Fishing for Bluegills in Iowa:

Fishing for Bluegill

The bluegill is everybody's fish. Easy to catch, they are perfect for beginners but also fun for experienced anglers. They take a variety of baits, fight well for their size, are extremely good to eat, and are very abundant in many ponds and lakes.

Where to Find Them
Bluegills are not randomly spread in a lake; they gather in specific habitats, depending on the season. You must find these groups of fish to be successful. Take note of places that have catches because these spots will be good year to year.

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

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

Large river bluegills spend their summer in deeper water and gather along undercut banks often favoring fallen trees. Try also the edge of lily pads or other aquatic plants.

Bluegills move out from shore to deeper water in lakes, reservoirs and ponds in 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 sometimes can 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 have stake beds, brush shelters, tire reefs, rock piles and other fish attractors. These objects, along with boat docks or boats tied at one spot for several days, are good bluegill hangouts.

Large bluegills leave their summer hangouts around late September to prepare for fall and winter. They move from deep water to places with mid-depths, often near their spawning sites. Shoreline points that extend far out into the lake and drop off sharply often hold bluegill. Another "hot spot" is an underwater ridge or saddle in 8 to 10 feet of water. Flooded timber, brush or rock improves the fish-holding ability 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. Often schools of similar-sized fish move onto flats 10 to 12 feet deep to feed before moving back to deep water.

Equipment
Use light line and tackle. Many bluegill anglers use ultra-lite graphite spinning rods and small reels 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 so 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 tempting to fish as it squirms on the hook. A pair of needle nose pliers can help remove hooks.

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

There are many artificial baits that can catch bluegill. Thirty-second and sixty-fourth ounce lead head jigs, although tough to cast with anything but ultra-lite gear, are great 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. They rarely chase food items; it's important to fish very slowly. 

Most anglers use small bobbers 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 gather in the shallows to spawn, become very aggressive, and are 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 plants that crowd backwaters and near sunken trees. Working undercuts during summer is best done from downstream. Cast upstream and allow the current to move your bait or lure through the target habitat. Let the bait move naturally. 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 that drop into creek channels. Fish often suspend over deep water where

you can catch them 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 letting the bait or lure to be suspended at 6 to 12 feet. Repeat drifts over areas that are productive. If there is not enough wind to drift, use an electric trolling motor to slowly troll the boat.