Official State of Iowa Website Here is how you know


Bluegill, illustration by Maynard Reece, from Iowa Fish and Fishing.


A deep, slab-sided sunfish with a small mouth. Its upper jaw does not reach the front of the eye when its mouth is closed. The spiny dorsal fin has 10 spines and is joined broadly to the soft dorsal fin, but there is no notch. The pectoral fins are long and pointed and extend past the eye when they are bent in a forward position. There is usually a black spot or blotch near the base of the soft dorsal fin and a black, flexible tip on the gill cover. Its back and sides are dark olive-green with emerald and brownish reflections. The breast and belly are yellow or reddish-orange. Males in breeding colors often have a deep red, almost dark brown breast. The sides usually display vertical bars, but these are more prominent in smaller fish. The chin and gill covers are bright blue, giving the bluegill its name.


Bluegill Distribution

Bluegill is the most abundant and widespread member of the sunfish family in Iowa. It is found in nearly all Iowa waters, but is more abundant in lakes and ponds than in streams and rivers. This fish is not commonly found in western Iowa streams, but is occasionally found in most eastern Iowa interior rivers. It is very abundant in the backwaters and sloughs of the Mississippi River.


Aquatic insects, small fish and crayfish.

State Record

3 lbs 2 oz; 12.88 in. - Farm Pond, Madison County, July 1986 - Phil Algreen, Earlham, Iowa

Expert Tip

Use small hooks (#8) with a long shank when fishing with live bait.


Aside from farm ponds and impoundments, the largest populations of Bluegill are in warm pools and backwaters of low-gradient streams, and particularly in overflow pools along floodplains with some aquatic vegetation or other cover. Researchers note that stream populations may be sustained by fish continuously escaping from impoundments. The Bluegill is intolerant of continuous high-turbidity, siltation and flowing waters, although in Wisconsin, Bluegill were often found in moderately swift waters of streams.

Bluegills eat zooplankton when young, but switch to aquatic insects after they mature. The small-sized mouth of this fish limits the size of food particles ingested and almost dictates a diet of insects and similar small organisms. While insects remain the staple food item for adults, crayfish, snails, small fish and fish eggs are also eaten. Algae and other vegetation are eaten when normal food items are scarce. Fish lice, Argulus, have been identified in Bluegill stomach contents, showing that these fish may perform a "cleaning" function on heavily parasitized fish.

Bluegill spawn over a wide period, usually from late May to early August in Iowa, but peak spawning happens in early June. Water temperatures during the spawning season are 70 to 80 degrees. Males built nests in 1 to 4 feet of water along the shore, over diverse substrate materials, but sand and gravel are preferred. The nests are saucer-shaped depressions about 1 to 2 feet in diameter. From the shore, the colony of nests look like "elephant tracks". The aggressive males often build nests, almost touching adjoining nests. It is common to find as many as 50 nests in a 75-foot radius. Most nests are only 2- to 3-inches deep, and the male fish keep them fanned free of silt.

After nests are built, the ripe male selects a gravid female and lures her toward the nest with aggressive nudges and bites. Few females lay all their eggs in one nest, so each nest has the eggs of several females. The males guard the nest from all intruders and keep the eggs free from silt. Sometimes Bluegill hybridize with other members of the sunfish family, like Redear Sunfish, Green Sunfish and Pumpkinseed. Males make grunting noises during spawning and may be attracted to spawning areas by odor. Finer substrates produce the most fry per nest with an average of about 64,000 on sand and fine gravel.

Bluegill growth varies with population density. High population density limits growth while the opposite occurs with low density. Bluegill will reach 1- to 2-inches long on average in their first year of life. Most Bluegill in Iowa reach 3.5, 4.5, and 6-inches long in their second, third, and fourth year of life. Bluegills mature during the second year under suitable conditions, but slower growth will delay maturity to the third year. Bluegill reach up to 12-inches long and weigh up to 2 pounds, but most Bluegill caught by anglers are seldom over 8-inches. 

Bluegill are the most commonly caught, and one of the most highly sought after, species in Iowa. These fish are extremely important to anglers. Recent stream sampling information is available from Iowa DNR's biological monitoring and assessment program.


Harlan, J.R., E.B. Speaker, and J. Mayhew. 1987. Iowa fish and fishing. Iowa Conservation Commission, Des Moines, Iowa. 323pp.

Loan-Wilsey, A. K., C. L. Pierce, K. L. Kane, P. D. Brown and R. L. McNeely. 2005. The Iowa Aquatic Gap Analysis Project Final Report. Iowa Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Iowa State University, Ames

Illustration by Maynard Reece, from Iowa Fish and Fishing.


