How do you remember bluegills? For many it was probably the first fish you
caught as a child when your parents took you fishing.
Remember how bored you became from catching nothing but bluegills
several years later with a bobber and worm? At this point you must have
graduated to largemouth bass with shiners and lures. Trout fishing is
usually in the mix also as you got older.
But what ever happened to the bluegill? When you fished for the largemouth
bass and you caught bluegill instead either you or your fishing buddy said
"Lets move to where the fish are." We're all guilty of it - losing respect
for the bluegill and moving on to bigger quarry. It is a part of learning
the whole fishing process and learning new types of fishing. Besides, who
doesn't want to catch big fish?
Now that you have used advanced techniques, caught those big fish, traveled
to those exotic places to catch a fish of a lifetime and all of your fishing
dreams are now memories, what do you do? What do you fish for when fishing
in exotic places gets boring? When there is no enthusiasm for landing sea
run brown trout in Argentina?
For most of us, fishing is too much a part of our lives, rooted too deeply
in who we are, flows through our veins like red blood cells, to give up all
So what do you do? Try going back to basics and catch monster bluegill. If
you think finding monster bluegill is easy, think again. If you have gone to
far off places, surely you have some advanced skills that you can apply
to catching monster bluegill.
Can you remember where to find bluegill? The following techniques I have
found to be productive in rivers with slow meandering currents, particularly
the lower Lehigh River in southeastern Pennsylvania. This is where I have
fine tuned the techniques to catch bluegill. However these techniques can be
used on virtually any river.
The lower Lehigh River has great bluegill opportunities with a fly rod. The
slow, deep waters of the lower portion of the river mimic lakes such as
Beltzville and Nockimixon and have the same dinner-plate-sized bluegill.
With a flyrod and a handful of nymphs and poppers you too can catch these
big little fish.
The lower Lehigh River is popular for muskie, catfish and smallmouth bass.
Boaters and jetskies stir up the water to the point where fishing for bass
and catfish can be difficult. But the stirred up water has little or no
effect on the bluegill, especially in the summer when water sports are at
The spring's pre-spawn and spawn are the best and most productive time to
catch bluegill. At this time, the male bluegills are moving into shallow
water to build the nest while the females are waiting nearby in the deep
water for the proper conditions to arise to join the males and spawn. The
males get very protective of the nest and will chase smaller fish away and
bite at just about anything that gets close.
This is the time to use nymphs if you know there are fish in an area that
is too deep for surface poppers (more than forty inches). Nymphs such as
Bully's Bluegill Spider in sizes 8 to 12, Pheasant Tail Nymphs in size 12 to
16, Woolly Buggers and Crawfish patterns in sizes 10 and 12 also work well.
Any nymph that looks buggy enough to be a good meal will work.
Poppers are my all-time favorite to use for bluegill. I learned to
fly fish with poppers and thus they hold a place in my heart. Just as using
a Heddon Torpedo for bass, you want all the ripples to fade before giving
the popper any action. Once the ripples fade, I twitch for several inches
and pause, then twitch. This is hard to do for more than six to eight feet
before you need to mend the line since the current is swinging your line
downstream. You also may not have the time to wait for the ripples to fade
since the current is moving your line downstream. Try to keep your cast
within twelve feet of the bank upstream, twitching and pausing and
twitching as the current brings the line and popper below you or over your
target. Bluegill wack the poppers most when it has paused. Trust me, if
your are not paying attention to the popper you will hear it and your
natural hook-set instinct will take over. Poppers work best in the shallow
water, under overhanging trees and at the edges of exposed and
over submerged brush piles.
The size of the poppers I use are 10 and 12, mostly the ten. I have lost
many nice smallmouth because of the size 12. Because bluegill have small
mouths, keep in mind that poppers should stay small. You want the fish to be
able to fit the popper in it's mouth.
The color of the popper is always important but the action of the rubber
legs is what triggers the bluegill to strike. Bumblebee patterns with
more yellow than black don't work well for me. But if I have a bumble
bee pattern with equal amounts of yellow and black and a couple rubber legs,
I can catch surprisingly more fish. Therefore, I stay away from large
amounts of yellow and look for the rubber legs.
