One of the most popular species fishers like to catch in America is the bluegill. Not only is it fun to catch them in the summer, but you can head out in the winter and find a ton through ice fishing too. What’s the best strategy for doing so? Here are 11 tips to help you catch lots of bluegill.
1. Look Near Weeds and Structures
If you figure out where weeds are, those are regions where you will want to stay near.
Additionally, if you can identify structures such as points, those are places you may want to check out as well.
Underwater structures always have a way of corralling fish to one area, both to eat and be eaten. Your chances of finding fish near any type of structure are probably better than they’d be if you just put your line randomly in open water.
One particular feature to look out for: a deep basin near the weed line, which is the spot where weeds stop growing. This is a fantastic place to start your fishing.
After starting there, once you need to move, you should move landward, following the weeds.
As I explain further down in this article, you should not put your jig or bait in the weeds, but above them.
Figuring out where bluegill are is not the whole battle, but it is a big part of it. Being able to identify places that tend to attract bluegill is extremely helpful.
2. Use a Horizontal Jig
There are horizontal jigs and vertical jigs. Which option is better is a topic of debate. It actually doesn’t really matter which one you use when you’re fishing at dawn and dusk. In midday, though, fish can see the little details better.
So, for those hours, I recommend horizontal jigs. The motion of horizontal jigs looks more natural to bluegill than that of vertical jigs.
For that reason, when you’re presenting them with a vertical jig, they are more likely to find it suspicious. That doesn’t mean vertical jigs can’t work. You might want to jig a bit more aggressively when using one so they can’t get a very good look at its details.
Horizontal jigs are preferable, though. A swimming jig, for example, will fool careless bluegill into thinking there’s a real little fish swimming around. There are plenty of other options, too.
3. Use a Fluorocarbon Leader
When it comes to line choice, there are various colors to pick from. Whatever you choose, though, it’s wise to add a fluorocarbon leader to the front end of your line.
A leader is simply an extra length of fishing line. There’s nothing tricky about using it. Just tie it to your line and put your hook and whatever else you want on it.
The purpose of a leader here is to keep bluegill from noticing your line. Such a thin material as fluorocarbon will be practically invisible to them. So, you can pick basically any line color you want. The leader will provide the camouflage.
Leaders do serve other purposes, such as keeping fish from breaking your line. Bluegills’ teeth are not sharp enough to do that, really, but if another fish happens to bite for whatever reason, it is nice to have the assurance that you won’t lose the stuff you have on your line.
If a bluegill notices a weird line in the water, it’s going to avoid it. That’s why it’s important to make it as hard to see as possible. A fluorocarbon leader is a great way to do that.
4. Bait Above, Not Below
Different fish species are built in different ways, needless to say. Some like to scavenge the bottom lakes for food. Bluegill, on the other hand, prefer to look upward for food. They are always ready to catch something as it falls to the bottom of the lake, and they may race to be the first to do so.
So, putting your bait or jig right on the bottom of the lake is not the way to catch these fish. Don’t put it right in the thick of weeds. They are unlikely to look there.
Instead, place your jig or bait a bit above where the fish will likely be. You want it near the bottom, but not quite there.
Since bluegill can see upwards quite well, they will notice your presentation, even if it’s a few feet above them.
While you don’t want to leave your bait at the bottom of the lake, you might find it useful to tap the bottom occasionally for the purpose of getting more fishes’ attention. You’ll create a little cloud of sediment that might strike their curiosity.
Other than that, make sure you jig or suspend bait above the bottom of the lake. If you’re in a shallow area because you know there are bluegill there, you’ll want your presentation in the middle. Wherever they are, bluegill are not looking down.
5. Lift and Lower Your Jig
Sometimes a bit of vertical motion can be useful in addition to your jigging. Bluegill are used to seeing things sink to the bottom of the lake. If you’ve had your jig in the same vertical spot for a while, they might not have taken notice of it.
That’s why you should occasionally try simply reeling in your line for a few seconds and then letting it sink again. This maneuver may just get some bluegills’ attention.
As I said earlier, bluegill expect their food to be above them. If they see something falling towards them, that looks totally natural.
So, just because you’ve been jigging enthusiastically near the bottom, that’s not a guarantee that bluegill will bite. Vertical movement is important for attracting bluegill.
Of course, if you’ve really found a good spot, bluegill are likely to bite the first time you drop your line down, so you won’t even need to do any extra lifting and lowering in that case.
6. Don’t Over-Jig
Jigging is an excellent strategy for luring in bluegill and getting them to bite. But there is such a thing as too much jigging. If your jigging is too quick and erratic, you will likely just scare bluegill away.
Bluegill are not on the top of the food chain. They are classed among panfish for a reason: they are generally small enough to fit into a frying pan. There are bigger fish that dine on them, so they need to stay defensive and ready to swim for their lives.
So, in the first place, your jig needs to be on the small side. It goes without saying that they won’t try to eat something almost as big as they are. However, if your tiny jig isn’t working, it’s OK to bring out something bigger. Aggressive bluegill might be seeking a good meal.
As for the intensity and speed of your jigging, if you are too quick and jarring, you’ll scare bluegill away. They may instinctively believe that a predator is ambushing them if they notice a sudden flash of movement.
So, you should be gentle and not incredibly quick. That way, your jig looks like a real creature, but not one that looks like such a formidable opponent.
Also, it’s a good idea to have rest periods. Sometimes any jigging at all may be too much for a bluegill to commit, so a motionless jig comes in handy at that time.
If you do any extremely vigorous jigging, the purpose should be to get the attention of faraway fish. Also, if your subtle jigging just doesn’t seem to be working at all, then by all means, get more aggressive. The behavior of fish can always vary from day to day and hour to hour.
