Bluegill are relatively easy to catch, especially if you are using the proper tackle, bait and technique. Following a few basic principles will greatly increase your success at catching bluegill.
Tackle selection—the lighter the tackle, the better
The bluegill has a small mouth, even when it reaches adulthood. Young bluegill, like most small fish, feed on tiny, aquatic invertebrates called zooplankton. As bluegill grow, they’re able to eat larger creatures, such as insects. Bluegill are sight feeders and feed primarily during daylight hours.
Bluegill do not grow to huge sizes, so select your rod and reel accordingly. An ultra-light rod and reel with light line will allow you to feel the bluegill's bite more effectively, and you will catch more fish. In clear water, light line is less likely to be detected by fish. Line weights from 2- to 6-pound test work best.
Bait and hooks—keep them small
Regardless of whether you use live bait or lures, you will need to keep them small if you want to catch a lot of bluegill. Hook sizes from No. 6 to No. 10 are most effective. Hooks with long shanks will allow you to more easily remove them from the bluegill's tiny mouth, and thin wire hooks work best for holding small baits. Live bait works especially well for bluegill. The most common baits are worms and night crawlers because they are readily available and bluegill love them. The key is to use only a piece of a worm—just enough to cover the hook. Other productive baits include crickets, grasshoppers, red wrigglers and meal worms. Artificial lures also work well for bluegill. Some of the best lures are black jigs (1/32 ounce and smaller) and tiny spinners. Small flies and poppers are very effective and can be used while flyfishing or in conjunction with a bobber for easy casting (also see fly fishing).
Techniques—whatever works for you
Bluegill can be caught with a variety of techniques, all of which can be effective under the right conditions. The key is to use a technique you’re confident with and enjoy.
- Bobber fishing—The most popular technique for catching bluegill in spring and summer is the bobber and worm. This method is not only popular because it is easy, especially for kids, but because it works. Bluegill don't like to chase their food, so a slow or almost motionless presentation is often best. A small bait hanging below a bobber is usually more than a bluegill can resist. Be sure to use a small bobber—just big enough to float your bait. If your bobber is too large, the bluegill will feel the resistance and spit out the bait. Setting your bobber from 1 to 3 feet deep will usually do the trick, but if fish are deeper you will need to fish deeper. Slip bobbers are a must for the serious bluegill angler because they allow you to fish at any depth.
- Bottom fishing—Another effective technique is to cast your bait and let it slowly sink to the bottom. Use as little weight as possible so that your bait sinks slowly and so bluegill don't feel resistance when they pick it up. Using an ultra-light rod and reel with light line will allow you to cast your bait with no weight at all. If your bait sinks slowly, bluegill will often bite as it is sinking. If your bait makes it to the bottom without a bite, watch your line closely for a sign that a bluegill has picked your bait off the bottom. If you don't get a bite in a few minutes, reel in and cast to a different spot. This technique is especially effective when bluegill are in deeper water in early spring or following a cold spell.
- Drift fishing—A very effective method for catching bluegill, especially in late summer when bluegill are often suspended in open water, is to drift across the lake in a boat with baits down 10 to 15 feet. Because bluegill will likely be found in schools, repeatedly drift through those areas where you have caught fish.
- Fly fishing—Although you may think fly fishing is for trout, it is also one of the most effective, exciting ways to catch bluegill. Because small insects are a major part of the bluegill's diet, an artificial fly resembling these insects is usually irresistible. Bluegill are not as picky as some trout, so most fly patterns will work. The best flies are typically small and black.
Location—fish where the bluegill are
Using the proper tackle, bait and technique is critical in catching bluegill, but it is important to know where to find bluegill in a lake, depending on the season. Because bluegill use different habitats at different times of the year, the best locations in spring probably won't be as good in late summer or winter.
- Spring and early summer—Bluegill spawn in spring and early summer, and this is a good time to catch them. When water temperatures exceed 70F, begin looking for spawning bluegill in shallow water. The tell-tale "elephant tracks"—groups of nearly round craters that mark spawning nests—will give away their location. Once you find a spawning colony, take care not to spook the bluegill as you fish. Cast beyond the nests and retrieve your bait through the colony. Male bluegill will guard nests against intruders and will aggressively take small lures.
- Late summer—You can readily catch bluegill after the spawning season, when they move into deeper water as summer progresses. In summer, bluegill can be found along the edges of weed beds, around brush piles, stake-beds and flooded timber, especially if deeper water is nearby. Bluegill are commonly found in water more than 10 feet deep in summer and typically hang just above the thermocline (the depth where water temperature changes dramatically and below which oxygen levels are usually low). Best fishing is usually in the morning and evening when the fish are most active.
- Fall—Look for bluegill in the same locations as late summer and also fish shallower water near weed beds, brush or other types of cover. While morning and evening are the best times to fish during summer, midday fishing success often improves as water cools in the fall.
- Winter—Look for bluegill in water 12 to 20 feet deep. They school near underwater structures, usually near the bottom. Bluegill do not feed as actively in winter, so be sure to use small baits and slow presentation. Using light tackle and line is also essential because bluegill bite very lightly in winter, and these bites would go undetected with less sensitive tackle.
Finding a good lake or pond
If you just want to catch a lot of fish regardless of size, most lakes and ponds will provide ample bluegill action. If you want large bluegill, however, check Places to Fish under Related Information below.
Don't overlook farm ponds! Some of the best bluegill fishing can be found in ponds, and many of the biggest bluegill on record were caught in farm ponds. To find a good pond, talk with other anglers and pond owners to get some tips. Always ask permission to fish on private ponds.
Ice fishing for bluegill
Ice fishing in Missouri is usually restricted to the northern part of the state and varies in duration from year to year. When conditions are right, bluegill fishing can be fast and furious through the ice. Look for actively feeding bluegill near the bottom around weed beds, brushpiles, and points in water 12 to 15 feet deep. It is helpful to note these locations during summer fishing trips. You can also use a portable depth finder when ice fishing to look for brushpiles and check depth. Fishing is usually best soon after the ice forms and slows as winter progresses and ice thickens. When fishing has slowed in mid to late winter, concentrate fishing effort during dawn and dusk hours. Fishing can be very slow during mid day but outstanding at dawn and dusk. Never judge the quality of ice fishing on a lake until you have fished the last half hour of daylight.
Ice fishing requires some special gear. If the ice isn't too thick, a spud bar will work. An ice auger works best in most situations and will allow you to easily move to different locations until you find the right spot. Carry a dipper to clear the hole of ice chips after drilling and to keep the hole ice-free while fishing. A sled is very handy to haul around your gear and carry your fish. Ice-fishing rods are short (often made from broken rod tips) and often with pegs instead of reels. Using a small bait and hook is especially important in winter because fish, including bluegill, are not aggressive and don't feed as much. Standard gear for bluegill includes small, brightly colored hooks (often called tear drops), a small bobber just large enough to suspend your bait, and live bait such as wax worms, meal worms, mousies or goldenrod grubs. Set the bobber so your bait is within a foot of the bottom. Every 30 seconds or so twitch your lure a little—this will often induce a bite. You must watch your bobber closely because bluegill, like many fish, bite very lightly in winter.