The Ultimate Guide to Fly Fishing for Bluegill: Techniques and Tips

floating line

Flyfishing for bluegill is some of the most fun fishing you can have on ultralight fly tackle. If you’re new to fly angling, angling for bluegills is a great way to get started.

While fly fishing for bluegills doesn’t have quite the same hype as trout or bass fly fishing, landing one of these little sunfish is still a thrilling prospect. Bluegills put up an impressive fight which feels all the more exciting when it’s played out on your 3 weight rod.

If you’re new to bluegill fly fishing, our handy guide will walk you through everything you need to know about fishing for these lively little sunfish. From the angling gear and accessories you need to the top tips to catch more panfish, you’ll be all set to land one of the largest bluegill ever caught as soon as possible

Getting Started Fly Fishing for Bluegill

Bluegills are a member of the sunfish family [1] and are also commonly known as bream, perch, and copper noses. These freshwater fish are native to the US and can be found all over the country in ponds, lakes, reservoirs, and streams [2].

You can fish for panfish all year round, and it’s a great way to get started with catching them, especially for children. Bluegill fishing is pretty easy angling, but you still need to know how to rig up your equipment, read the water, select the best flies for panfish, cast effectively, and achieve a natural presentation in the water.

Although they are related to largemouth bass, they are smaller fish that only tend to grow to about 6-8 inches in total. They are dark green with lighter green flanks and bright bluegills and cheeks (hence the name).

Why FlyFishing for Bluegill?

Bluegills aren’t fussy [3], and will go for most things in the water, including your flies! Fly fishing for bluegills is an exhilarating experience, as these small but fierce fish give a fair fight. Combine this with the fact that bluegills are commonly found all over the US, even in urban areas, and you have three excellent reasons to give panfish it a try!

Firstly, it’s easily accessible to almost anyone. You won’t have to worry about daily bag limits as they are so abundant in number that angling for them is rarely restricted. Secondly, you have a high chance of catching them as they aren’t too particular about what they eat. And finally, it’s a hell of a lot of fun!

If you’re new to fly angling, angling for bluegills is a great way to get started. You can practice and develop your skills first, before trying to fish for trickier or larger species. But are bluegill fish dangerous? We found out here.

Fly Fishing for Blue Gill – Flies and Gear

Here are our recommendations for the best gear and accessories for catching more panfish out on the water!

What’s the Best Panfish Fly Rod

What’s the Best Panfish Fly Rod?

When you’re out to get bluegill, the best fly rod to have is a 9ft 3 weight rod with fast action.

3 weight rods are great all-rounders, which are both light enough to feel a panfish strike and give you an exciting fight. But they’re also powerful enough to haul in a bass if you’re lucky enough to catch one. We recommend a fast-action fly rod because you’ll be able to cast out further, even on a windy day.

There are some fantastic, affordable rods out there that are perfect for panfish fly fishing, like the Redington Classic Trout. Highly specialized for fly angling for smaller fish on streams and ponds, these rods are better quality than your basic, entry-level rod. They’re also affordable and will last you several years – a much wiser choice than a cheap rod that you’ll want to replace within the year.

If you prefer the thrill of angling for smaller fish on a super-sensitive rod, you might want to check out ultralight fly fishing

What’s the Best Line to Use?

The best line for catching bluegills is a weight-forward floating line. Make sure it’s a perfect match to your rod so that your whole setup balances out well. This kind of line is ideal, as it’s the most versatile and practical for all panfish fishing techniques.

What Are the Best Bluegill Flies?

You can use a range of flies successfully for catching bluegills, including both wet flies and dry flies. When you’re selecting your sunfish flies, you should go for a variety of dry fly, streamer, popper, and nymph patterns. It’s a good idea to stock up on some smaller patterns, as bluegills only have tiny mouths.

Choose ones that resemble insects – top points if you can copy the local forage! And when it comes to presentation, you want to make your fly move like it’s weak and injured. This makes it look like an easy and tempting bite for any passing fish. Some of our favorite flies for sunfish include the black elk hair caddis in a size 14, the rubber leg spider, a wooly bugger, or even a san juan worm fly which the fish go crazy for.

You can buy some great, ready-made flies or have a go at fly tying yourself. There are lots of helpful fly-tying videos and tutorials on YouTube.

Make sure you bend over the barbs to prevent too much damage to the fish – bluegills swallow the flies far back into their mouths. This is even more important if you’re practicing Catch and Release, as you don’t want to injure the fish for no reason.

Where to Look When Fly Fishing for Bluegill

Finding a prime bluegill location isn’t tricky, as they thrive all over the US. Check with the fish and game agency in your state to locate the best spots for fly fishing for panfish.

