fly fishing for bluegill

Fly Fishing for Bluegill

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 fishing gear and accessories you need to the top tips to catch more bluegills, you’ll be all set for some fun and effective fly fishing!

An Intro into Fly Fishing for Bluegill

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

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

Although bluegills 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 blue gills and cheeks (hence the name).

Why You Should Give Bluegill Fishing a Go

Bluegills aren’t fussy, 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 bluegill fly fishing a try! 

Firstly, it’s easily accessible to almost anyone. You won’t have to worry about daily bag limits as bluegills are so abundant in number that fishing for them is rarely restricted. Secondly, you have a high chance of catching bluegills 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, fishing 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.

bluegill fishing

The Top Fishing Gear You Need for Bluegill Fishing

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

What’s the Best Fly Rod for Bluegill Fishing?

When you’re fly fishing for bluegill, the best fly rod to have is a 9ft 3 weight rod with fast action. Check out our reviews of the best 3 weight fly rods here!

3 weight rods are great all-rounders, which are both light enough to feel a bluegill 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 bluegill fly fishing, like the Redington Classic Trout. Highly specialized for fly fishing 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 fishing smaller fish on a super-sensitive rod, you might want to check out ultralight fly fishing. Find out more by reading our guide!

What’s the Best Line for Bluegill?

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 bluegill 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 bluegill 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 bluegill. Some of our favorite flies for bluegill include the Black Elk Hair Caddis in a size 14, the Rubber Leg Spider, a Woolly Bugger, or even a San Juan Worm 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 to get you started!

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 practising Catch and Release, as you don’t want to injure the fish for no reason.

Where to Fish 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 bluegill.

Bluegills 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 bluegill populations.

You don’t need to get out to a remote backcountry location or travel far to have a great day fishing for bluegill and reconnecting with nature. You can often find excellent bluegill 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 bluegill populations.

Bluegills 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 bluegill fishing 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 bluegills from the shore or from bridges, too, which gives you more potential options.

What Time of Day is Best for Fishing for Bluegill

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 fishing, too.

Top Tips to Catch Even More Bluegill

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 run from May to August, and during this time, male bluegills 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 for Bluegill

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! Check out our top tenkara rod recommendations here. 

You can have a lot of fun fishing for bluegill 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.

Shake Things Up: Try Different Techniques

Be prepared to try different things when fishing for bluegill if you’re not getting any bites at first. If the bluegill are 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 bluegill that way!

Cast Near Weed Beds for Late Season Bluegill Fishing

Bluegill prey are 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 fishing for 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 the bluegills love.

Winter Fishing: Give Ice Fishing for Bluegills a Try!

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

The best times of day to attempt this are 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.

how to catch bluegill

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 hunting for bluegill, here’s what you need to do:

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

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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