Although there are more glamorous fish available, none are more energetic and willing to cooperate with the angler than the common bluegill. Often overlooked, this fish is the ideal candidate for simplicity and pure angling enjoyment. They are abundant in practically every fresh water source across the country, and ounce-for-ounce, they are one of the hardest fighting fish known.
The Bluegill is a member of an extensive family known as sunfish. There are many others in this family related to the bluegill, but it is this one, commonly called bream, that is the king. During the bedding/mating season, males are most attractive. The head and throat are bright aqua, and the breast is a distinctive orange/red. Earflaps are black. Older fish have a snub nose, and their bodies are almost round. It is this body configuration that allows great purchase in the water and is responsible for their fighting ability. Females are not as pretty as the males. They tend to be rather drab in color and are somewhat smaller. But they will battle with gusto when attached to a hook. Bluegills are primarily lake fish. They are found in slow-moving streams, but their preferred habitat is lakes filled with structure. Stump fields, downed timber, water-edge willows, lily pads, and a host of other aquatic vegetation hold these fish, particularly during the spawn. And during that spawn they congregate in titanic numbers as they move to the shallows and wallow out depressions in the lake’s floor for the purpose of laying and tending eggs. At times other than the spawn, they most often collect in loose groups at varying depths.
Bluegill beds can be found in water that is from a few inches to a few feet deep. These beds can be located by sight if the water is clear. And, high concentrations of beds/fish can be smelled by the angler. The odor is pungent and fishy, and it points to a likely area to begin fishing. Bedding will begin in the spring when water temperatures reach approximately 67 degrees, and will continue, roughly on the full moon, on into summer. May is the peak month throughout most of the bluegill’s range.
Catching bluegills is about as simple as going to the water that holds them. Particularly when bedding, these fish tend to be aggressive; they will bite practically anything that hits the water near them. Ultralight casting rigs with a tiny spinnerbait attached works magic. So does a popping bug or other dry or wet fly presented from a flyrod. And anglers should not overlook the basic cane pole. One of these with a bobber, split shot, small hook, and cricket or worm will catch bluegills quite successfully. There is no need to invest in high-dollar equipment when bluegills are the target.
And that goes for boats as well. Small johnboats, float tubes, canoes, or even fishing from the bank will suffice. Get somewhere near a bream bed so equipped, and the stringer will likely be full at the end of the day. But do be careful when fishing shallow beds. Bluegills will spook when there is too much noise and activity. Approach a bed with stealth. When the fish scoot off from the action, back away and let the bed settle.
The spawn is not the only time to catch bluegills. They may move to the deeper water after this frenzy dies down, but they are still present. Fish slowly and deeper during such times. Target stumps and other submerged cover. Some dedicated bluegill anglers even pursue these fish in the winter. If ice forms on the lake’s surface, a hole must be drilled to get through. In more southern climes where this is not a factor, knowledgeable anglers rig a light casting unit with a couple split shot and hook, this baited with worms, and allow the offering to rest on the bottom. Action will generally be slow, but the fish will take the bait.
And what about eating bluegills? They are delightful. The meat is firm and sweet, and these fish can be filleted or fried whole, scales removed. Don’t fall into that group of anglers who ignore the bluegill. This fish is plentiful and rewarding. They can save the day for anyone who wants to collect fish. Certainly, they are just too good to miss.