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Bluegill Fishing

Lets give credit where credit is due fellow fisherman. If it were not for catching your first Bluegill when you were still in elementary school with your mickey mouse rod you may not have become the fisherman you are today.  Many anglers get frustrated when they catch a Bluegill or Pumpkin Seed, but not me, I say thank you for getting me hooked on fishing.  I would head down to the local pond that would be loaded with the little fish and spend a day mastering the skill of catching and releasing the hungry little buggers.  If you still consider yourself a novice fisherman these are a great fish to start off with.  You may very well catch one by mistake as most ponds are littered with them.  Below I will discuss the species in detail and some tactics to catch a bunch of them.  Supposedly they are a good tasting fish, however they offer much work to scale and de-bone so unless you have a lot of time to spare I would recommend catch and release with barbless hooks.



Facts About Bluegills 

Bluegills or Sunfish get their name from their vibrant colors and theirBlue gill covers.  Some are a bright shade of orange, while others are greenish with dark lines running vertically down their bodies.  Many descriptions do not give them justice as to how beautiful they are.  I have caught many with vibrantly blue gills and underbellies.  I still get stunned with just how bright some of the colors can be.  The Bluegill gets its name from its bright gill or what is referred to as the Opercular flap with looks almost like the ear of the fish.  Every bluegill has its own marking but in general they all have a similar rounded face and pudgy little body.  The maximum length is supposedly 18 inches but the largest Bluegill I have ever caught was around 10 inches and I strongly feel that anything larger than that is rather rare.  Be careful of their dorsal spikes as they are very sharp and will stab deep if handled incorrectly.  Trust me I know from experience and the stinging sensation from a mishandled bluegill will linger on for a long time.  Sunfish have numerous scales that will take a long time to skin if you so desire to cook one. 

Bluegills are a highly aggressive fish that are not afraid to swim right up to the local swimmer.  The males also will take a bite at a big toe if he feels his nest is in danger.  I have had a school of hungry bluegills come right up to my legs and nibble on loose sunburned

Bluegill Fishing

Bluegill Fishing

skin.  When they know that their is an easy meal present they are not a bashful species by any means.  It is amazing to watch a school of them devour a piece of bread or cheese.  If they are hungry enough you would swear that they are a school of Piranhas.    During the midday sun I have seen many bluegills jump a few feet to catch an unexpecting dragonfly.   

One interesting fact about Bluegills is that the male fish actually stays with the nest and provides protection for the baby suns that are rapidly growing inside the fertilized eggs.   The nests are easily spotted from a high vantage point as they are cleared circular formations around a few feet across.  These guardian males will not be afraid to take a bite at anything that swims or walks to close.  Their spawning season generally starts around June. 

Where Can I Catch Bluegill?    

The short answer to this is just about anywhere there is a freshwater pond or lake.   More specifically they can be caught in all areas of North America, Quebec, southern Canada and Mexico.  They are a very popular fish in the North East, Arkansas, Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Michigan and the Great Lakes Regions. 

While fishing on the pond or lake stick to to a few feet of water near the shoreline.  They prefer cover by lily pads or other vegetation.  I have had successful Bluegill fishing experiences in the deeper areas of a lake or pond, but the majority of the action is more towards the shoreline.  Weed beds underneath the water column also produce well.  Milfoil and Lilly pads create great natural protection for the species.

Look for their “beds” from shore or from boat.  Their beds can be easily spotted as they appear as light circular rings on the pond floor.  The males will protect their young in these beds for weeks at a time.  This makes them easy to locate on just about any pond or lake.  I try not to catch them while they are nesting however to ensure a good population of Bluegill in the pond that I am currently fishing. 

What Bait Should I Use While Bluegill Fishing?

Earth Worms

Earth Worms

I have caught a variety of bluegills, sunfish, pumpkin-seeds or whatever you want to call them on earthworms, marshmallows, cheese, bright plastic, plastic worms, rooster tails, small plugs, small jigs and flies.  Just use small hooks as they have small mouths.  Don’t worry about their teeth as they are rarely very large and do not inflict much main when bitten.  The most popular setup I use while bluegill fishing is a small hook below a small bobber baited with some worm.  They are known to clean off the hook so be sure to thread the worm good.  Pay attention to subtle changes in the bobber floating in the water.  Keep a close eye on it as sometimes they will just pull it along the top of the water, while others have the strength to pull in below the surface a few inches. 

Best Tackle for Bluegill Fishing

I always recommend using small barbless hooks while fishing for Bluegill.  They are a critical species in the food chain of any local lake or pond so be careful when handling and taking them off the hook once caught.  Small eagle claw hooks seem to work well, but any small hook will work.  The larger Bluegills will strike a smaller rooster tail or small plug, so small Rapala or Rebel lures are often close at hand while on the pursuit of larger Bluegill.  Dry flies and poppers also perform very well when you know that they are feeding on the surface of the water.

On colder spring mornings bringing a pair of waiters is not such a bad idea either as this will help you to navigate the pond or lake without catching hypothermia. 

Any fishing rod will do, but the lighter action rods work best as it will be easier to cast and allow for better sensativity to small bites.

