One of the most popular sport fish in North America is the bluegill or ‘bream’ as it’s also commonly referred to. This member of the panfish family is widely distributed throughout the nation.
Bluegill are stocked for their fishing value and a forage fish for bass and pike. In fact, many fishermen believe a lake cannot produce state-record-breaking largemouth bass unless they have an abundant source of bluegills to feed on.
Bluegill are such a pivotal food source for many predatory fish, it’s easy to see why so many fishing opportunities abound nationwide for this fish. The average adult bluegill is around 6-8 inches though some monsters can grow bigger than a couple of pounds.
Generally speaking, you’ll be the most likely to catch the biggest bluegills on small minnows as bait. Despite their size, bluegills can be aggressive toward other fish including their own. During the spawn, adults can be seen chasing off larger bass that would otherwise want to eat them from their nests.
That aggressive ‘heart’ coupled with their willingness to eat live bait makes this fish a great introductory species for kids and adults alike. Hopefully, this article will help you catch more and bigger bluegills.
If you want to see a complete gear list and best baits for bluegills, check out this list. It is a list of lures, baits, electronics, lines, and rods you may need to become a better bluegill angler.
Best Bluegill Baits
- Sweet Corn Kernels
- Pieces of Bread
- Small Minnows
- SlimJim Sections
- Wax Worms
- Small Spoons
- Small Spinners
- Small Lead-Head Jigs
A More Detailed Look at Bluegill Baits…
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- Sweet Corn Kernels
- Pieces of Bread
- Small Minnows
- SlimJim Sections
- Wax Worms
- Small Spoons
- Small Spinners
- Small Lead-Head Jigs
- 1. Find Shade on Sunny Days
- 2. Fish Cover
- 3. Docks Can Be a Goldmine
- 4. Go Light
- 5. Spinning Rods & Spincasting
- 6. You’re Never Too Old for a Bobber
- 7. Handle with Care
- 8. Use Small Hooks
- 9. Fish Cover Through the Ice
- 10. Throw Back Small Ones
- 11. Use Live Bait
- 12. Take a Kid Fishing
Sweet Corn Kernels
A can of sweet corn can last 30 fishermen all day long would be a perfect way to catch tons of bluegills. The firm outer shell of corn makes this bait very hardy.
A single kernel can last you multiple fish as it won’t dissolve or break off in water like bread. Just hook a single kernel below a bobber or free-lined.
There’s no more popular bluegill bait than worms and nightcrawlers. They are the easiest bait for most fishermen to acquire and they work great.
Pro Tip: never put a full worm on the hook. The fish will steal it without getting hooked. Instead, break a nightcrawler into 3-6 segments. This will make your worms last longer and increase hookups.
Pieces of Bread
Pieces of bread or hot dog buns are great bluegill bait. It does, however, soften in water and fall off the hook. Furthermore, it can be knocked off the hook by a single partial strike of a bluegill. I recommend squishing the bread onto the hook so it will stay better.
Small minnows won’t catch you as many fish as worms or corn will but the fish they do catch you will be big. Small minnows just aren’t suitable bait for anything but the biggest of bluegills.
The biggest bluegills I’ve ever caught have all been hooked using small minnows – typically 1-2 inches in length. Hook them through the lip to allow for natural bait action.
SlimJims can be a good bluegill bait due to their odor and durability. They may not catch as much fish like some other baits but if you’re in a pinch for bait, these meat sticks will work well. Break off a 1-2 inch section of SlimJim and add it to your hook. It’s as simple as that.
Wax worms are caterpillar larvae of wax moths, not fly maggots as many people assume. These meaty little worms are great live bait options for bluegills.
The only downside to wax worms is they generally cost a little more than a dozen nightcrawlers. To fish them, just run a single wax worm through a size 4 hook and you’re set.
Mealworms are the larval form of the mealworm beetle. These hardy worms are very attractive to bluegill during the late summer months especially.
They have a rigid exoskeleton “shell” which keeps them on the hook better and releases some good scent into the water to draw in hungry fish. Mealworms and wax worms usually cost roughly the same.
While live bait is the preferred means for catching a lot of bluegills, you can also catch them using artificial baits. The key is to fish small lures.
