Top 4 Bluegill Fishing Tips

By: Chris Marlowe
Man holding large bluegill. Peters

So­me of us have childhood memories involving Grandpa, a cane pole and a jaunty, red-and-white bobber. Whether or not you share that recollection, you still might like to learn a few tips about catching bluegill. In this article, you'll learn where to find the best catch, the best baits and lures, how to fly fish for bluegill, and even how to clean them.

One reason many of us started fishing for bluegill as kids is that they'll bite on nearly anything and are found in abundance in many regions. That plentitude means there aren't limits on size or daily catch in some states. Bluegills -- also known as su­nfish, bream, perch or plumb granny -- are related to largemouth bass. So if you know a good spot for bass, it's likely you'll find bluegills there as well.


­Usually, bluegill have dark olive green backs with lighter sides. Each side has between five and nine dark vertical bars. Sometimes, the cheeks and opercles (gill covers) are vivid blue, hence the name bluegill. Factors affecting bluegill color include the fish's age, sex and the color of the water it's in. Bluegills don't get much bigger than 8 inches (20.3 centimeters) or weigh more than 6 ounces (170 grams) [source: Indiana Department of Natural Resources].

Where, oh where, has my little bluegill gone? Read on to discover their likely habitats.


Tip 4: Where to Find Bluegill

Origina­lly native to the Great Lakes, Mississippi and Eastern Seaboard drainage systems, bluegills have been introduced across the nation. The fish is stocked for both forage and sport.

Bluegill prefer clear, quiet water where the sun is shining. Clear water means that vegetation under the water's surface can thrive, offering a home for the bluegills' food sources. Because bluegill prefer to remain close to shore, it's easy to fish for them from banks or bridges. But lakes, reservoirs, slow-moving streams and ponds are all possible habitats as well. A desirable bluegill neighborhood includes fallen timber or pilings and weed beds that provide cover.


Where you'll find these fish depends on the time of day. They feed mostly by sight, so they're most active at dawn and dusk. At midday, they're resting in the shade or staying in deep water where it's cooler.

Seasons also affect where bluegill can be found. Shallow water is a good bet in the spring and early summer months. Because male fish are protecting the nests during the spawn, they go after small lures, assuming they're predators. As summer heat increases, the bluegill move to waters more than 10 feet (3 meters) deep. This is also true in early fall. As the season brings cooler weather, bluegill more frequently come into shallow water. It's more likely that midday fishing will be successful in the fall. By winter, bluegill have moved to water between 12 and 20 feet (3.6 and 6 meters) deep. They school together near the bottom of underwater structures and don't feed as actively.

You've found the perfect spot -- now what? Check out the next section for hints on bait and lures that bluegills can't resist.­


Tip 3: Bluegill Lures and Bait

­You may find that you have the greatest success fishing for bluegill­, as well as the most f­un, when you use light tackle. Try two- or four-pound test monofilament line on an ultra-light graphite rod. Be sure to move slowly while fishing, whether you choose live bait or lures, because slow-moving aquatic insects make up the regular bluegill diet [source: Schwartz].

Looking for that lovely lure bluegill will find irresistible? Spinnerbaits, microjigs and ice tick jigs all work well. Miniature soft plastic lures and small tube jigs also are effective. Chartreuse, pink and white are good colors for soft plastic jigs. Leadheads that have been tipped with twister tails, rubber grubs or marabou feathers are all excellent choices.


If you prefer live bait, bluegill love nightcrawlers and worms of any kind. Use just enough of the worm to cover the hook, always keeping in mind the fish's tiny mouth. Grasshoppers or crickets are also options. Remember to treat your live bait well -- a sluggish cricket won't attract much attention from the bluegill. Keep crickets in a screened container and out of direct sunlight, offering them moistened bits of bread between fishing trips. Pack nightcrawlers in moss or worm bedding to keep them cool and fresh. If you're using minnows, store them in the boat's livewell or in a bucket with an aerator pump.