They prefer still or slow-moving water, so don’t bet on finding them in fast-flowing rivers. Instead, look for ponds, lakes, slow-flowing rivers and streams, and reservoirs that don’t freeze over during the winter. These tend to be excellent spots with healthy sunfish populations.

You don’t need to get out to a remote backcountry location or travel far to have a great day angling for sunfish and reconnecting with nature. You can often find excellent ponds in or near towns and cities, making bluegill fly fishing very accessible. Keep your eye out for any ponds that don’t freeze in the winter – these tend to be promising spots with healthy panfish populations.

They favor clear water in sunny locations and plenty of underwater foliage. The bluegills’ main food sources make their homes in this green vegetation. Once you’ve found a great angling spot, you’ll need to identify any likely structures in the stream or pond.

Bluegills love to lurk around underwater structures such as weed lines, fallen timber, and drop-offs. Have a close look at the water and highlight the best areas to cast out to. It’s also easy to fish for them from the shore or from bridges, too, which gives you more potential options.

What Time of Day is Best?

The best time to go fishing for sunfish is early in the morning or later in the day as the sun sets. Bluegills are at their most active and hungry at dawn and dusk, so hunting for them at this time works best.

However, you can fly fish for bluegill at midday, too. During the warmer hours of the day, the fish move out to deeper water where they can stay cool, so that’s where you’ll need to be angling, too.

Top Tips For Fly Fishing for Panfish

Whether you’re a complete beginner or an experienced angler, our top tips should help you catch even more of these little panfish!

Use Baitfish Patterns During Spawning Season

Spawning season for bluegills runs from May to August, and during this time, male sunfish are incredibly aggressive. They will strike at any baitfish or potential predator they see near the nests.

You can use this to your advantage by stripping a baitfish streamer along the shallow flats where the bluegills make their nests. One of the best patterns to use is a Clouser Minnow in red and white, stripped at a medium speed through the shallow flats. Without a doubt, you’ll get bite after bite using this fishing technique as the males rush to defend their nests.

Try Tenkara Fishing!

Another fishing technique that is well-adapted for bluegill is tenkara fishing. Originating from Japan, this minimalist fishing technique uses a longer tenkara rod level line, and a fly. That’s it! 

You can have a lot of fun fishing for sunfish with a sensitive tenkara rod, as you’ll feel every tug and pull on the line. It’s an entirely different experience to fly fishing with a reel and something you should give a try if you get the chance.

Check out our post here for an in depth guide on fly fishing tenkara.

Shake Things Up: Try Different Techniques

Be prepared to try different things when fishing for panfish if you’re not getting any bites at first. If the bluegill is feeding on the surface of the water, both dry flies and poppers can work well. But if you’re not having any luck, we’d recommend switching to a nymph or a streamer instead to see if you can tempt the panfish that way!

Cast Near Weed Beds for Late Season Fish

Their prey is normally found in the weed beds, which also offer bluegills lots of hiding places to lurk while hunting until they make a strike. If you’re out to catch bluegills later on in the season, go for wet flies like deer hair poppers, streamers, jigs, or nymphs. Pick out smaller flies to accommodate the bluegill’s tiny mouth – dark-colored flies tend to be the most effective!

Strip Your Fly Slowly Through the Water

Bluegills mainly eat aquatic insects that move slowly through the water, rather than ones that dart about quickly. We recommend trying to strip your fly slowly through the water to replicate the local forage that they love.

Winter Fishing: Give Ice Fishing for Bluegills a Try!

Believe it or not, you can even catch them when the rivers have iced over. If you still want to get your fill of winter fly fishing, ice fishing for bluegills is an excellent choice.

The best times of day to attempt this is at dawn and dusk. You’ll need to break the ice with an ice auger, and a dipper is also helpful to remove any broken pieces of ice from the hole.

wrap up

The Wrap Up

So there you have the complete guide to fly fishing for bluegill! If you’re eager to get out on the water and hunt for them, here’s what you need to do:

  • Grab a 3-weight fly rod
  • Find your nearest sunfish pond or stream
  • Choose a handful of promising fly patterns
  • Get out on the water and get hunting for the panfish!

If you loved the tips and advice in this blog, don’t forget to share it with any fly fisher friends that might enjoy it too! As always, drop me a comment or leave a question in the comments section below and I’ll get back to you.

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Ben Kepka

Hey, I'm Ben, a fly fisherman for over 20 years and also an aspiring blogger. I've been into fly fishing since my graduation from spin fishing when I was 12 years old. I started to help introduce as many people into this amazing sport. Tight lines everyone! You can read more on our about page here.

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