Other than those cases, over-jigging will only keep you from catching a lot of bluegill.
7. Fish in a Group
You don’t need to fish alone. More accurately, it’s disadvantageous to fish alone. When you have others with you, your productivity can highly increase.
It’s not a matter of morale, though it can definitely be a lot of fun to ice fish with your friends and/or family.
Rather, fishing in a group is useful because it helps immensely with figuring out areas where many bluegill have congregated.
What you will want to do is drill several holes in one small area. Then, have a friend in another small area a little ways off do the same. The more little areas you have, as long as they are in parts of the lake where you can reasonably expect to find bluegill, the better.
With multiple holes drilled in multiple areas, each person then fishes in each area until someone catches something. When that happens, that person should let the others know with a wave (it’s better to be quiet) if they didn’t notice already. Then, everyone will go to that area and put their lines in the other holes. Hopefully, this will result in a bounteous harvest for all.
Fishing is so much easier when you’ve found a good spot. If it’s just one person guessing about where to go, it can get difficult. You might find a hotspot, or you might not. But with a group of people, you can cover more ground. If you have five people in different spots, the likelihood of finding a good spot increases immensely.
To a certain extent, using tip-ups achieves the same effect, of course. By spreading out a few tip-ups while you jig in another spot, you’re covering more ground. If one is triggered quickly, you can tell it’s probably in a good spot.
On the other hand, many states limit the number of lines one person can have. This may limit how much use you can make of tip-ups.
In any case, it’s more fun to fish with other people, isn’t it? By joining forces with your friends and family, you can become an unstoppable bluegill-fishing team. Or, they don’t even have to be people you like. Having anyone to work with will make fishing easier.
Also, even if you go to the lake alone, if you see anyone there, it’s a good idea to ask them for tips, too.
8. Strike at Primetime
Just as humans tend to prefer eating at regular times of each day, fish have some particular favorite feeding times as well. Namely, the vast majority of fish species are most active in the early morning and evening. This is what we refer to as primetime. Bluegill are no exception when it comes to this behavior.
I do not know the reason behind this preference, but it has definitely proven true over many years.
Is it worth it to get to a lake early just to get the best fishing? Well, if you’re reading this article, you must want to catch more fish, so I would say yes, it definitely is worth it.
In those early morning hours, yes the weather will often be at its coldest, but bluegill will be hungry. They will be much more willing to bite and you could have a nice pile of fish before the sun even finishes rising.
The evening tends to be a similar story. If you don’t want to be at the lake so early in the morning, you might choose to simply go late. But that means your fishing could be a bit slow until the sun starts its descent.
Now, you can stay after dark if you want to get some extra hours in. I wouldn’t expect bluegill to be incredibly active, but you still might catch some. The lack of visibility is definitely a disadvantage for you, but ice fishing at night is certainly a viable option.
Since fishing revolves around fooling fish into biting something that looks like food but really isn’t (or is food but comes with a clear downside), it only makes sense that we’d do the most fishing at times when the fish are most hungry. Take advantage of the lovely hours of early morning and evening.
9. Use Light Line
When it comes to fishing line, the question of how heavy of a pound test you need is always important. If you want to haul up massive fish, you need heavy-duty line. Bluegill are not massive, so, naturally, you don’t need such a thick line.
Actually, when I say you don’t need it, that implies that it’s OK to use when in reality, using line that’s too heavy will hurt your chances of catching bluegill. If your line offers too much resistance, bluegill might just bite off your bait and be able to swim away without the line coming along too.
You want bluegill to take your bait and swim off with the line, only to find themselves hooked. That’s why your line should be light.
This is something I didn’t initially understand. I wondered why you wouldn’t want to simply get the heaviest line possible in case a huge fish decides to bite. But if you’re going for smaller fish, you need line that won’t be too much for them.
So, for bluegill, you should use 2 to 4-pound test line. It’ll offer the perfect amount of resistance for them and allow you to reel them in.
10. Keep Quiet
Earlier, I wrote how bluegill are prey for bigger fish and are likely to be skittish, always ready to run away if a predator seems to be nearby.
Well, if we’re honest, when you’re fishing for bluegill, you have become a predator to them, so if they avoid you, you can’t blame them. It’s gonna require some stealth to keep them close.
Now, in a big lake, bluegill will hopefully be deep underwater, so that will reduce the need to be silent. However, it’s still something to always keep in mind.
The sound of drilling holes can scare bluegill. Since you’ll definitely want to drill at least a few, the best strategy is to drill all your holes before you put a line in the water. That way, if any bluegill get spooked, they will have plenty of time to calm down. The alternative is drilling holes every hour or however much you find a need to and scaring them over and over again.
I know the advice to keep quiet may seem a bit contradictory to how I said to fish with your friends, but you don’t need to stay dead silent. Just keep your voices low and try not to walk around more than necessary.
11. Be Thorough
You may be tempted to move to many various sections of the lake in search of that fabled gold mine of bluegill. Don’t do that.
Rather than a hasty search of many areas, it is smarter to first do a deep search of one area. Be thorough. Try all sections of the vertical water column. Be as methodical as you can be.
Of course, this goes back to the tip about fishing in groups. A group can cover multiple areas at once. When a productive spot is found, the group can convene there and fish it for all it’s worth.
Much like the game of Battleship, sometimes you can be right next to your target, but you miss it because you give up on an area to go over to the other side of the lake. So, be thorough before you decide to run in all sorts of directions.
Those are all the tips I have for you, but you will certainly come up with your own as you gain experience. These will get you started and have you catching a lot of bluegill in no time.