When using live bait, be sure to use a six or eight hook to accommodate the bluegills' small mouths. You'll find that long shanks on the hook will help you get it out of the fish more easily than if you use a short shank. If you're using live bait, choose thin wire hooks so that the bait will not die quickly [source: Schwartz].

We usually think of fly fishing for trout, but this tactic also works well with bluegill, especially in shallow waters. Let's fly ahead to learn more.­


Tip 2: Fly Fishing for Bluegill

To ­begin fly fishing for bluegill, you'll want to use a single-action reel equipped with a clicker drag, something lightweight to attach to a seven- to nine-foot fly rod. Your rod should be made to cast four- to six-weight lines. Before you purchase line, however, check the manufacturer's suggestions for the proper line weight for your rod. Generally, a weight-forward taper floating fly line or a double taper line works best. Use three- to six-pound test tippets on 7.5- to nine-foot taper leaders. You may prefer to use about 6 feet (1.8 meters) of two- or four-pound monofilament line in place of a leader [source: Schwartz, Kruse].

Choose a fly that looks like an insect, and move it as though that insect were struggling or injured. Males are very aggressive during the spring spawn, so small flutters are likely to end in a strike. Later in the season, choose the edges of weed beds. Try ultra-light leadheads or wet flies. On a size 10 to 14 hook, place deer hair poppers, sponge bugs, jigs, streamers or nymphs. Small black flies are good choices. Remember that bluegill have small mouths, so there's no point in tossing out a huge piece of shad or other bait.


Now it's time for the feast. But wait -- how do you clean that catch of bluegills? Sharpen your knife and fear not, the next section will have you filleting like a pro.

Tip 1: How to Clean a Bluegill

­Here­'s an easy, four-step process for cleaning bluegill. Once you master it, you can clea­n a bluegill in a minute or less. Before you begin, be sure that all surfaces and knives are clean. Work on a newspaper for easy disposal of the parts of the fish that you won't use. Fresh fish are slippery, so allow your catch to air dry before you begin cleaning. One more helpful hint: If you have arthritis, consider using an electric knife, particularly if it's been a good fishing day and you have several dozen fish to clean.

  1. Begin by slicing the fish from behind the gills to the backbone. Don't slice through. If you angle the knife toward the head, you won't waste any of the fillet.
  2. Move the knife along the spine, again being careful not to cut through. Slice all the way to the fish's tail, but don't remove the skin yet.
  3. Lay out the fish with the skin side down. Use a fillet knife to slice all the way down the fillet. If you keep the knife blade along the skin, you won't waste any of the fillet. After you cut away the skin, only the fillet remains.
  4. Now use a clean fillet knife to get under the ribs, top to bottom, keeping the knife right under the bones, so as not to lose any of the meat.

If you're going to freeze the fillets, rinse them, place them in a freezer-safe plastic bag, and add water under the fillets until they are submerged. This tactic keeps them from getting freezer burn [source: Hustad, Prowse].


Because bluegill are small, you might want to think of them more as fish chips than a regular meal. But sit back and enjoy them -- you earned it after all your hard work.­


Lots More Information

R­elated HowStuffWorks Articles

  • "Bluegill Fishing Tips." (Accessed 11/13/08)
  • Higginbothom, Billy. "Forage Species." Southern Regional Aquaculture Center. (Accessed 11/14/08)
  • Hustad, Chris. "Fast and Easy Fish Cleaning Tips for Walleye, Perch, and Panfish." (Accessed 11/13/08)
  • Indiana Department of Natural Resources. "Bluegill." (Accessed 11/13/08)
  • Kruse, Mike. "Professor Bluegill." (Accessed 11/13/08)
  • Missouri Department of Conservation. "Bluegill." (Accessed 11/13/08)
  • Prowse, Grover. "How to Easily Filet Panfish." (Accessed 11/13/08)
  • Reimer, Susan. "A Fish Way to Fertilize the Garden.",0,386694.story (Accessed 11/15/08)
  • Schwartz, Joe. "Fishing for Bluegill." (Accessed 11/13/08)