Bluegills are one of the most popular game fish in North America. They are prized for their delicious fillets. They are also feisty fighters and provide tremendous sport on light tackle. Since bluegills are prolific breeders, many states have no bag limit. However, some recent biological evidence suggests that anglers should limit their take of large bluegills to allow them to contribute to the gene pool, which results in a greater number of large bluegills.
Most bluegills are a half-pound or less, but their maximum weight is over 4 pounds. Florida strain bluegills, like Florida strain largemouth bass, are larger and more prolific than other strains of the same species. A lake or reservoir stocked with Florida strain bluegills will usually produce fish from 1 to 3 pounds on a regular basis. A bluegill over 1 pound can really put up a fight. A stringer full of bluegills over 1 pound can provide quite a delicious feast.
Anglers target bluegills primarily with ultralight equipment or fly gear. Leaders in the half-pound to 3-pound class are common. However, new nearly invisible fluorocarbon lines and leaders allow for slightly stronger line to be used.
Crickets are the most effective bait on many waters, though bluegills will also bite mealworms, waxworms, redworms, earthworms, nightcrawler chunks and maggots. Larger bluegills will even eat the same size minnows that are used to catch Crappie. When using worms, be careful not to put too much bait on the hook, as bluegills are accomplished thieves. Smaller pieces will force the fish to bite at the hook, resulting in more hookups. Where legal, some fishermen like to chum for bluegills by launching maggots from specially modified slingshots. There are also special panfish chums made commercially, which can be purchased through tackle catalogs or at larger retail tackle shops.
Bluegill lures include ice tick jigs, microjigs, small spinnerbaits, small in-line spinnerbaits, small grubs, small tube jigs, and miniature soft plastics. Many bluegill anglers tip jigs with a small cricket, piece of worm, or other bait. Bobbers are often used to suspend the lure or bait at the right depth and to detect the often subtle bites. Bobbers can be very simple and traditional or very high tech, like slip-floats or tip-up designs. When jig fishing, try a 1/32 ounce or smaller jig, with two wet flies or nymphs above it at 1 foot intervals. Bounce the jig on the bottom as you retrieve it, and the wet flies or nymphs will pick up fish that are suspended near the bottom. For very active fish, try a small yellow roostertail with a wind-wind-pause-wind-wind-pause rhythm.
Fly anglers use almost any dry fly or terrestrial and almost any nymph. There are also specially designed panfish popper flies, many of which can also be used with ultralight spinning tackle. The most popular terrestrial patterns are crickets, grasshoppers, foam spiders, and ants. A clever fly setup, especially at spawning time, is a panfish popper with a dropper line and a weighted nymph, such as a beadhead hare's ear. (This can be done using ultralight tackle, as well). Try popping and stopping at different speeds. When the fish are active, work the rig quickly and they'll strike the popper. When they're less active, just pop a few times and stop for up to 1 minute at a time. The nymph will swing down and suspend in front of their faces. They won't be able to stand it, especially if they're guarding a nest. For dry flies, remember that bluegills may take much longer than trout to smack your fly. If you're not getting bit and you know the fish are there, try letting it sit a while longer, up to 1 minute at a time.
If you're out to catch small bluegills as bait for bass or catfish (where legal), remember that it's often possible to catch bluegills on anything little that moves. As a kid, I used to catch bluegills off the end of a dock by gently vertical-jigging a bare size 16 golden treble hook. Since bluegills are both bold and curious, this trick works anytime the fish are even moderately active. It doesn't work during the spawn, though, as the fish do not congregate around docks when they are in the spawning mode.
Bluegill Sunfish (lepomis macrochirus) are the most widely distributed panfish in North America. They are members of the same family (Centrarchidae a.k.a. Sunfish) as the largemouth bass. Like all sunfish, they spawn in the spring in still or slow water and the males protect the nest. Unlike largemouth bass, the males are typically larger than the females.