When is the Best Time to Catch Bluegill

Bluegill can be caught at just about any time of the season, but tend to be more active when the water temperatures are warmer.  Unlike the larger fish they are active for most of the daylight hours.  Generally when the Bass fishing or Trout fishing slows down in the mid afternoon sun, anglers turn their attention to what is biting which is normally Bluegill or Perch.  They can even be caught while ice fishing during the Winter months, however they are not nearly as active as during the Summer months.  In the Northeast May through September are the most active months to find and catch Bluegill. 

Popular Techniques and Tips

Generally the fishing is fairly fast action while fishing for Bluegills.  They are known to strip bait of a hook so be sure to pay close attention to your bobber or fly whichever you are currently using.  Bluegills are a school fish so generally once you catch one others are not far behind.  They can be caught while retrieving a spinner bait on a cast or trolling from a small boat.  To keep the cost of bait to a minimum you can also catch hungry bluegills on a bright colored piece of rubber.  Once you know that there is a large school of Bluegills around you can quickly drop the rubber in the water making the largest ripple you can make to draw attention and then peer into the water waiting for a large bluegill to put it in its mouth.  I have found with experience however that the hook and worm or dry fly work the best when fishing for Bluegill. 

After a few fishing trips you may want to consider fishing without the bobber, as this can sometimes spook the larger fish.  Just pay close attention to the line or simply peer into the water keeping close attention to your bait.  Finding a high vantage point can make a significant advantage while fishing for them.  Bridges, hills and tree limbs make it that much easier to spot a big school of fish. 
Be sure to try a variety of locations as usually the larger fish congregate in certain areas of the pond or lake.

Another helpful tip while fishing for Bluegill is to approach the shoreline quietly as they are easily spooked and the larger Bluegill seem to be even more timid than the younger Bluegills.  If you are fishing in a boat do not make a lot of noise as this will most likely scare the fish away. 

On a side note, I think the worst type of boat to go fishing in is the older Aluminum boats as they make much noise while fishing in them, even if you are trying to be quite.  A good tip is to put an old rug at the bottom of the boat to dampen any potential noise while fishing.  This is good practice no matter what fish you are fishing for.  

Using Bluegill as Bait fish

Smaller Bluegill are sometimes used as bait fish for Large mouth Bass, Pike, Muskie and Catfish.  It is best to catch a small or medium sized Bluegill as the larger ones may be big of a meal for the average sized Bass or Pike.  This will help your overall odds of landing more fish throughout the day.  They can be rigged using a standard three way rig with an average size hook through their upper tail area.  Depending apon where the prey fish are located you might consider placing a weight or bobber on the three way rig.  I have found however that for best results just letting the Sunfish swim freely at the depth it wants generates better results, because the larger game fish will locate it with smell or the vibrations the Bluegill makes naturally.

Proper Handling

As mentioned before Bluegill are a keystone species on any pond or lake, this being said their survival is important for the overall health of a pond or lake.  This is why I recommend using a barb-less hook while fishing for Bluegill.  This ensures a quick release and much less trauma for the fish.  Also be sure to wet your hands before handling Bluegills as they have a protective coating of slime on their bodies which helps to protect them from harmful bacteria and infections. Most fish have this protective coating of slime so it is good practice no matter what species you plan to fish for.   Be sure not to handle them if you have any chemicals on your hands such as bug spray or any other man made chemical like sun screen. 

Also for your own protection be careful of their dorsal spikes as they are very sharp and can potentially penetrate a few centimeters into a human hand, which offers a very nasty stinging sensation.  I always handle them from their belly just to ensure not being pricked by their sharp needle like spines. 

An exhausted Bluegill can be revived just like any other fish by placing them back into the water and gently rocking them back and forth from front to back.  This increases the oxygen flow over their gills and revives them faster, increasing their chances of a speedy recovery. 

Personal Reflections About Catching Bluegill

While on the pursuit of a larger game fish I will start my day by catching a few smaller sunfish and using them as live bait.  They are a good bait for pike or for large bass.  If I am fishing for Bluegill with a younger child I will set them up to catch these fast action fish as it will keep them busy while I am seeking larger game.  I have caught them at all times of the day, but I have more luck in mid afternoon when most of the larger fish are less active.  I catch many of them trolling a small rooster tail in 3-5 feet of water.  The larger ones can put up a fairly decent fight on light action tackle.

Don’t underestimate the intelligence of the larger Bluegill.  If you have every studied the larger Bluegill closely you will notice that they are much more selective about what they eat.  Probably because they have been hooked a few times in their youth.  The larger Bluegill will first smell and thoroughly inspect the meals that they place in their mouths, opposed to the younger ones that will put just about anything in their mouths. 

While I was younger I would catch large numbers of them using the simple dobber and worm setup.  I would head down to the local pond in the neighborhood and take a few steps in the cool water.  Finding them was never to hard as this pond always had a high Population of Bluegills.  Using worms I could catch them one after another hours at a time.  Occasionally I would see a bass swim by which would peak my attention.  On certain days I would chum with bread or other stale food that my mother was about to throw away.  They were never very shy and would swim up very close and occasionally take a nibble on one of my toes, which would freak me out a bit.

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