Present in these Iowa water bodies:

1 2 3 4 5Next
Lake/Stream County Location Acres/Length
Pool 9, Mississippi River Allamakee River Mile 647.9 at Lynxville, WI upstream to River Mile 679.2 at Genoa WI. 35169.00
Pool 19, Mississippi River Lee Amenities listed are at City of Ft. Madison boat ramp. Amenities vary by location in Pool 19 33500.00
Pool 13, Mississippi River Clinton Between Bellevue and Clinton, Iowa. Pool 13 Starts at River Mile 556.7 28117.00
Pool 11, Mississippi River Dubuque River Mile 583 at Dubuque, IA upstream to River Mile 615 at Guttenberg, IA. 19875.00
Red Rock Reservoir Marion 4 miles north of Knoxville 15250.00
Pool 18, Mississippi River Louisa Amenities listed are for the Toolsboro Ramp. The ramp at Toolsboro is paved but the road to the ramp is gravel. There is some shore fishing along the parking area and at the outlet of Lake Odessa. Amenities vary by location in pool 18 13300.00
Pool 16, Mississippi River Scott The amenities list are for Buffalo Shores campground in Buffalo, Iowa. Amenities at other locations in Pool 16 vary by location. 13000.00
Pool 12, Mississippi River Jackson Between Dubuque and Bellevue, Iowa 12349.00
Pool 14, Mississippi River Scott Located between Clinton and Davenport, starts at River Mile 522.5 10291.00
Pool 17, Mississippi River Muscatine Amenities list for Muscatine City Ramp. This ramp is located in downtown Muscatine. Amenities vary by location in Pool 17. 7580.00
Spirit Lake Dickinson One mile North of Spirit Lake 5684.00
Saylorville Reservoir Polk North edge of Des Moines 4970.00
West Okoboji Lake Dickinson northwest edge of Arnolds Park 3847.00
Clear Lake Cerro Gordo south edge of Clear Lake 3684.00
Pool 15, Mississippi River Scott Between Davenport, Iowa and Rock Island Illinois. Starts at River Mile 482.9 3626.90
Lake Odessa Louisa 5 miles east of Wapello 3000.00
East Okoboji Lake Dickinson east edge of Okoboji 1835.00
Big Timber Complex Louisa Two miles south of Muscatine, IA off of X-61/Stewart Rd. 1252.00
Lost Island Lake Palo Alto 3 miles north of Ruthven 1162.00
Silver Lake (Dickinson) Dickinson west edge of Lake Park 1065.00
Rice Lake Winnebago 1 mile south, 1 mile east of Lake Mills 1000.00
Five Island Lake Palo Alto north edge of Emmetsburg 973.00
Lake Macbride Johnson 4 miles West of Solon 940.00
Black Hawk Lake Sac east edge of Lake View 922.00
Three Mile Lake Union 3 miles northwest of Afton 880.00
Big Creek Lake Polk 2 miles north of Polk City 814.00
DeSoto Bend at DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge Harrison 5 miles west of Missouri Valley at DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge 811.00
Big Lake (Lansing) Allamakee 3 m N Lansing 800.00
Lake Manawa Pottawattamie Southwest edge of Council Bluffs 784.70
Little River Watershed Lake Decatur 1 mile west of Leon 733.00
Chain-O-Lakes Area Linn 2 miles East of Palo 700.00
Brushy Creek Lake Webster 5 miles east of Lehigh 690.00
Lake Icaria Adams 4 miles north of Corning 648.00
Twelve Mile Creek Lake Union 4 miles east of Creston 635.00
Little Spirit Lake Dickinson 4 miles north of Orleans 604.00
Browns Lake Woodbury 2 miles west of Salix 580.00
Lake Sugema Van Buren 3 miles southwest of Keosauqua 579.00
Green Island Lake Jackson 1m E green Island 526.00
Rock Creek Lake Jasper 4 miles northeast of Kellogg 466.20
North Twin Lake Calhoun 4 miles north of Rockwell City 453.00
Lake Delhi Delaware 3m W Delhi 448.00
Pleasant Creek Lake Linn 4 miles North of Palo 400.00
Lost Grove Lake Scott Six miles east of Eldridge 400.00
Badger Lake Monona 380.00
East Hottes Dickinson 378.00
Snyder Bend Lake Woodbury 1 1/2 miles west of Salix 375.00
