Some of the most memorable adventures as an angler happen when catching Sunfish with friends and family. Fishing for any panfish with children or other loved ones can make a very enjoyable and productive fishing trip. The most common of the Sunfish family is the Bluegill.
Most anglers have started their fishing journeys catching this fish. Likely, it was caught on a worm or cricket on a small hook, fished under a bobber, and unhooked by mom or dad before being released. Many of us have never forgotten how to catch Bluegill, yet they do manage to elude some anglers occasionally. They are found in many bodies of water in North America.
They are often stocked as a forage fish for many predator game species. They also have outstanding features as a food fish. These fish have a reputation for having a very flaky white meat when filleted. One successful fishing day can result in a ton of delicious, fried, fish dinners to feed you and your family. They are also very fun to catch and can make a fun fishing day for the children or anybody else.
A Bit Of Basic Bluegill Biology
The first thing you need to understand is that this species is a small one. Very small. They do not get very big at all. The world record for the biggest fish weighed in at a little over 5 pounds. This may seem like a massive fish and for this species, it certainly is. This fish is the exception. Not the rule. Most specimens don’t weigh in at a single pound.
That means that your approach must be ultralight. They have been introduced into every state in the United States except Alaska. This means they are often very easy to find. In most waters, they have been introduced as forage for predator species such as Largemouth Bass, catfish, and pike.
They have a short, round, body. They are identified by the prominent dark operculum (ear) on the edge of their gills. This is how the species got its name. With that name, there also comes some other prominent features that distinguish it from other Sunfish.
The colors of the fish can vary drastically depending on the geographical location of the water as well as the age of the fish, and the environment in which they live. The colors can range anywhere from black and dark gray, to dark greens, to yellows and browns.
Most of the time, they tend to have a brightly colored belly which could be brown, yellow, or orange. They often possess vertical stripes that run down their sides. Their bodies are flat, stubby, and foiled out. Like all Sunfish, they have distinct, large, dorsal fins that easily distinguish them from other fish families. The size of their mouth is a very interesting factor to consider too. It is very, very, small.
The things they prefer to eat are also small simply because their mouth is extremely tiny in comparison to their body size. The adult diet consists of insects like crickets and grasshoppers, mayflies, water fleas, and worms or insect larvae. They will also occasionally eat minnows, the fry of predator fish, leeches, crayfish, snails, and rarely some vegetation and other plant matter.
They have even been known to even consume their own offspring if food is extremely hard to come by. They are opportunistic feeders and are not generally picky when it comes to food selection. They are known for consuming anything that can fit inside their very tiny mouths.
Where To Find Sunfish For Success
Location is key to any species. They prefer very precise water conditions to be considered permissible habitat. The very first factor is clear water. The clearest of waters are often the best places to find them. Although they exist in many local ponds and man-made lakes in which the water is very dirty, know that this is often unnatural.
Ponds that do not have very clear water are often full of these fish because the pond owner said so. Not because they prefer to be there. The water should also be calm. You never want to start your search by targeting white water or any overly aggressive currents.
The water does not necessarily have to be dead still to house a thriving population of good fish. The water can have a slight current or a few minuscule waves thrown into the mix, but anything more than that is not an optimal territory to begin your searching. You will also want to make sure that the place you intend to start fishing contains structure and cover.
These are very vulnerable fish because so many predators are after them. For this reason, a nice place to start is one that has some structure such as fallen trees, weed beds, boat docks, rock piles, and other submerged objects or ones that provide shade from the sun. These fish are a very popular choice to target from commercial boat docks for this reason.
Another very important point is to remember how the habits and hunting abilities of the fish affect the location. They are almost exclusively sight feeders. They have very good, colored, vision and they often rely on it to do all of their hunting. Because of this, it is not recommended to fish for them at night or during low light conditions. One of the best times to go after them is at the break of dawn or at dusk.
Being cold-blooded, they also have a tendency to want to stay in shaded areas under structures during the middle of the fishing day or when the sun is aggressively shining. Make sure that the water is shallower in cooler months. As the temperature gets colder, many more will start to become lethargic and hesitant to move deeper when unneeded.
You can find them in shallow water usually right near the bank. They will prefer to inhabit the shallowest of waters when possible and these are always the first locations of choice when the water is this cold. During summer, you can find them deeper. Anywhere from 1 to 20 feet is the optimal range when sunlight is harsh and the water is warmer. Go deeper to find your fish in the case of a rising thermometer. Again, look for the structure that provides the most shade.
Go Ultralight Or Go Home
Any rod will work well to catch them. Since they are not very big, to begin with, the rod does not matter too much. You can still max out regardless of the rod you decide to choose. The optimal one to choose would be a 5 to 7 foot, medium action, ultralight, all graphite spinning rod.
