Skip to main content

Go Deep for Late-Summer Bluegills

August finds packs of roving bluegills feeding their way through the deepest parts of many eastern lakes. Here's how to catch them.

Go Deep for Late-Summer Bluegills

A downsized drop shot rig that incorporates a plastic grub and a hook tipped with a live mealworm or maggots—or a Gulp! Minnow, as seen here—is an effective approach for deep-water bluegills. (Photo by Darl Black)

Late summer isn’t thought of as a peak period to target bluegills, a species commonly associated with shallow-water action during the spring. But in the right situation, August can be prime time to connect with some of the biggest ‘gills of the year.

One place to find big late-summer bluegills is the deeper zones of natural lakes. According to seasoned panfish enthusiast and former guide Darl Black, it’s an opportunity many anglers, who are accustomed to only fishing for bedding ‘gills, don’t know.

"I stumbled upon this deep-water bluegill gig years ago on a Canadian lake while on vacation," he says. "Once back home I realized the biggest bluegills (and pumpkinseeds) of the entire season could be caught in deep water during the summer."

Black has found the best late-summer bluegill lakes are those which feature decent-sized bluegills, not ones with an abundance of smaller, stunted fish. Though he’s had success with big summer bluegills in reservoirs, he’s had better experiences on clear-water natural lakes boasting an abundance of submergent-weed growth and structure such as points, humps, saddles and ridges.


Aug. East Playbook
When keeping a few fish for the fryer, it’s recommended to bring home mid-sized fish only and allow the larger ones to continue to bolster the quality of the fishery. (Photo by Darl Black)

So how deep are summer bluegills commonly caught? Black says it depends on the physical characteristics of the lake, most likely a relation to the depth of the thermocline. In general, he finds the 15- to 25-foot range most productive. In deeper, colder bodies of water, such as the Finger Lakes in New York where the thermocline runs deeper, summer bluegills can be taken at even greater depths. He hasn’t found shallower, dishpan-shaped natural lakes to be productive.


The window of opportunity for late-summer bluegills can be rather narrow. In Black’s experience the fish tend to just suddenly appear. It’s common, he says, for a deep-water zone to be absent of fish in early- to mid-July, and for the fish to show up in abundance seemingly overnight later in the month. Their exit in September can be just as abrupt.

All things being equal, deep-water fishing isn’t as efficient as shallow-water fishing, so it’s not surprising that a significant portion of time is spent searching for fish, a process made much more productive with quality sonar.

“A reliable paper map is helpful, but if you don’t have a good sonar unit, you’re not going to be able to pinpoint the hard-bottom humps, points and saddles,” says Black. “A very good sonar unit, like the Garmin GPSMAP 7608xvs I run, will show you much more, including ‘packs’ of bluegills moving through the water column. Without a reliable sonar unit, the only option is to slow drift through areas where hard-bottom structure might be.”

Aug. East Playbook
The same tactics that work for deep-water bluegills also yield pumpkinseeds this time of year. (Photo by Darl Black)

Adapting a strategy common in deep-water bass fishing, Black often utilizes a downsized drop-shot rig to effectively present some combination of jig and bait to ‘gills and ‘seeds. A common setup is a 1/32-ounce jighead (with a #10, 8 or 6 hook) dressed with a 3/4- or 1-inch grub body. This is tipped with a mealworm or a couple of maggots. If live bait is not available, he’ll opt for a one-inch Gulp! Minnow, Fry or Leech. He leaves about 8 to 10 inches of tag from the Palomar knot (that secures the jig) to which he ties a snap swivel. A 1/4-, 3/8- or 1/2-ounce (depending on depth and/or wind conditions) bell sinker is clipped to the snap to complete the rig.




Going vertical is often the best way to target deep-water fish, and it’s the approach Black takes roughly 80 percent of the time. Working from the transom of his tiller-controlled boat, he slowly works over deep-water structure while keeping an eye on the screen of his sonar unit. He commonly throws a camouflaged floating marker buoy as a point of reference so he can precisely work the surrounding water without losing focus on the screen.

“Deep summer bluegills on the lakes I fish are always moving in packs. They roam around structure up and down in the water column, chasing food,” Black says. “When I intercept a pack, they hit like crazy. If there are multiple anglers in the boat, it’s not uncommon for everyone to hook up simultaneously.”