Small spoons especially dressed with a small piece of live bait like a wax worm can work very well. Alternate between slow steady retrieves and a quick, quick, pause retrieval.
Small in-line spinners or chrome blade spinners work very well for large bluegills. Once more, to add a little extra flare and attractant, hook a piece of work or corn kernel on the spinner.
Spinners are best fished for bluegill with a slow steady retrieve. Match the retrieval speed to the water temperature. Hot water fishing can allow you to fish much faster than in colder water.
Small Lead-Head Jigs
These baits work very well when topped with a piece of bread or with a wax worm. While it can work nicely during the summer, lead-head jigs really shine while jigged through the ice.
You can nail yellow perch, black crappie, and monster bluegills with a wax worm-topped jig through the ice.
Fly fishing for panfish is a very overlooked way of fishing. Bluegills, in particular, will explode on a dry fly or small streamer when hungry.
Fly fishing is one of the most fun ways to catch bluegills. It can also be a great way for introductory fly fishermen to get their feet wet catching a readily available fish like bluegills. I recommend focusing on grasshopper-like baits or small minnow streamers first.
Bluegill Fishing Tips & Techniques for Bigger Panfish
1. Find Shade on Sunny Days
Just like bass, bluegills will aggressively seek out shaded areas on sunny days. Not only is the water in these shaded areas cooler, but the darker water is easier on bluegill eyes for improved vision.
Cooler water promotes more active feeding than hot water does during summer. The cooler water will also result in a greater supply of dissolved oxygen.
The shade also makes it easier for bluegill to see both prey and predators.
The glare of bright sunshine makes fish more tentative in striking baits.
If can find areas of shaded water like beneath a forested bank or under a dock, you’re sure to find a great fishing spot.
2. Fish Cover
Bluegills seek out cover both for protection and for food opportunities. A lot of big fish love snacking on small bluegills. They need a good cover source to hold tight against to avoid being eaten.
Focus on areas with visible lily pads, timber, beaver damns, or docks. These areas will be overflowing in some occasions with hungry bluegills ready to attack your bait.
I think you should throw live bait like worms, small minnows, or wax worms up against the cover with a good-sized bobber.
The bobber is important because it will keep the bait in the strike zone, away from cover where it can get hung up, and give you the earliest indication of a fish grabbing your bait.
3. Docks Can Be a Goldmine
One of my favorite locations to fish for all panfish species are docks. It doesn’t matter if they are stationary wooden docks or floating docks. They will hold fish.
Black crappie, yellow perch, rock bass, and bluegill love docks. You can usually find a good population of smaller fish here coupled with some large adult panfish.
My favorite aspect to dock fishing is you can fish from the dock or off a boat and you never know what kind of fish is going to hit your bait. If your lake or large river has docks, make sure you cast some rigged live bait under them.
4. Go Light
You don’t need heavy equipment for bluegill fishing. Typically a lightweight spinning or spincast rod/reel combination is perfect for live bait fishing. I like using a 4-pound test mono fishing line.
I think that line gives you enough sensitivity to feel soft bites but enough strength to handle even the biggest of bluegills. It’s also fun to fight bluegill on even playing grounds and I feel like going with light line makes it a more interesting battle.
You may lose one or two here and there but the enjoyment level will be a lot higher than if you were using a 10-pound test where there’s no chance they break free.
5. Spinning Rods & Spincasting
The best rod/reel combination to use for bluegills are spincast or lightweight spinning outfits. Both of these rod types will allow you to fish in close quarters and toss light baits a good distance with minimal effort.
Baitcasting rods require heavier baits being tossed longer distances to work right. With the flick of the wrist, you can toss a small baited hook 10 feet with ease. Spincast and spinning rods also provide enough backbone to handle bluegills without overpowering them.
This way your fishing will be so much more enjoyable than with a heavy baitcasting rod. These types of lightweight reels are also more beginner friendly.
6. You’re Never Too Old for a Bobber
Don’t let anyone tell you only kids fish with bobbers. That adults don’t need bobbers. This is completely wrong. I love using bobbers to fish panfish. Panfish have small mouths and often times bite baits softly.
In order to ensure good hook sets and prevent gut-hooking fish, you want to have as early notice of a bite as possible. Bobbers will also keep your bait off the ground making it more likely to get eaten by hungry bluegill.
