There are several sunfish that people lump together under the name
bluegill, like the pumpkin seed, green sunfish, and redear sunfish, to name
a few. Though some other sunfish species look like the bluegill, and some
may even be hybrids, there is only one true species of bluegill.
The bluegill's Latin name is Lepomis macrochirus. He is wide,
thin fish with a mouth so small that it severely limits the food he can eat.
That information is important to the fly fisherman because it also limits
the size of fly used to catch him.
The male is quite colorful, especially in the spring before and during
the spawn when his iridescent colors are especially bright and deep. Though
there are some color differences between fish in different parts of the country
and from waters of varying quality, his back is usually a deep dark olive or
dark emerald green. His sides are lighter in color and are usually marked with
dark verticle bars. His belly is a dusky white and his breast is a combination
of various shades of yellow and reddish-orange. When seen in the sunlight
his sides reflect shades of purple, blue and green. The lower part of his gill
cover and chin is blue and the entire ear flap, located at the top portion of
the gill, is black.
The female's colors are lighter and less striking. She usually has
a dark area on her back, and her sides range in color from shades of
light yellow and dusky white, and have hints of greens and blues. She
also has the distinctive all-black ear flap.
Bluegill aren't large by any means, in fact, the average gill is
about 9 1/2 inches long and weighs around 12 ounces. The world
record bluegill tipped the scales at only 4 pounds, 12 ounces and was
15 inches long. It was caught by T.S. Hudson, who was fishing
Ketona Lake, Alabama, on April 9, 1950.
The bluegill is the must abundant of all sunfishes. He is found
in ponds, lakes, reservoirs, and slow moving warmwater streams,
creeks and rivers across the country. He prefers warm, clear waters
where there are lots of aquatic plants and other kinds of cover, but
he can also tolerate waters with high turbidity and siltation.
One of the reasons he is so popular is that he always seems to be
hungry and ready for a good tussel. A bluegill is primarily a sight feeder,
which means he depends more on his sense of sight to locate food than
his sense of smell. His mouth is small, and that means a fisherman will
have a better chance of hooking him if he used a small fly. In most
situation bluegill flies should be no larger than size 8 or smaller than
size 14. Sure, there are a few stories about a one-half pound bluegill
trying to tackle a huge bass plug or a king-sized spoon someone was
using to catch northerns. The bluegill is usually hooked on one barb
of the treble hook and it does look like the fish really tried to swallow
a lure as large as himself, but I'll guarantee you'll catch more bluegill,
more often, on small flies.
Young bluegill feed on microscopic zooplankton, tiny water fleas
and some types of aquatic vegetation, while adult bluegill can handle bigger
prey like nymphs, small crustaceans, mayflies, damselflies, crickets,
grasshoppers, worms, and an occasional small fish, though they aren't
known to be voracious fish-eaters. They will also occasionally eat a bit
of vegetation, especially during summer when finding minnows and insects
is a bit more difficult.
Bluegill are daylight feeders. Rarely, if ever, will you catch one at night.
In the spring and fall when water temperatures are moderate, a fly fisherman
can catch 'gills from shallow coves during most of the day, but during the
hot summer months fishing is best in the early morning and in the evening
until dark. Evening fishing begins as soon as the sun no longer shines directly
on the water and a slight drop in temperature occurs.
Mid-afternoon may provide some good fishing on cool or over-cast
summer days, but as a rule-of-thumb, bluegill fishing pretty much shuts
down during the hot part of the day.
On those scorching summer days when the temperature climbs well into
the 90's by late morning, the fisherman should be on the water early, ready to
intercept the 'gills as they move from deeper, cooler water into the shallows
to feed. That feeding activity starts shortly after sunrise and may last to mid-
morning, depending on when the rising water temperature drives them back
to deep water again.
The same movement into shallow water occurs again in the late afternoon
or early evening and lasts until dark. A tip for evening fishermen - be sure to
carry a can or bottle of insect repellent with you while you're fishing. The
bluegill may be biting better than you've ever seen before, and you can bet your
float tube the mosquitos will be even more ravenous. Be careful to keep the
repellent away from your flies and your reel - it may damage the reel's surface
and give your flies an unpleasant odor that might be detected by the fish. Use
a spray repellant or wash your hands thoroughly after using the liquid, cream
Like largemouth bass, bluegill are very cover (structure) oriented. Very
seldom will you find them in open water except over a submerged weed-bed
that can't be seen from the surface. To find bluegill look for some kind of
cover - a thick weedbed, an area of stick-ups, a boat dock, or a pier.
Sometimes a submerged brush pile, a bush or tree growing in the water
along the shoreline, a point where willows and reeds grow near shore, or
an area where there are logs and broken timber in the water will hold fish.
The Golden Rule in finding good bluegill fishing is "look for cover."
Some of the most important types of cover are areas of aquatic
vegetation, like weedbeds, stand of reeds and cattails, lily pad fields, and
submerged areas of thick grass. Aquatic vegetation is very important to
bluegill because it provides places for them to hide and escape from
predators - places where they can find food, like insects, crustaceans,
small minnows and the plants they sometimes consume - and is an
excellent source of dissolved oxygen, all necessary for the fish to
survive. ~ Tom Keith
More next time!