Bluegill: The Complete Fishing Guide

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Bluegill: The Complete Fishing Guide

Bluegill_The Complete Fishing Guide

Bluegill are one of the most popular freshwater fish in the world. Each year, hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of bluegill are caught in the United States.

Small, but feisty, they are one of the easiest species to catch for a variety of reasons. They are also among the most popular to eat.

If you are planning to fish for bluegill for the first time, or are simply looking for additional information on this incredibly popular fish, then this complete fishing guide is an excellent place to start!

What is a Bluegill?

What is a Bluegill
Photo of an adult bluegill (via USFWS Mountain-Prairie/Flickr)

When asking the question what is a bluegill, there are numerous approaches we can explore.

Some might consider the bluegill a small baitfish. Others might suggest they are one of several panfish or sunfish species. Savvy or biologically-sound anglers might tell you that the species is known as Lepomis macrochirus.

No matter what you call them, it is undeniable that bluegill are perhaps the most widely-caught freshwater species among youth and beginning anglers.

The species we call bluegill, however, is often confused for some of the twelve other species that fall under the Lepomis genus.

While it has a similar shape, size, coloration, and feeding pattern as these other species, the bluegill has many distinct qualities and characteristics that set it apart.

What Does a Bluegill Look Like?

What is a Bluegill Fish
Blue (photo via toyohara/Flickr)

Many anglers catch what they believe to be a bluegill every day. They may actually be catching a similar sunfish species like a pumpkinseed, green sunfish, warmouth, or orangespotted sunfish, or redear sunfish.

If you catch enough of these, you will eventually be able to tell the difference. Below are some helpful pointers, however, that can help you identify a bluegill.

What Does a Bluegill Look Like?

  • Color of the Head: Bluegill are located across the entire country and will, by nature, see different patterns of coloration. Most will have a dark coloring on their chins and the sides of their heads. At times, this can even look black.
  • Vertical Bars on the Side of a Bluegill’s Body: While the number will vary, bluegill will generally have between 5 and 9 vertical bars on the sides of their bodies. Age, location, water condition, and a variety of other factors can determine how dark or pronounced these stripes are.
  • Chinstrap (Light Blue): A visual indicator that is present at times, some bluegill will carry a “chinstrap” that is light blue.
  • Ear Will Have a Black Spot: At the base of the dorsal fine (near the gill edge), bluegill will often have a pronounced, round spot. This will appear either black or a very deep blue.
  • Count the Spines: While species can resemble each other, you can often rely on counting the spines on their fins to tell the difference. For instance, a bluegill will have between 12 and 13 pectoral rays, 11 to 12 dorsal rays, 10 to 12 anal fin rays, 3 anal spines, and 6 to 13 dorsal fin spines.
  • Breeding Males Have a Yellow Breast: This characteristic varies between the sexes and the seasons. Many bluegill will have a noticeable yellow coloration to their breasts. In breeding males, this may appear orange and more pronounced.

How to Catch Bluegill: Fishing Techniques for All Seasons

Bluegill are incredibly popular for a variety of reasons. They are fairly easy to catch, you don’t need fancy or expensive tackle, and they can be found almost anywhere. You can also catch them any time of the year.

That said, certain tackle is much better suited at catching small fish than others. Likewise, certain techniques will be better suited for different seasons.

Below, we will take a look at various approaches you might want to consider throughout the year when fishing for bluegill.

Fishing Line: Monofilament or Fluorocarbon

Of the three major styles of fishing line, most anglers choose either monofilament or fluorocarbon when fishing for bluegill.

While you can catch bluegill on pretty much any type of line, many anglers have been switching to fluorocarbon is recent years. Bluegill are aggressive but do tend to spook easily, so using the fluoro line (which is incredibly hard for fish to see) offers an added benefit.

Whether you are using mono or fluoro, however, you will want to use a lighter line weight.

Convention states that using anywhere between 2 and 6 pound test line is ideal. If you are going to be using larger live bait, especially nightcrawlers, I would suggest steering toward the higher end. I have had smallmouth bass and even decent-sized walleye hit a worm while I was fishing for bluegill and 2 lb test might be too light to handle an unexpected strike from a larger species.

To keep things balanced, it’s hard to go wrong with 4 lb test when fishing for bluegill. This is light enough that it won’t deter the bluegill from striking, but also strong enough to handle larger fish.