It doesn’t matter if you prefer round or stick bobbers. Don’t listen to people who say bobbers aren’t for “real fishermen”. Real fishermen do everything they can to avoid gut-hooking fish.
7. Handle with Care
Bluegills can be tricky to handle once you catch them. They are very flat and bottom-heavy in your hand. Furthermore, they have sharp dorsal spines that will raise up when you grab them.
Most bluegill fishermen have been poked more times than they can count. To an adult, this is nothing more than an annoyance but younger children could feel it a lot worse. Just be careful when you’re handling them.
If you can, hold the fish for your kid so they won’t have an unpleasant experience. As they get older, they can handle the bluegills themselves.
8. Use Small Hooks
Bluegill have very small mouths. They are designed to feed on small bait like tiny minnows, insects, and even plankton. As such, you cannot fish with large hooks and expect much success.
Opt for a hook size between 4-8. I think a size 4 hook is perfect for most live bait fishing. With larger hooks, you run the risk of having bluegill strip off your bait leaving your hook bare.
Small hooks will also give you better, more solid hook sets. It really doesn’t matter if your hooks are snelled or not. Just focus on using sharp, small hooks and you’ll be set.
9. Fish Cover Through the Ice
Ice fishing for bluegills can be a little harder since obvious summer-time cover like weeds, lily pads, and submerged timber is covered up by thick ice and sometimes a dense layer of snow.
If you are lucky enough to see a piece of timber sticking out of the ice in water 4-15 feet deep, fish that area first. Some of the very best days I’ve ever had ice fishing was jigging small jigs with mealworms around huge log piles in the lake.
In these spots, you can’t keep your bait down long to catch your breath before you’re reeling in another one.
10. Throw Back Small Ones
In many states, you are given a daily bag limit for bluegills you can keep per day. Let’s say your daily bag limit is set at 20 per day.
You will get more than double the meat to eat by keeping only bigger bluegills. In order to filet small bluegills and remove the bones, you need the steady hands and concentration of a skilled surgeon.
Okay maybe that was an exaggeration but it can be tough and frustrating. It is much easier to cut up larger bluegills and they will also provide you a lot more meat that will just taste better. Keep the big ones and let the smaller ones go to get bigger.
11. Use Live Bait
For most panfish species, especially bluegills, nothing beats live bait for both bites and consistency. Lures have their place and will catch fish but nothing will out-fish live bait in a head-to-head battle.
Even lures are improved upon with the addition of live bait. For example, adding a single wax worm to the hook of a spoon will increase the attractiveness of that lure to bluegills.
Some great bluegill bait includes small minnows (1-2 inches long), nightcrawlers, red worms, wax worms, mealworms, and even land insects like grasshoppers and crickets.
While artificial lures won’t outperform live bait, sweet corn and bread can compare very nicely to live bait under most circumstances. The best way to fish live bait or corn is underneath a small stick or round bobber.
While bluegills will rise to near the surface to bite the bait, your best bet is to set the bait so it hangs off the bottom by 2-3 feet. If you’re experiencing bait loss from smaller fish near the surface, add a single split shot weight to the line to quickly pull that bait down to depth before it can be eaten by smaller fish.
My 2 favorite types of bluegill bait are wax worms and sweet corn kernels. A can of corn is cheap and you’ll never be able to use all of them in one day.
Waxworms are a little more expensive but they work really well for most bluegills. Big bluegills will be a little slower to attack the bait than smaller ones but wax worms will convince them to strike.
12. Take a Kid Fishing
If there are kids in your life, take them along with you. Most fishermen attribute bluegills as the first fish they ever caught and the ones that first got them hooked on fishing. This species of fish is perfect for kids because of its abundance, aggressive fighting style, and small size.
Any kid will have a great time reeling in fish after fish with you. Make it a fun and positive experience for the kids, and they’ll make it a great experience for you as well. Help your kid(s) form fond memories outdoors and bluegill fishing is a proven way to do that.
Bluegill can be a great sport fish for beginners and seasoned veterans alike. Fish light, pick the right locations and bait, and you’ll have yourself a great day on the water.
Don’t leave your kids out of the fun either. Chances are you got your start fishing with bluegills. Start the kids in your life off strong too with this hard-fighting, enjoyable fish.