Bluegills are a really fun way to practice your fly casting. Eager to hit year round but especially in the spring, they taste awesome and you’ll probably pick up a few other fun fish too – bass, rock bass, perch, bream, and crappie. Try these tips, how-to video, and gear.
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Where To Fish
Most lakes and ponds with other warm water species (bass, pike, perch, catfish etc). Also, large or slow warm water rivers often hold them too. So, practically everywhere! Our favorite spot is a small slow stream at a local park only 1 mile from our house, where bluegills collect under a big undercut tree root.
Learn to spot their distinctive dark backs, size, round shape, and swim pattern. Compared to small bass for example, they don’t cruise as much, tend to school, and from the side look less streamlined because they are taller relative to their length.
Bluegills can range from deep blue and olive to lighter orange – they are a member of the sunfish family after all.
Fish the edge of weedbeds on the shallow side in spring and on the deeper side in summer and fall.
When To Fish
The great thing about bluegills is they can be caught year round. They are most active when they aggressively spawn on beds close to shore.
Spring fly fishing for bluegill can’t be beat. Bluegill spawn from late May into August when water temperatures range from 65 to 80 degrees. But the sunny days of June, when water warms to 70- to 75-degrees, is the peak time to pursue them.
After spawning they seek deeper cooler water and you’ll need to move around more till you find them. Once you do, get ready!
Best Bluegill Flies
Almost anything works, as bluegills eat insects on the surface, take emergers & wets, nymphs, and worm patterns near the bottom.
Perhaps the most fun comes from panfish popper flies – twitch these killer colorful dry flies and watch the surface action begin!
Need bluegill sized poppers? Check out these discount Panfish Poppers popper fly packs or Panfish Fly Pack panfish fly packs on Amazon.
Some of our favorite flies to use are Foam Spiders Fishingfoam spiders, ant imitations, or other foam panfish fly patterns. Like poppers, they are a ton of fun on the surface, float all day without treatment, and stand up to many hits.
Also, smaller streamers for panfish and woolly buggers can entice hits from the larger plate-sized males, and are a great way to double up for bass.
If you really like wet flies for bluegill, probably the most consistent year round producer, try the Tenkara Flies tenkara panfish flies.
Just like fly fishing for bass or trout, try a nymph dropper off a larger dry fly, or off your streamer to pick up more hesitant fish.
We usually use a size 10-12 hook, but depending on the size of the gills and sunfish in your pond, anywhere from size 8 to 20 works fine.
They can inhale smaller flies deep in their gullet, so we err on the larger size with longer hooks if possible. That makes it easy to release those we don’t take home for dinner. Their smaller mouths than crappie or bass make it more difficult to easily remove a deep hook.
For the most fun playing these scrappy sunfish, lightweight gear is best, in fact the same rod and reel as you may already use for trout is perfect.
Use a 3-5 weight floating Fly Line with a 7-8 foot rod, and a light drag setting on your reel. They don’t spook as much as trout but can be selective at times, so use a 2-3 lb tippet on a 6-9 foot Fly leader.
If you are fishing in bass territory, err on the stronger side for your tippet because bass are often lurking just a few feet beyond the ‘gills. Also if you are two-timing while fishing for bass, or going deeper when they move to cooler water, consider a stronger rod such as one of the best salmon fly rods in our review on that topic.
Mid-summer when they seek cooler deeper water, add a little weight to your fly, or consider a sinking tip line depending on the depth of the water you are fishing.
If the shoreline is too hard to fish due to bushes or a steep embankment, or in the summer when they go deeper any water craft will do. We’ve caught hundreds from canoes, fishing kayaks, float tubes, and our drift boat.
How To Fly Fish For Bluegill
Bluegills aren’t nearly as picky as trout, so just get your cast out there! It’s usually more a matter of locating them, so fish around and find the school.
With that goal in mind, a fly fishing kayak can be instrumental in locating schools of “big blues.” While we don’t cover heavy gear in this article such as best fly fishing kayaks, be sure to check out our posts on best fishing kayaks and best kayak fishing accessories.
Fish your patterns to appear natural, or use attractor patterns with a slow and steady twitch, either way they are usually much quicker to bite than bass and trout.
We like this video by the Fish Whisperer to demonstrate casting and catching bluegill in a neighborhood pond. It’s a great illustration that you usually don’t need to travel very far to find some of the best fishing in the USA!
Cooking Up Your Catch
Bluegills have light, flaky meat, that can’t be beat for flavor and texture especially when fresh out of the pond. We like eating crisply fried fillets on club crackers, other times we sprinkle on some cajun spices.
If you take a few home or back to your campsite, try pan frying the fillets in a little butter and olive oil with a pinch of salt and pepper, breading with cornmeal after dipping in beaten raw eggs, or baking with your favorite seasoning. You’ll find some more great recipes by checking out the best fishing YouTube channels in our article on that topic.
When all is said and done, when you talk to someone who has just had a blast catching a bunch of pounder-plus ‘gills, they’ll tell you the experience is hard to beat, even if they also pursue trophies such as fly fishing for striped bass!