11 Tips on How to Catch Big Bluegill in Your Local Lakes
Anglers in the know understand that learning how to catch big bluegill pays off big time. While often skipped over in favor of species like largemouth bass or walleye, big bluegill — 10 inches and up — can put up a serious fight, especially on sensitive rods and light line. Plus, a platter of fried bluegill fillets is a meal fit for a king.
If you have a local lake that holds bass, walleye, pike, or trout, chances are there's a healthy population of bluegill in the mix. So next time you're planning a day of fishing on the lake, consider making big bluegills your target and use the following tips to help you catch them.
Here's an Informative Video on How to Catch Big Bluegill
Big bluegill are old fish. It takes a considerable amount of time for bluegill to reach the 10-inch mark and they do so by successfully dodging predators and avoiding anglers.
Simply put, big bluegill don't make many mistakes.
During the spring spawning season, however, big bluegills focus all their attention on reproduction, let down their guard, and become vulnerable.
After winter, when the water starts to warm, mature breeding bluegill move into the shallows, which is exactly where you need to focus your efforts if you want to catch slab 'gills. The males carve out spawning beds, then stay to viciously defend their territory.
If you time it right, you can slowly troll or drift along shorelines casting small lures or live bait near spawning beds, triggering aggressive strikes from the biggest bluegill you'll encounter all year.
During the spring spawning season, your vision is one of the best tools you have to find and catch big bluegill. If you don't already have them, get yourself a decent pair of polarized glasses. You'll be amazed at how much more you can see beneath the water's surface — including the saucer-shaped beds that give away big bluegills' location.
Another tool that is incredibly useful in locating big bluegill is a water thermometer. Like most fish species, bluegill are sensitive to water temperature and have a preferred temperature range — around 69 degrees — in which they thrive.
Throughout the year, big bluegill tend to hold in water that maintains their ideal temperature of 69 degrees. But spawning activity is triggered when shallow water temperatures reach slightly higher temperatures of 70 to 75 degrees.
To really capitalize on the spawning season and load up on big bluegill, use either a portable water thermometer or the thermometer built into your fish finder to monitor the water temperature in the shallows. When it hits 70 degrees, it's time to start looking for bedding 'gills.
Big bluegill on their beds are aggressive as they defend their territory, but they will still flee if they sense danger. To a bluegill, no matter how big he is, knows a large shadow cast on the water can mean only one thing: danger.
Try to position your boat so you're facing into the sun and your shadow is cast behind you. Make every effort to keep your shadow off the water you're trying to fish.
Fishing from a boat has many benefits, but sometimes you'll have more success in catching big bluegill when fishing from the bank.
When bluegill are on their beds during the spawn, or feeding in the shallows during the rest of the year, a stealthy approach from the bank can be very effective.
Stay quiet, try to stay back away from the bank at least a few feet, keep movement over the water to a minimum, and try to present your lure or bait as delicately as possible.
While you can use any rod and reel to catch bluegill, you'll have more success — and more fun — using an ultralight spinning setup.
A great outfit to chase big bluegills is a 6- to 7.5-foot ultralight spinning rod paired with an ultralight spinning reel loaded with 2- or 3-pound test monofilament.
Some bluegill anglers like to use a shorter rod — 5 feet or so — but a longer rod will help you cast your lightweight bluegill rigs much farther and with more accuracy.
During the bulk of the year when big bluegill are not spawning, you can expect to find them holding in deeper water (10 to 15 feet) that maintains that prime 69 degrees, often times near heavy cover. To accurately probe the depths without getting hung up every cast, a slip bobber is key.
Slip float rigs work great for fishing both live bait and soft plastic grubs and worms. A 1/64 or 1/32 jighead is typically used with a small split shot crimped on the line about 12 inches up. The split shot helps the bait sink quickly and also stops the bobber from sliding down all the way.
A stopper, usually a piece of braided line or dacron, is tied up the line as deep as you'd like to fish your bait. This system allows you to methodically fish your bait at a variety of depths until you zone in on the bluegill.
Using live bait is by far the most effective and reliable way to consistently catch big bluegill. Night crawlers, red worms, leeches, minnows, and crickets all work well.
Try to "match the hatch" by using bait that is present in the water you're fishing. But if you can't match it exactly, don't worry. Bluegills are opportunistic feeders and will hit just about anything as long as it doesn't seem too suspicious.
If you're up for more of a challenge, you can try a more aggressive approach and fish soft plastics.
Rig up a 2- or 3-inch paddle tail swimbait or plastic worm on a 1/32 jig head and cast near shorelines and cover at dusk and dawn. You probably won't get as many bites, but fish that do take your lure will likely be the biggest and meanest of the bunch.
Bluegill tend to relate to cover that holds an abundance of food. No matter what season or time of day, if you can find heavy weed beds and thick, grassy areas full of minnows and aquatic insects, chances are you'll find some lunker bluegill.
While an ultralight spinning outfit will certainly get the job done, one of the most productive ways to catch big bluegill is with a fly rod.
With a fly rod, since you don't have to reel in every time you want to make a cast, you can cover a ton of water. It can take some practice to get the fly cast down, but once you do, there's no better tool for making pinpoint accurate casts next to tight cover.
And don't let the thousands upon thousands of fly patterns overwhelm you. A simple selection of basic floating and sinking flies goes a long ways when fishing for big bluegill. Start with some black woolly buggers in size 8 and 10, a selection of basic nymphs such as the pheasant tail or hare's ear nymph, plus a handful of size 10 panfish poppers.
And since fishing for bluegills isn't very technical, you won't need a fancy high-end fly rod made of space-age materials. Any basic entry-level fly rod in the 3- to 5-weight range matched with a floating line and a basic tapered leader will do the trick.
Learning how to catch big bluegill is a great way to add some variety to your fishing pursuits, especially when the bass aren't biting. Although most local lakes have much larger populations of small bluegill, the lunkers are mixed in there somewhere, and if you use these tips you'll be catching them in no time.