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How To Catch Bluegill | Ultimate Guide To Bluegill Fishing Tips & Techniques

by Don | Last Updated: September 20, 2019

bluegill sunfish held in a hand

All About Fishing For Bluegill

If you’re an experienced fishermen, you’re probably laughing at the very idea of targeting bluegill. After all, most fishermen see them as annoying pests. They steal bait when you’re targeting massive catfish, and they distract the bass when you’re trying to trick them with your most expensive crankbaits.

However, they’re not just an annoying fish. There’s an entire community of fishermen that consider them a prized game fish. I’m one of them. They’re feisty, plentiful, and believe it or not, they can get pretty big. We’ll talk about their potential size later in the article, but for now, we’ll go over the basics.

large bluegill fish in mans hand

Why You Should Target Bluegill

In short, you should target bluegill because they’re fun. That’s why we fish. We want to have fun. Fishing for bluegill is fast-paced, and if you do it right, it can be just as rewarding as targeting massive bass.

Bluegill are usually considered pests because they’re what everyone catches for the first time, and they get in the way when you try to catch bigger species. However, if you target them in specific ways, they can help your other fishing endeavors, and sometimes they can break world records. They’re not just annoying bait thieves.

The Best Bluegill Fishing Rigs And Setups

I recommend using one of four different setups for bluegill. Here are some basic descriptions:

You’ll notice that there are two setups for regular rods, and there are two setups for cane poles. That’s because bluegill behave drastically different depending if you’re using lures or bait. I’ll go into detail about those differences when I talk about the different strategies you should use, but I’ll simply talk about lures vs baits for the next few paragraphs.

Using Bait To Catch Bluegill

This is the way  you probably learned how to catch bluegill. You thread a worm or kernel of corn on a J-hook, attach a bobber and a sinker, and you wait for a bite. Since bluegill are such voracious fish, you won’t have to wait very long. This is the easiest way to catch bluegill, but experts will want a more challenging option.

I suggest using an ultra-light rod and reel for bait unless you’re trying to get fish to use bluegill as catfish bait. Most people are familiar with rods and reels, and if you use ultra-light equipment, the bluegill will feel like bass on the end of your line. It can really be a lot of fun!

If you’re targeting bluegill to use as bait for catfish, you’ll want to use a cane pole. I suggest a B&M Black Widow. They’re durable, cheap, and really effective. If you’re not familiar with using a cane pole, I put together an entire guide on cane pole fishing.

I suggest a cane pole for catching bait fish because you can simply point the rod at the sky to pull the bluegill out. They’re lightweight, and they’re unlikely to break your pole if you just lift them out of the water. If you use this technique, the fish will swing right into your hands after you set the hook. That removes the fighting process, and you can throw your line back in the water a lot faster to catch the next bluegill.

Using Lures To Catch Bluegill

Lures are going to be the best option for experts when targeting bluegill. A lot of people don’t think that bluegill will bite lures, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. I’ve caught so many bluegill on 1-inch grubs that I can’t even begin to guess what the grand total is.

However, using lures can present a challenge to fishermen. You have to trick the fish with clever rod movements to get them to bite. They don’t just swim up and swallow the bait.

I recommend using an ultra-light rod and reel combo for this technique, but you can use also use a cane pole and some trout flies like the copper john,  and you’ll still get great results.

Using lures for bluegill is a lot like using them for bass. You just have to find the pattern of movement that the bluegill like the most. I suggest using BeetleSpins, 1-inch grubs, and small inline spinners. They’re the lures I’ve had the most success with for bluegill, and they’re extremely cheap.

My Favorite Lures For Bluegill

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Start With The Basics (Lures And Bait)

Start With Bait

When you first start going after bluegill intentionally, I suggest targeting whatever you can. You should start with the basics. Grab a rod or a cane pole, and slap a worm on the end of it.

I suggest this type of fishing because it will prepare you for larger bluegill. Every angler knows what it’s like to catch a tiny bluegill on accident, but what happens when you intentionally hook into one the size of a dinner plate on ultra-light equipment? Well, if you didn’t learn to use that equipment properly, you’ll probably lose the fish.

There aren’t many specialized tips that will actually help you with this type of fishing. If you use the equipment I told you to, you’re likely to hook into bluegill left and right.

Switch Over To Lures

Once you’re able to consistently catch bluegill on worms, I recommend switching over to very small lures. Doing this will teach you to use lures against bluegill, and that’s a necessary skill when you target the big ones like bull bluegill.

I mentioned it earlier, but I really do suggest starting out with BeetleSpin lures. They’ll entice small bass, but they’ll also drag in larger bluegill. You can  expect to get bites with just about any retrieval technique when you use them.

I also recommend a basic worm rig and an ultra-light rod and reel, though. That will give you the sensitivity and power you need to properly cast light rigs or lures, and it will make even the smaller bluegill feel like a real challenge.

Catching Bluegill As Bait (In Bulk)

If you’re reading this article, you probably just want to learn how to catch bluegill, and not necessarily target world-class bluegill. However, if you want to target massive flatheads or blue catfish, you’re going to need a lot of bluegill to use as bait. And there’s one technique in particular that I love to use for collecting bait.

Cane Pole And Worms

The best way to do this is to use a cane pole. I suggest one of the modern variants. The old sugar cane models are fine, but they’ll break eventually. You’ll also want to use worms for this. Worms are by far the best bait for bluegill, and the whole point of this technique is to catch them quickly.

