There comes a time in every fishing season when all an angler wants to do is drift and fish, cast and catch — just enjoy the day without having to resort to cunning, stealth, finesse or expertise. Fortunately, the ubiquitous bluegill aims to please, providing consistent action regardless of conditions, always just one cast away and willing to take any bait or lure he can fit in his mouth. Put a tempting morsel (live, cut or artificial) where he can see it and you are in business.
Tailor-made for shoreline anglers or fishermen with shallow-draft watercraft, bluegills are most abundant in shallow water where rocks, logs, weeds, docks, floats and other structure (natural or manmade) provide cover. While bluegills are low-level predators, they are also the bread-and-butter forage of larger species such as bass, pickerel, pike, muskies and catfish. With safety in numbers and dense cover, bluegills crowd the near-shore waters wherever sufficient weed growth may be found. All those popping, sipping and slurping sounds you hear among the lily pads on a hot July or August afternoon are proof that bluegills are nearby, active and ready take on any bait or lure you care to throw at them.
Perhaps the most exciting way to fish for bluegills is with a fly rod rigged with a small black or green popper or floating “bug.” Wade or drift slowly along a weed bed or other congested structure and simply drop your offering into any and all patches of open water you can reach with an average 20-foot cast. If the bluegills are there they will react immediately, sometimes three or four at a time. On the best of days hookups will be continuous; the only challenge will be deciding which fish to keep and which ones to release. As a general rule, hand-sized or larger bluegills are easier to fillet — and more fun to catch!
Bluegills are active feeders from dawn till sunset, and it doesn’t take long to fill a bucket with eating-sized fish. To make releasing undersized bluegills a little easier, use barbless hooks with plenty of space between the hook point and the bottom of the popper or fly. Small fish will peck away without being hooked, but the biggest bull bluegills will easily inhale panfish poppers and flies.
In areas where there is plenty of open water and room to work, try tiny spinners, fly-and-spinner rigs or small jointed crankbaits with single barbless hooks attached. Use a slow retrieve, working the lure slow and deep near rocks, logs, fallen trees, log jams and other structure.
Another productive tactic is to walk along the shoreline and make short casts to stumps, fallen trees and other obstacles. Bluegills may be found in water that is just inches deep, and they often hide beneath undercut banks, so work your baits and lures close to shore on every cast.
When fishing off of docks, boat landings, wharves, bridges and other manmade structures, live bait including worms, crickets, grasshoppers, small minnows or grubs will get the job done. Use a float or bobber to keep the bait out of the thick bottom weeds. Let the bait set for a few minutes, and then move the bobber in toward shore a foot or so. Bring plenty of bait! Expect a few tentative nibblers and bait thieves, and don’t be surprised if you catch perch or crappies too.
Finally, keep in mind that bluegills are often found in large schools; especially where the weedy cover is thick and far-reaching. Any open water down to the size of a tea saucer can be a bluegill gold mine for the patient angler. Hit the bull’s-eye and make a catch: It’s often that simple!
Where To Find Them
Every New England state contains a plethora of excellent bluegill habitat ranging from small, weedy ponds to large lakes and river oxbows where the right combination of weeds and shallow water all but guarantee great summertime bluegill action.
For starters, log on to your state’s fisheries Web site and run down the list of approved or suggested bass, pike, pickerel or muskie waters. All of these game fish species thrive on a steady diet of bluegills, and there are always more than enough of these standard forage fish to go around. A five-minute chat with the regional fisheries biologist in any state will reveal additional great bluegill hotspots. Also, check out the many state parks, campgrounds and family fishing areas where public fishing is allowed.
Bluegills are active throughout the daylight hours and often bite well when most other species are unresponsive. Bring a sharp filleting knife and a cooler filled with ice because you are going to need them!