Some of the most popular game fish in North America, bluegills are among the easiest species in the world to catch. Native to a large portion of the central United States – and widely stocked in ponds around the world – bluegills are a great way to introduce children and novices to angling. While the vast majority of anglers use worms or other live baits to catch bluegills, artificial lures also work well.
Location, Location, Location
Bluegills tend to inhabit different portions of lakes and rivers throughout the year. In the spring and early summer, the fish hold in shallow areas with sandy or rocky bottoms for the duration of the spawning period. By the middle of the summer, bluegills have usually moved to deeper parts of the lake or river to avoid the warm temperatures on the surface. During the late fall and winter, bluegill are relatively inactive, and prefer water that is about 15 to 20 feet deep. Nevertheless, bluegills can still be caught during cold temperatures – they are even targeted by ice fishers.
A variety of live baits work well for targeting bluegill. Worms, leaches, crickets, grasshoppers, beetle larvae, moth larvae and an assortment of other invertebrates are among the most effective choices, but virtually any small bait species will work. You can use virtually any fishing pole, but the simplicity of spinning or spin-casting reels makes them better choices than bait-casting reels. Use No. 6 or No. 8 hooks and split-shot as necessary to provide enough weight for casting. A floating bobber will help keep the bait above the fish and allow novices to better detect bites.
Artificial lures are less effective than using live bait, and requires more skill, but you can use tiny spinner baits, small plastic worms and spoons to catch bluegills. Small jig heads, to which you can attach a grub or minnow, may trigger strikes from large bluegills as well. Because bluegills are relatively small fish by sporting standards -- averaging less than 10 inches in length -- ultralight gear is appropriate when using artificial lures. Use lures weighing less than one-eighth ounce, a high-quality spinning reel and 2- to 6-pound-test monofilament line. Use the longest rod suitable for the conditions to help cast the tiny lures farther. While not a common practice, you can also catch bluegills with fly-fishing gear; this is especially true late in the afternoon, when they are feeding on the surface.
Bluegills are one of 13 species that comprise the genus Lepomis. While pond managers and anglers often favor bluegills over their relatives, the other common members of the genus offer wonderful fishing opportunities as well. Most are similar enough to bluegills that they can be caught with similar techniques, equipment and strategies, but a few species exhibit key differences that are worth exploiting. For example, green sunfish consume more fish than bluegills do, so fish-mimicking artificial lures and minnows may help you to catch more green sunfish than bluegills.
- Iowa Department of Natural Resources: Fishing for Bluegill
- In-Fisherman: How to Catch Big Bluegills
- Bass Resource: Know Your Sunfish
- Animal Diversity Web: Lepomis Macrochirus
- Fish Base: Genus: Lepomis
- Gone Fishing: Tips: Fishing for Sunfish
- New York State, Department of Environmental Conservation: Sunfish
- passion4nature/iStock/Getty Images