Fly Fishing for Bluegill – Everything you need to know

Picture this: It’s an early spring morning, with fog slowly dissipating as the warm sun begins to rise. In the lily pads, you hear the familiar “Shh-pop” and swirl of Bluegills picking off water spiders and chasing trespassers from their spawning beds.

Now, imagine yourself casting out a #14 wooly bugger with your 4-weight fly rod and watching it sink as big male Bluegill snatches it nearly from your hands; the fight is on!

The best part is this isn’t in a faraway mountain stream or exotic destination; it’s in the neighborhood lake near your home.

Bluegill fly fishingThis article discusses everything you need to know about fly fishing for Bluegill.

As a seasoned veteran or newbie to fly fishing, catching Bluegill on the fly is a great way to develop and practice fly fishing skills, and it can be more productive than traditional fishing methods.

Why Flyfish for Bluegill?

Most anglers can relate to sitting on the dock, catching bluegills under a cork on live crickets or red-wigglers. That’s precisely how I and many other anglers first fell in love with fishing.

So why try fly fishing for Bluegill? Why leave the bobbers and spinning rods at home? Well, there are a couple of reasons:

It provides a new challenge for an often-overlooked species of fish.

When many people think about fly fishing, they picture mountain streams for solitary trout, salmon, or bonefish on the tropical flats of the Bahamas.

But don’t overlook the mighty Bluegill! Not only are they abundant and fun to catch, but they are delicious to eat and inhabit a variety of habitats.

Chances are there is a place to fly fish for Bluegill, a short drive from where you live. Once you focus on catching these colorful panfish, you’ll truly begin to appreciate their place in the angling world.

Fly fishing for bluegill with floating fly box

Learn a way to sharpen your fly fishing skills.

Are you interested in learning to fly fish but a little intimidated by fast rivers and finicky trout?

You’re not alone. Panfish or Bluegill are forgiving, abundant, and don’t require too much technical expertise.

It’s a fantastic way to learn the basics and improve casting accuracy, fly selection, and line watching.

It can be more effective than live bait fishing for Bluegill

Believe it or not, when using a fly rod for fishing for Bluegill. You can usually cover more ground and keep your bait in the water longer than when using traditional spinning gear.

Only because of no casting and retrieving. Conventional casting only to have your bait stolen when it hits the water.

Instead, when using a fly-rod, use short and quick wrist casts and flips to constantly “pepper” an area. It means you are spending less time baiting and removing hooks and more time catching fish!

Catch bluegills with wet fliesBluegill Diet and Fly Fishing

Before I dive into the details of tackle, flies, and tactics, it’s important to understand just why bluegill and fly fishing is a match made in heaven.

Bluegill, are primarily insectivores, meaning that they feed on insects, invertebrates, and insect larvae if you are a fly fisherman jackpot!

Typical food for Bluegills includes mosquito larvae, dragonfly nymphs, water spiders, worms, grubs, grass shrimp, grasshoppers, and even fish eggs.

When it comes to “matching the hatch, there is no shortage of fly imitations that work exceptionally well for hungry bluegills. Many of them are commonly found at bait and tackle stores or are easy to tie yourself.

Fly Fishing Tackle

Fly Rod

Any lightweight rod will work, but most anglers prefer something in the 3 or 4 weight range.

I’ve used a 6-weight fly rod that works just fine (and is much better at handling the occasional largemouth bass).

Fly rod length is more of a personal preference. If fishing from a boat where space is limited, you may want an 8-8.5-foot rod. If space isn’t a preference, a standard 9-foot fly rod will work just fine.

Graphite rods work great, and if you’re lucky enough to get your hands on an old wooden or bamboo fly rod, even better!

Fly Line, Leaders, Tippets

When it comes to tippet, lines, and leaders no reason to overcomplicate things, for example, a simple bright floating line with a tapered leader will work just fine.

I tie on an additional 18-24 inches of fluorocarbon tippet, depending on the rig I am using. Its between 4-6 lb test line is perfect for Bluegill and other panfish.

Catch bluegills with subsurface flies on Fly Reel

Fly Reel Size

Bluegill and panfish aren’t exactly known for their long runs, so reel selection is less critical than your rod size or fly.