For this, you’ll simply want to set up a worm rig on a cane pole. To use it, plop the rig on top of a bluegill bed, and get ready for some fast-paced action.

How To Find A Bluegill Bed

You can tell if a spot is a bluegill bed by simply looking for suspended bluegill from the bank. If the water is murky, you can use a fish finder that attaches to your rod. Sometimes, the bluegill won’t be on their beds. They typically only go there when they’re spawning. If that’s the case, look for lots of weeds, bugs, or visible bluegill in the shallows.

The bluegill will bite  quickly if you put your worm right on top of them, and you just have to pop the pole slightly to set the hook. Once the hook is set, you want to point your pole directly towards the sky above you. If you set your pole up properly, the fish will swing right into your hands. Remove the fish, throw it in a bucket, and put your bait back in the water to catch the next fish.

Your chances of catching a massive bluegill are pretty low with this technique, but you’ll catch a lot of bluegill very quickly, and you won’t have to waste time fighting them or casting all over the pond. That makes this the perfect technique for filling a bucket with bait fish before you target larger catfish.

Targeting Big Bluegill

If you’re looking to target world-record bluegill, there’s an in-depth article about that on this site. However, I still want to talk about it a little bit in this post. What type of ultimate guide would this be if we didn’t discuss expert-level fishing a little bit?

First, I highly suggest targeting the little guys before you go after monster bluegill. The biggest bluegill ever caught was the size of a dinner plate, and it wasn’t a lightweight.

Most people catch bluegill that are about four inches long or so, and they usually weigh less than a pound. However, you can find bluegill that are ten inches long, and they can weigh nearly five pounds! Some of the record-breaking fish have been even larger than that.

Change Tactics

To target such large bluegill, you’ll have to change your tactics. They’re unlikely to bite a tiny worm or a small grub. You’ll probably want to use lures or minnows. They’re big fish, and they like to eat more than the little guys.

Use Lures

When I target giant bluegill, I like to use larger BeetleSpins, and sometimes I use the larger grubs that bass fishermen use. Regardless of which lure you choose, you should try not to use a giant hook. The mouths on these larger bluegill are still somewhat small, and larger hooks are likely to pierce through their forehead when you set the hook. It’s a pretty gruesome sight, and it’s unnecessary. Just use a J-hook that is slightly larger than what you’d usually use.

Use An Ultra-Light Rod and Reel For Large Bluegill

I don’t suggest using a cane pole for these because I personally think lures are more effective. An ultra-light rod that is six-feet long or longer should do the trick. That will make it a challenge to land the fish, and it will ensure that you notice lighter bites when the fish aren’t very active.

How To Land Huge Bluegill

You will have to fight these fish quite a bit. They’ll feel like you’re dragging in a decent channel cat if you’re using ultra-light equipment, but they can keep fighting for a longer period of time. I’ve broken several reels by underestimating their abilities.

The key is to fight them like you would bass. You want to keep your line tight, but you want to have your drag set low enough that the fish can pull it out a bit if they pull hard enough. If your drag is too high, they’ll snap your ultra-light line pretty easily.

You can check out my other article about big bluegill if you want more in-depth information, but this has covered the basics, and you should be ready to at least attempt to break the world’s bluegill record.

5 Best Bluegill Fishing Tips

Here are a few tips that will help you make the most out of your fishing trips when you’re targeting bluegill.

1. Use Light Fishing Line

Most bluegill are very small, and the lures you’ll use to catch them are lightweight. Using your standard bass fishing line will make it nearly impossible to cast your tiny bluegill lures where you want them. I suggest 2-pound or 4-pound line.

2. Use An Ultra-light Rod

You can use medium rods or even heavy rods, but you won’t notice weaker bites, and you’ll practically rip the fish out of the water. That’s not fun, and it’s kind of messed up. An ultra-light rod is the tool that a pro uses to catch bluegill.

3. Learn To Read The Water 

You can tell where bluegill are by simply looking at the water if you learn how to read the water properly. Look for things such as weeds and bugs. Those are the spots that bluegill like to feed in or hide in. If you can actually spot the bluegill themselves, you’ll have an even easier time catching them. A good pair of polarized sunglasses will help a lot with sight fishing.

4. Don’t Set The Hook Like You’re a Bodybuilder

Bluegill have paper-thin mouths. If you jerk your rod like a mad man, you’ll probably rip the hook right through their lip. Not only is that cruel, but you won’t be able to catch the fish. A quick twitch of your rod will set the hook.

5. Use Small Hooks

Bluegill are built in a weird way. Their mouth is right next to their face, and they’re short. When you use a long hook, that’s a recipe for disaster. Instead of piercing the lip of the bluegill, you’ll probably send a barbed hook through its brains or eyes, and there is no saving the fish after that. Sure, you can eat the fish, but it’ll still be floating around in your fish bucket until you get home to clean it.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, this article has made you think about bluegill a little differently. They’re not just the aquatic equivalent of rats. They can be a fun challenge, and they can produce bait for catching even larger fish like catfish and bass. They’re also a lot more plentiful than other game fish. So, even a bad fishing trip is bound to produce a few decent fish, and it’s a bit easier to find one that’s huge for its species.

I hope you enjoyed this bluegill fishing guide, and I hope you check out the other bluegill articles I have on the site!

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