Black notes that during calm conditions the fish tend to be scattered, not in feeding packs. On these days Black abandons the vertical presentation and fishes 1/8-ounce jigs with a variety of retrieves—bottom dragging, lift-dropping, mid-column swimming—across structure.


Black recommends releasing larger 9 1/2 to 11-inch bluegills, the fish most important to the health of a quality fishery, and encourages the harvest of mid-sized fish if one chooses to eat a few.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

New for 2021: Mathews V3 27 & 31 Bows

New for 2021: Mathews V3 27 & 31 Bows

Bowhunter Editor Curt Wells had an exciting visit with Mark Hayes, design engineer for Mathews, as the pair looked at the new V3 27 and V3 31 bows.

New for 2021: Bear Redemption EKO, Legit RTH Compound Bows

New for 2021: Bear Redemption EKO, Legit RTH Compound Bows

Bear Archery's newest bows - Redemption EKO and Legit RTH - are light, adjustable and fast.

Hobie MirageDrive 360 Kayak Propulsion: Amazing Control and Power

Hobie MirageDrive 360 Kayak Propulsion: Amazing Control and Power

The Hobie MirageDrive 360 pedal propulsion system is the pinnacle of kayak control with more efficient fin designs, glide technology and allows the boat to be moved in any direction.

New for 2021: Rage Broadhead, Nockturnal Nock, Carbon Express Arrows

New for 2021: Rage Broadhead, Nockturnal Nock, Carbon Express Arrows

New for 2021, here's a look at the new Rage Trypan NC, Nockturnal Shift Nock, Carbon Express Maxima RED Contour and D-Stroyer PileDRIVER arrows.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

11 broadheads new to the expandable-blade market this year — ATA Show.New Expandable Blade Broadheads for 2021 ATA Show

New Expandable Blade Broadheads for 2021

Lynn Burkhead - January 12, 2021

11 broadheads new to the expandable-blade market this year — ATA Show.

Get ready to braise ground venison with all the traditional chili ingredients, directly on the grill, for a smokin' hot take on this comfort food classic.Smoked Venison Chili Recipe Wild Game

Smoked Venison Chili Recipe

Eva Shockey - October 16, 2020

Get ready to braise ground venison with all the traditional chili ingredients, directly on the...

It may be 125 years old, but the .30-30 Winchester retains its status thanks to modern loads.Turning .30-30; It's Better Than Ever SHOT Show

Turning .30-30; It's Better Than Ever

Richard Mann - October 27, 2020

It may be 125 years old, but the .30-30 Winchester retains its status thanks to modern loads.

There are plenty of bowhunters who opt for the dependability of fixed-blade designs.New Fixed-Blade Broadheads for 2021 ATA Show

New Fixed-Blade Broadheads for 2021

Lynn Burkhead - January 11, 2021

There are plenty of bowhunters who opt for the dependability of fixed-blade designs.

See More Trending Articles

More Playbook

Outfit your 'yak for summertime angling in 6 easy steps.How to Rig a Fishing Kayak (Video) Playbook

How to Rig a Fishing Kayak (Video)

Game & Fish Staff - June 09, 2020

Outfit your 'yak for summertime angling in 6 easy steps.

Few summer fishing experiences in the Midwest can match targeting predators herding baitfish. Use these techniques to get in on the action.Summer Schooling: Join the Feeding Frenzy Playbook

Summer Schooling: Join the Feeding Frenzy

Mike Pehanich - June 16, 2020

Few summer fishing experiences in the Midwest can match targeting predators herding baitfish....

When it turns miserably hot in the South, the biggest bass head for the thickest slop. Here's how-to remove them from their vegetative haunts.Summer Lure Choices for Thick-Grass Bass Playbook

Summer Lure Choices for Thick-Grass Bass

John Felsher - June 16, 2020

When it turns miserably hot in the South, the biggest bass head for the thickest slop. Here's...

Summer playbook: Ready for a little summer fun the whole family can enjoy? Here are some of the West's top destinations for family fishing adventures.Take Epic West Fishing Adventure Right Now Playbook

Take Epic West Fishing Adventure Right Now

Scott Haugen - July 27, 2020

Summer playbook: Ready for a little summer fun the whole family can enjoy? Here are some of...

See More Playbook

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Game & Fish App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now