Nearly any fly reel will work, as long as it’s balanced to match your fishing rod. In addition, you want something lightweight and comfortable, with an adequate drag system.

Your Rod/Reel combo should feel light and effortless when casting and retrieving.

Flies

The best flies to use on Bluegill are the ones that resemble what they are feeding on in your local lake, river, or wherever you are fishing.

Take some time to observe what Bluegill and other sunfish are eating. Are they feeding on the surface, eating water spiders and other floating insects?

Or are they feeding under the surface, perhaps on grass shrimp, larvae, or small minnows?

Whatever the case, it will likely take a bit of experimenting and finding out what works best.

Below is a list of some excellent bluegill flies no matter where you fish:

 Old fashioned Popper

 Wooly Bugger

 Beadhead Nymphs

 Foam Spider

 Brim Killer

 Clouser Minnow

 Elk Hair Caddis

Bluegill has tiny mouths and feeds on miniature food. Therefore, fly sizes should be in the #10-#18 range.

Dark and natural colors seem to be the most popular, but the Bluegill is not particularly picky about sure flies or colors, unlike trout. Instead, what is important is the size of the fly and presentation.

Keep it small and simple!

Bluegill fly fishing with sinking fliesFly Fish Tips/Tactics

Fly fishing for Bluegill isn’t nearly as complicated as other forms of technical fly fishing, but there are a few tips and tricks I’ve picked up that I think will significantly increase your chances of success.

Find the Strike Zone

Depending on the year, bluegills can feed on the bottom, in the middle of the water column, or on the surface.

Pay attention to where you are getting the most bites. Then focus on keeping your fly in that area for as long as possible.

For example, if you’re getting the most bites in the middle water column (sub-surface), then choose a sinking fly and retrieve style that will keep it in that area.

Tip: Try adding a micro split shot to your leader to get the nymph down deeper or sink faster.

Where there is one Bluegill, there are almost always going to be others. Make it easy on them,

and keep that fly in their face as long as possible.

Check Residential Ponds

I can’t emphasize this enough, don’t overlook residential or suburban ponds! These are usually stocked with Bluegill and other sunfish by housing associations and can grow GIANT bluegill!

You don’t need to travel to faraway destinations to find significant bluegill fishing jump on google earth and do some virtual scouting of small ponds and creeks in your area.

Take an afternoon and fish each of them for 20 minutes, and you will quickly find which ones are holding big bluegills!

Spot-Hop Frequently

Like most sunfish, the Bluegill is a very abundant species that make up a large portion of species in a given body of water. So, if you are not getting bites in 5-10 minutes, pack up and move.

You don’t have to go far; sometimes, the following log, hydrilla bed, or cut may be the one spot holding fish.

Bluegill fishing is relatively active and aggressive. If I don’t get any bites, I keep moving.

Eventually, you will stumble upon a hot spot that is holding fish. Pay close attention to what is in that area, then look for this in new places.

Subsurface fly catch panfish in local pond like big bluegill

Watch Your Line!

Pay close attention to your line when flying fishing for big “gills,” especially when you’re using sub-surface flies. Watch for the tell-tale “tink” or flick of the line. You’ve just got a hit!

Bluegill often strikes fast and hard, but its size can be very subtle, especially on a 9-foot graphite fly rod. Again, using a bright-colored fly line will help with seeing a hit.

Line watching is one of the many intuitive skills that you’ll develop when flyfishing for Bluegill. It takes a sharp eye and sensitive touch to pick it up, but when you do, you’ll be catching more fish.

Try A Dropper Rig

The consensus amongst most Bluegill anglers is that they prefer to feed below the surface. However, a surface fly or popper is excellent at drawing the attention of curious Bluegill.

So why not combine them both?

Consider trying a dropper rig. Tie on a popper, dry fly, or any surface lure, drop down 8-10 inches of line and add a nymph or sinking fly.

The surface lure creates micro ripples to draw attention, and the nymph is waiting below in the strike zone.

It doubles your presentations in the water and is a great way to feel out where the fish are feeding.

Use pan fish fly tackle to catch fish when panfish spawnCasting from a boat

Using the wind to drift a shoreline or lake edges is one of my favorite ways to fly fish for bluegills in a boat.

