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Rigged for Bull Bluegills

The best rigs to catch more and bigger nest-guarding "bullgills."

Rigged for Bull Bluegills
Bluegills are aggressive nest protectors and will attack anything they view as an egg thief. (Shutterstock image)

As water temperatures reach the upper 60s, aggressive male bluegills swarm the shallows to build colonies of spawning beds. To begin your search for these fish, look for silty or gravel bottoms in less than five feet of water. These areas are often the most favorable spots for spawning activities, and it is not uncommon to see hundreds of beds in a concentrated locale. This type of fishing is extremely accessible. A kayak, johnboat or even a set of waders is all that is needed to get in on the red-hot action. Rod and reel options can run the gamut from push-button combos to custom rods with actions tailored specifically for the pursuit.

Consider taking this opportunity to get young people excited about the sport and to catch some of the largest specimens of the season. Just don’t forget to take along some heavier tackle, as post-spawn largemouths can normally be spotted cruising the bluegill spawning grounds looking for an easy meal. They can show up at anytime.

bluegill rigs
Common rigs to catch panfish. (Illustrations by Peter Sucheski)

FLOAT RIG

When most people think of targeting bluegills, thoughts immediately turn to watching a bobber dance off the end of a sun-soaked dock. Suspending a bait under a float is likely the oldest presentation in the pursuit of panfish. It gives anglers the chance to cover the entire water column and keep the bait away from weedy snags. When it comes to rigging, this style of fishing could not be simpler; however, it’s time to ditch the fixed bobber and look at slip-float options.

Begin by sliding a bobber stop and a bead up the line, followed by your float of choice. The Thill Pro Series Slip Bobber Float is a time-honored staple, but options abound. From there, depending on conditions,you can add a small split shot to get the bait down and a long-shank hook or jig to make unhooking a breeze.

There are a couple advantages of a slip float over a fixed bobber. One is increased casting distance. Second, when the rig hits the water, the bait sinks straight down, reducing the opportunity for snags and increasing precision. To adjust the depth of the rig, simply move the bobber stop up or down. Stick to the basics when it comes to bait. Small chunks of freshly dug nightcrawlers, mealworms and maggots all are great options. For added flare, consider dying the baits or adding commercially prepared scents. Anglers who favor artificial presentations often suspend light marabou jigs or jig-and-plastic combos tipped with a meal worm under the float. For trophy hunters, it can be very worthwhile to bring along small shiners or even rosy red minnows where available.

DROP-SHOT RIG

Not just for bass anglers, the drop-shot gives panfish enthusiasts a chance to keep the bait in the strike zone for an extended time. Springtime bluegill fishing is highly visual. Spawning flats can quickly be scanned for active fish protecting beds, and a quality pair of polarized sunglasses makes this process easier. Once located, these fish can be targeted by shaking, twitching or hopping the rig in front of them for as long as it takes to elicit a strike. Sometimes it can take multiple casts to a single fish before it finally commits.

To craft the rig, begin by attaching a small finesse or drop-shot-style hook to the line using a simple drop-shot knot. Then, attach a drop-shot weight to the main line with a simple overhand knot. When fish are very aggressive, use a heavier drop-shot weight to get to the bottom as quickly as possible. In scenarios where extremely precise cast placement is necessary, cut down on the amount the weight you use. When it comes to bait selection, the options are endless, with many bait manufacturers making special panfish profiles or even offering drastically downsized models of classic bass-sized baits. For a standard minnow profile, the Z-Man Baby BallerZ is a great pick. If looking for a creature-style selection, the Micro Finesse Stone Fly from Euro Tackle is an excellent starting point. When rigging the baits, be sure to hook the least amount of the nose as possible to maximize lifelike action.

REACTION BAITS

Like any other mature predatory fish, larger bluegills can be drawn to aggressively fished reaction presentations. A good strategy to pattern bigger fish is to blind-cast through a spawning area with multiple moving baits. This can also be effective in dirty-water conditions when spotting beds is not possible. Many bass anglers over the years have been pleasantly surprised to find a jerkbait or lipless crankbait consumed by a true “bullgill.”

There are many great options available, both specifically manufactured for panfish and downsized versions of standard bass baits. A 2 1/2-inch Rapala Husky Jerk can be very effective. The lure suspends in the water column when at rest, which gives wary fish plenty of time to commit. When fish are very aggressive, more erratic actions are preferable. If fish are in a neutral or even a negative mood, excruciatingly long pauses will be needed. The 1/4-ounce Mann’s Baby 1 Minus is effective in extremely shallow areas as it dives to just a foot of depth on the retrieve and can be worked at varying speeds. A list of panfish artificial options would not be complete without mentioning the Johnson Original Beetle Spin in either the 1/4-ounce or 1/8-ounce size. The vibration-producing Colorado blade and grub-style trailer have accounted for many productive fishing outings over the years. Most color patterns will catch bluegills; however, it is wise to begin with natural colors.

For the fly-fishing crowd, ants, crickets and other traditional terrestrial patterns fished on an extremely light rod can make for fast action and serve as a good way to build confidence with a fly rod.


  • This article was featured in the May 2024 East edition of Game & Fish magazine. Click to subscribe.



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