth. Look for weed beds or other structure and cast near the edge of it. Bluegills, along with other predator fish, sit along the edge of these areas waiting for the right moment to strike.

Fall

In the fall, bluegills will again move. They typically go to mid depths located near their spawning site.  Again, weeds, boulders or sunken logs can be good places to locate quality numbers of fish. Baits like jigs and nightcrawlers are still effective during the falls.

Winter

When winter arrives, bluegills move deep.  Look for depths near 20 feet of water. However, depending on the lake/river, a few feet could make a huge difference. Stay in tune with what the fishing reports are saying and note where you are catching fish.

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