I experiment with different colors and color combinations and stick with the
one that is getting the most action. From experience, though, white with
white trailing feathers and rubber legs or solid black with either white or
black feathers and rubber legs work all spring through summer. The majority
of the poppers sold in K-Mart and Wal-Mart come in many different color
combinations. My best advice is to have many combinations with you and try
I also use what I call a tandem setup. It has two poppers about twelve
inches apart, one large popper and one smaller popper or one popper and a
nymph. These setups are action packed; if you aren't hooking fish at least
you are getting action.
I like to use a big White Sneaky Pete with a size twelve black popper. Keep
the big popper up front; doing so will help get the energy for the trailing
smaller popper to land farther away, and not on top of the forward popper. I
hardly ever miss a bass on the larger Sneaky Pete.
If there are many bluegill nests in a small area, the two small poppers are a lot
of fun; especially if you get a double hook up. One popper and one nymph
works well when you are searching an unfamiliar area. The popper covers the
shallow water and the nymph covers the deeper water. Be careful that the
nymph is not so big that it pulls the popper under. The popper can also
serve as a strike indicator for the nymph.
Since I can't afford a fancy rod for all my fishing needs, I use an
inexpensive nine foot, six weight with the floating line. Stick with
rods that are at least seven feet long at a six weight or less.
To fish to these protective males, which also have a voracious appetite in
pre-spawn and spawn, I use two types of line. One is a sink tip and the
other is a full floating weight forward line. The sink-tip works well if
all you are going to do is use nymphs. I stick with the weight forward line
since I use poppers seventy-five percent of the time. If I'm using nymphs
and need to get it down a little deeper, I will add micro shot. If I want
to go to a popper I just have to put on a popper, not change lines or use
Leaders can be scientific but not in the case of bluegill fishing. To get
started, use a new six to seven foot trout leader with a three pound
tippet. This long leader will not function well with a size ten nymph or a
popper because the energy cannot be transferred quickly down the leader. As
you change your offering, the leader will get shorter and the energy will
transfer quicker to the offering and will splash on the water.
When a leader gets too short, I tie on tippet material. For bluegill I use
two or three pound test. The tippet material can be joined with blood, nail
or loop knots. I prefer the latter because it's quick and easy, although it
can get clogged with dirt and grass.
In the slow currents of the lower Lehigh River, bluegill locate themselves
close to the bank. Generally there is deep water nearby where they can
escape in emergencies. Walking along the banks, you can see there are fallen
trees and brush piles that hold the bluegill. This is where to fish in the
morning and evening of hot summer months. Using a single popper fished
slowly will get a 'wack' from a bluegill.
Casting around fallen trees is often difficult. There may be tree
branches surrounding your casting area. With my nine foot rod, I have to do
a lot flipping and tossing of the popper to get it placed just right and not
get it tangled in any branches. This is the most challenging of bluegill
fishing on the river, but if you hook into a couple and land them without
tangling in branches, give yourself a pat on the back.
Deep water fishing needs a bit more patience. Unlike shallow water fishing,
the fish in deep water, over 36 inches, don't have much of a chance of a
seeing a popper on the surface.
In deep water, a tandem setup with a popper and a nymph on a 36 inch dropper
leader works well. A single or double nymph or woolly bugger works best.
Fish these slowly and several inches off the bottom with a sink tip line.
Along the Lehigh River is a canal, starting at Canal Park in Allentown and
going downstream to the Bethlehem Boat Club. At the start of the canal in
Allentown, the water moves very slowly and there is also vegetation for
largemouth bass. There are also overhanging tress that a roll cast can get
your popper under. Poppers and hopper patterns are fantastic here. Don't be
embarrassed to fish these as they hold bluegill, rock bass, smallmouth and
The canal starts again at Island Park in Bethlehem down to the forks of the
Delaware River. At this section, the canal has concrete walls where you can
sight fish and actually see them take your offering is very exciting. Water falls
in this section help debris collect and fish stay near.
Go out and try these techniques. See how hard bluegill fishing really is.
When you catch them ask yourself, "How much do I respect bluegills?"
Once you have found that enthusiasm again, you will start to think back to
when you first caught your first bluegill. Memories will dance in your head
of past fishing experiences with friends, family or by yourself. You will
feel things that you may have forgotten while you were off fishing in an
exotic place. ~ Ronald A. Kanarr