Fishing for Bluegills in Iowa:

Fishing for Bluegill

The bluegill is everybody's fish. Excitingly easy to catch, they are ideal for beginners but equally fun for experienced anglers. They take a variety of baits, fight well for their size, are exceptionally fine eating, and are extremely abundant in many ponds and lakes.

Where to Find Them
Bluegills are not randomly distributed in a lake; they concentrate into specific habitats, depending upon the season. To be successful, you must locate these concentrations of fish. Take note of locations that produce catches because these places will be good year to year.

Bluegills congregate in the shallows to spawn during spring and early summer. Spawning peaks when the water temperature is 75 degrees F – usually around Memorial Day. Smaller and more turbid waters generally warm faster than larger, clearer, or deeper ones. It is often easy to spot the saucer-shaped nest depressions in clear lakes or ponds because bluegills build their nest colonies in shallow water very close to shore. Carefully search in 2 to 6 feet water to locate a spawning bed. Male bluegills guarding nests are easy to catch.

In large rivers, like the Mississippi, bluegill prefer to spawn among stumps and bottom-hugging trees as well as backwaters and sloughs where constant current will not disturb the nest. A shallow flat adjacent to a flooded creek channel is a good place to find spawning bluegill. Spawning locations in large rivers are considerably smaller than those found in lakes and ponds.

Large river bluegills spend their summer in deeper water and congregate along undercut banks often favoring fallen trees. The edge of lily pads or other aquatic vegetation can also produce good bluegill catches.

Bluegills move out from shore to deeper water locations in lakes, reservoirs, and ponds during the hot days of summer. Summer-time bluegills, especially bigger ones, are usually found in 6 to 12 feet of water. They suspend just above the thermocline (a thermal water temperature barrier that forms in deeper lakes in the summer). They can sometimes be found along the edges of weeds or in deep coves. They are often on humps or areas that break into flooded creek channels or other deep water. Man-made underwater objects also attract bluegill during the summer. Many lakes and reservoirs contain stake beds, brush shelters, tire reefs, rock piles and other fish attractors. These objects, in addition to boat docks or boats tied at one spot for several days, are productive bluegill hangouts.

Around late September, large bluegills abandon their summer haunts as they prepare for fall and winter. They move from deep water to locations with mid-depths, often near their spawning sites. Shoreline points that extend far out into the lake and drop off sharply often concentrate bluegill. Another "hot spot" is an underwater ridge or saddle in 8 to 10 feet of water. Flooded timber, brush or rock enhances the fish-holding capability of these locations.

As autumn turns to winter and water cools, bluegills move into deeper water to spend the cold months. They often are found over shoreline points and ridges or near brush in 15 to 20 feet of water. Frequently schools of similar-sized fish will move onto flats 10 to 12 feet deep to feed before moving back to deep water.

Use light line and tackle. Many bluegill anglers use ultra-lite graphite spinning rods and small reels loaded with 2 or 4 pound-test monofilament line. The great advantage of this equipment is the wide choice of baits and techniques that can be used, all within reasonable cost.

Bluegills have small mouths and a small hook is essential--sizes 6 or 8 work best. Hooks with long shanks are easier to remove from the small mouth, especially if the bait is swallowed. Thin wire hooks work best with live bait because the bait stays alive longer and is more enticing to fish as it squirms on the hook. A pair of needle nose pliers can help with removing hooks.

Baits & Lures
Worms are the perennial favorite live bait. Anglers often pinch off only an inch or two of worm to fish with since bluegills have small mouths. Other suitable live baits include grasshoppers, crickets, catalpa worms, or any insect large enough to put on a hook. Most bluegills are not shy about the food they eat.

Artificial baits for catching bluegill are numerous. Thirty-second and sixty-fourth ounce lead head jigs, although tough to cast with anything but ultra-lite gear, are exceptional bluegill catchers. Lead heads tipped with marabou feathers, rubber grubs, or twister tails work well. A small piece of worm or maggot attached to the lure will often increase bites. All colors catch bluegill, but black or brown is preferred.

Angling Tips
Bluegills eat mainly aquatic insects, which are slow-moving creatures. Rarely will a bluegill chase food items; it's important to fish very slowly.

Most fishermen use small bobbers when fishing with worms, but live bait can also be fished on the bottom with success. Lowering your bait over the side of the boat or making short casts with a slow retrieve are also tried and proven techniques.

Spring and early summer is the best time to catch bluegills because they congregate in the shallows to spawn, become very aggressive, and are particularly easy to catch. Wade or boat within easy casting distance of the nests with a small lure or bait just below a small bobber. Cast a piece of worm, jig, or other bait beyond the bed and slowly retrieve it through the nesting area. Depth of the nests determines how deep to set the float. Fish close to the bottom, keep both lure and float as small as possible, and set the hook quickly, or the aggressive males may swallow the bait.

To catch mid-summer bluegill on the Mississippi, try the 10-foot water along undercut banks or near aquatic vegetation that crowds backwaters and near sunken trees. Working undercuts during summer is best accomplished from downstream. Cast upstream and allow the current to move your bait or lure through the target habitat. Allowing the bait to move naturally is the key. It's best to use natural bait, even when fishing jigs.

In lakes, reservoirs, and ponds, try live bait or small lures near the edges of weed beds, submerged extensions of shoreline points, humps or flats dropping into creek channels. Fish often suspend over deep water where they can be taken by drift fishing. Try tying two lures on the same line 2-4 feet apart to fish different depths at the same time. Drift your boat with the wind allowing the bait or lure to be suspended at 6 to 12 feet. Repeat drifts over areas that are productive. If there is not sufficient wind to drift, use an electric trolling motor to slowly troll the boat.