Recommended Line for Bluegill Fishing

Live Baits

To avoid tempting bigger fish, though, you may want to stick to smaller live baits.

Nightcrawlers, especially when cut into smaller pieces, will absolutely attract a variety of larger species. It is not at all uncommon for largemouth, smallmouth, white, and rock bass to strike a worm. Channel catfish, freshwater drum, saugeye, and even walleye may also hit.

While this may be exciting for many anglers, if you are fishing primarily for bluegill, this can be frustrating.

In addition, you will want to avoid usingwhole nightcrawlers because bluegill have smaller mouths and are more likely to break off part of your worm than to end up hooked.

Likewise, minnows (perhaps the second most popular live bait for freshwater fishing) are not as likely to produce a strike.

If you want to use live bait, we recommend the following:

  • Red Worms
  • Wax Worms
  • Meal Worms
  • Maggots
  • Crickets
  • Snails
  • Crayfish

Artificial Baits

While not as popular as live baits, some anglers like to fish for bluegill using spinners, jigs, and flies.

Since bluegill have smaller mouths, you want to avoid using the same size jigs you would for crappie, which have much larger mouths.

Using very small lures, like the Custom Jigs & Spins Tungsten JaJe Bug (1/32 oz.) with a bobber may be a good option.

Some other popular artificial baits for bluegill fishing include:

Rods and Reels

One of the nice things about bluegill fishing is that you do not need heavy-duty gear to catch them. There are still anglers today using cane poles to catch them!

That said, some rods and reels a better suited for smaller species.

Our personal favorite combination is the St. Croix Panfish Series Spinning Rod with a Shimano Sedona FI Spinning Reel (1000) reel.

Ultra-light rods and lighter reels, while not necessary, really do accentuate the already-aggressive fight. Lighter tackle will also help you detect a sneaky bite, especially if you are not using a bobber.

We recommend you check out our guide to some of the best rods and reels for panfishing (above) for more great combinations.

Fishing Hooks

Like most things in life, fishing hooks are not created equal. As such, you will want to be very particular with the hook sizes you choose when fishing for bluegill.

Since bluegill have small mouths, it can be a real challenge trying to pull a hook that is too small out of their throats or stomachs. You may even injury or kill a fish trying to retrieve an errant hook.

As such, when fishing for bluegill, crappie, or other panfish, we like to use aberdeen style hooks. The shank on these hooks is long, often preventing the entire hook from getting lodged in their mouths. Likewise, the extended shank often helps anglers maneuver it from the fish’s mouth/throat/stomach more easily.

When choosing the best hook size, we recommend using a #6, #8, or #10 hook.

Some good hook choices for (in sizes 6-10) include:

Fishing for Bluegill Across Four Seasons

As with all species, there will certainly be times of the year when the bite is more aggressive.

Bluegill are no exception.

Below, we will explore some approaches you can consider for each season:

  • Winter: This is generally the slowest season for bluegill fishing. They are not feeding as aggressively, and will not be as easily accessible as they would during the warmer months. Fish will tend to be in deeper water and hiding under structure. Slow, steady, and light presentation is important as bluegill will be less inclined to chase their meals during colder months.
  • Spring: As temperatures warm, you may be entering prime bluegill fishing season in many parts of the country. As they enter their spawning months (which can extend into June or July), males will aggressively strike smaller baits that come near their hatch. They will also have migrated to shallower water, making this one of the best times to catch them.
  • Summer: Fishing for post-spawn bluegill is exciting. They tend to move into deeper waters than in Spring (but not nearly as deep as in Winter months). They will feed more aggressively during early morning and evening hours. Pay attention to the major and minor feeding cycles for a better chance of bringing more fish into the boat.
  • Fall: As the temperature begins to cool, using a combination of Spring and Summer techniques for bluegill can be helpful. Shorelines, weed beds, brush, and other structure are hotbeds for bluegill. They will still be in fairly shallow water.

Where Can You Catch Bluegill?

Bluegill Piedmont Lake Ohio

As we have mentioned, bluegill are one of the most commonly fished species in North America.

Anglers in the United States can catch the ubiquitous fish in the following states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming

You will find bluegill in most lakes and stocked ponds. They can also be found in many rivers and streams throughout the country.

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