This method works well for canals, straight shorelines, or long weed lines when the wind is in your favor.

Position your boat upwind and orient so that you drift about 18-20 feet from the edge.

I let out about anywhere between 12-15 feet of line and held it fixed in position with my index finger. Instead of casting and stripping, I’m flipping out the same amount of fixed-line, so my fly lands right on the edge and target area.

A quick pop, or let it sink if I’m nymphing, pull it right back, and flip it out again. The key here is quick short casts without having to strip or reel in each cast.

You can pound a shoreline or edge using this method, and the Bluegill almost always bites on the drop or when your fly first hits the water.

Fishing from land

Suppose you don’t have access to a boat or canoe, plenty of excellent bluegill along shorelines or docks. That is precisely where you are likely going to find bluegills and other sunfish.

Seek out areas that have good cover- but are still open enough to work a fly. For example, in Florida, wading along a shoreline about knee-deep during early morning summer hours is a great way to fish poppers, spiders, and dry flies for bluegills.

Docks are another haven for bluegills; try vertical jigging your fly next to pilings or casting along shadow lines.

Try A Strike Indicator

If you are having trouble detecting bites, or the timing of your hook-set, try a strike indicator.

These can easily be added to your fly line and offer a visual indication of a hit.

The varieties and styles of strike indicators on the market are limitless, but foam or feather indicators are often enough to see even the slightest bites.

Keep rod tip low with larger fishBluegill Fishing Time Of Year

Bluegill feeding activity kicks off when the water temperature reaches 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Below are a few tips for each season, depending on where you live in the country. Your season could be all year long, or it could mean until well after winter.

Winter

During the winter, Bluegills and many other panfish will school up and head for deeper water.

Metabolism slows down, and bait is usually limited.

Slow everything down and go small. Bluegill has small mouths as it is, but during the winter, the smaller, the better. But, again, this is ultra-finesse fishing; you want slow sinking flies and subtle presentations.

Start with a size #12, but don’t be afraid to go as small as size #18 flies to get those stubborn fish to bite.

Spring

Spring means spawning season for Bluegill when they aggressively defend their beds. Beadhead Nymphs or any worm/leech imitation flies are irresistible to aggressive male Bluegill.

Use polarized glasses to identify spawning beds in 2-6 feet of water. I try not to cast directly on top of the bed but instead just on edge.

Let your fly slowly sink, and chances are it will get hit before it reaches the bottom if there is a slight breeze or current, even better. Let it sit for a 3-5 second count, then give it a slight twitch.

Bluegill can’t stand anything in or near their beds, and this is one of the most compelling and fun ways to flyfish for Bluegill.

On overcast days, surface flies like an Elk or Deer hair caddis can drive territorial Bluegill to the surface for surprisingly aggressive hits. Dang, that’s fun!

Rock bass, smallmouth bass, green sunfish, yellow perch all can be caught on bluegill fliesSummer

Summer usually means one thing- topwater! So break out the poppers, floating spiders and look for that surface activity. Insects are hatching; the days are long—the perfect time of year to fish surface flies or dry flies.

Early morning and late evenings will be the best times to catch Bluegill on a dry fly when the sun is low. Fish will be tighter into cover as the sun gets overhead- a perfect time to focus on docks, boathouses, and timber.

Fall

The fall season is a great time to target trophy bluegills, as weather changes and water temperatures have the fish scattered in shallow water and edge habitat.

Keep an eye out for mini-wakes from chasing Bluegill. Cloudy and overcast days are associated with fall, and dropping barometric pressure means you can usually find hungry fish even during the middle of the day.

Final Thoughts

If only the mighty Bluegill reached 5, 10, or even 15 pounds like its famous cousin, the Largemouth Bass, only then would it receive the recognition it deserves.

Nonetheless, more and more anglers are going back to their childhood roots and pursuing this fun, abundant (and did I mention tasty?) fish.

Fly fishing for Bluegill is a refreshing way to challenge yourself and learn a new skill. It’s not too difficult for youngsters to learn but challenging enough even for hardened panfish anglers.

I hope the tips in this article encourage you to get outside, grab the fly rod and have some fun.

Thank you for reading.

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