Swan Lake Dickinson 2m N Superior 371.00
Ingham Lake Emmet 6 miles east of Wallingford 357.00
Middle Sabula Lake Jackson W edge of City of Sabula 350.00
Green Valley Lake Union 2 1/2 miles northwest of Creston 338.00
West Lake (Osceola) Clarke 2 miles west of Osceola 320.00
Silver Lake (Worth) Worth 10 miles west, 3 1/2 miles north of Northwood 316.00
Carter Lake Pottawattamie North edge of Carter Lake. 315.00
Lake Darling Washington 4 miles west of Brighton 303.00
Lake Wapello Davis 7 miles west of Drakesville on the west side of V17 289.00
Roberts Creek Lake Marion 6 miles northeast of Knoxville 288.00
Badger Creek Lake Madison 5 miles southeast of Van Meter 276.00
Blue Lake Monona 3 miles west of Onawa 275.00
Brinker Lake Black Hawk N edge Waterloo, located within George Wyth State Park. 270.00
Bays Branch Guthrie 2 miles southeast of Yale 270.00
Crystal Lake Hancock north edge of Crystal Lake 264.00
Lake Belva Deer Keokuk 5 miles northeast of Sigourney 264.00
Martens Lake Bremer 1 mi E of Tripoli 255.00
Lower Gar Lake Dickinson ½ mile south of Arnolds Park 251.00
Little Wall Lake Hamilton 1 1/2 miles south of Jewell 249.00
Muskrat Slough Jones 3 miles West of Olin 245.00
Bussey Lake Clayton 2 m N Guttenberg 240.00
Blue Heron Lake (Raccoon River Park) Polk southwest of West Des Moines; Raccoon River Park 232.00
Summit Lake Union West edge of Creston 230.00
Center Lake Dickinson 2 miles west, 1/2 miles south of Spirit Lake 220.00
Nashua Impoundment (Cedar Lake) Chickasaw Located on the east edge of Nashua. 200.00
Dale Maffitt Reservoir Polk 6m SW Des Moines 200.00
Prairie Rose Lake Shelby 8 miles southeast of Harlan 196.10
Quarry Springs Jasper At the 117 South exit off of Interstate 80, Colfax 193.00
Lake Geode Henry 4 miles southwest of Danville 185.70
Hawthorn Lake Mahaska 1 mile south of Barnes City on the east side of V13 182.00
Big Hollow Lake Des Moines 3 miles west of Sperry 178.00
Easter Lake Polk southeast edge of Des Moines 162.60
Lake Anita Cass 1/2 mile south of Anita 159.00
Don Williams Lake Boone 5 miles north of Ogden 151.00
Medicine Creek Wetland Wayne 3 miles southeast of Clio on the north side of Aurora and the west side of 100th in the Medicine Creek Wildlife Area 145.00
Morris Lake Lucas 2 miles east of Chariton on the south side of 482nd Street 141.00
Lake Miami Monroe 5 miles southeast of Lovilia on the west side of 635th Avenue 137.00
Ada Hayden Heritage Park Lake Story North side of Ames, west of Grand Avenue/Highway 69. 137.00
Viking Lake Montgomery 4 miles east of Stanton 136.00
Volga Lake Fayette Located 3 miles north of Fayette. 135.00
South Sabula Lake Jackson 130.00
Norwegian Lake Clayton 130.00
Deep Lakes Muscatine Southern edge of Muscatine on Pettibone Avenue, East of Fruitland. 130.00
Methodist Lake Clayton 120.00
Swan Lake Carroll 3 miles southeast of Carroll 120.00
Minnewashta Lake Dickinson 1/2 mile south of Arnolds Park 118.00
Lake Ahquabi Warren 5 miles southwest of Indianola 118.00
Iowa Lake (Iowa Co.) Iowa 5 miles North of Millersburg 107.00
Iowa River (Marshalltown to Coralville Lake) Iowa This stretch is located in Marshall, Tama, the SW corner of Benton, Iowa, and Johnson County. A popular access is at the Hwy 21 Access, which is part of the Iowa River Corridor Wildlife Area, just south of Belle Plaine. 104.00
Union Grove Lake Tama 4 miles South of Gladbrook 100.00
Diamond Lake Poweshiek 1 mile West of Montezuma 98.00
Lake of Three Fires Taylor 3 miles northeast of Bedford 97.00
Bob White Lake Wayne 2 miles west of Allerton on the north side of J46 96.00
Centerville Upper Reservoir Appanoose South edge of Centerville in Lelah Bradley Park along 210th Avenue 96.00
1 2 3 4 5Next