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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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