Any footage between 5 and 7 feet is optimal because it provides the ability to cast decently far, and it is sensitive enough to detect bites but not so much that it hinders your ability to fight or land fish. A shorter panfish rod will also make it much easier to transport in your boat or vehicle whenever you decide to take your fishing trip.
It makes it convenient to use both live bait rigs or tiny micro lures like miniature crankbaits and Crappie jigs. The medium action on the rod does a few things. Medium action means that it will start to bend around the center of the rod. This allows you great sensitivity to detect bites because you can see your rod tip move but it also acts as a shock absorber to reduce the chances that you will rip the hook out of the fish once you hook their tiny mouths. A lot of the time, you will get fish that are barely hooked.
That medium action allows enough bend so the fish cannot get enough leverage but not so much that it negatively affects your ability to successfully hook bigger gills and predator fish if you happen to hook into some. You will land much more fish this way. The next thing to consider is the ultralight power class. Ultralight gear allows you to be the most efficient if you are after very small fish. Ultralight is the smallest you can go and for good reason.
As mentioned earlier, these fish are not very big and a heavier power will hinder your ability to detect bites and often cause you to rip the hook out of their mouth. The material you want to use is all graphite. This material is often lighter to carry around than others and generally more sensitive to detecting light bites, which is what you need if you are after any kind of panfish.
A few options are open to fishermen that want the right reel. You can often be successful without worrying about it to much. The fish never see your reel. The properties to look for in a good reel include durability, materials, a smooth drag system, gear ratio, ball bearings, and other features.
You want a reel that has a smooth drag so the fish can take line if it needs to. The gear ratio is also important because it determines how much fishing line you take up when you reel in. You want a faster-moving ratio for reaction baits like crankbaits and spinners.
You want a slower moving one for live bait rigs and lures such as jigs. For one that is a good medium of fast and slow but you could only choose one, make the ratio a 5.2:1. One thing you want to remember is that it should be a spinning reel. Not a spin-casting or a baitcasting reel.
Spin-casting variants have the issue of getting tangled rather easily. While they are efficient, you should probably avoid them at all costs. They also sacrifice distance on your casts. They normally have you press a button to release the line. It is a bad idea. Also, make sure to avoid the baitcasting ones too.
These are not friendly to small fish enthusiasts because they do not readily accept the lighter lines very well which is what you are exclusively using. They also have the problem of the learning curve needed to fish them effectively without backlashing. Using a spinning rod is not only easier but more efficient than using a baitcasting one.
There is a lot of debate about which line to use. The line can become a complicated topic in the sport of fishing. This is almost as controversial as the subject of lures. There are a ton of different brands and pound tests that claim to be, “the best”.
This may play a bigger role in targeting bigger predators, but it is less important when you are targeting Sunfish of any sort. The main thing to remember is to spool up a line that is harder to see. Use a very light monofilament or copolymer line in a clear color if you can.
Since they are exclusively sight feeders, they rely on their eyes and they will be on the lookout for anything that does not appear as it should. Mono and copolymer give you a respectable level of stealth because it is harder to see the line but it also provides you with some stretch that is very forgiving. It will aid you in setting your hook without ripping it out of the fish if you yank it too hard. Make that line anything from 2-pound test up to 6. it is more or less the angler’s preference to make this call.
- Live Baits
Using live bait is the most common way to catch these fish. These fish are omnivores and are not generally picky eaters. Live bait is the most effective way and the most popular. The most effective baits have to be small enough for the fish to eat. The best thing to try out first is the natural forage. Using what they naturally eat is always going to be the best bait to try out first.
Most of the time, that will be insects, minnows, the fry of other fish, and even freshwater mussels and clams can be effective producers if that is what they eat naturally. If you cannot find out what that food is for one reason or another, try using an Earthworm, a piece of bread, corn, crickets, crayfish, or something else. These are some of the best Bluegill baits in the sport.
If you are casting into cold water, try using mealworms, wax worms, or other insect larvae. If it is hotter, use a bait that loves to move and wiggle around as much as possible such as smaller fish or leeches.
- Artificial Lures
Although using bait is by far the best method for catching these little guys, the drawing power of artificial lures to these aggressive fish is also incredible. When you choose a lure, make sure you imitate little fish or insects. Remember to try and be natural in your approach.
Little lures like miniature crankbaits are great for targeting bigger gills and lures like flies and curly tail grubs work well for the little ones. A piece of white memory foam works well as a lure for bread. Little soft plastic imitations that mimic crickets and the like work well for all sizes.
Many also stand by the catching abilities of soft plastic minnows and crappie jigs. Other great lures for these panfish consists of the split tail spinner, rooster tail, and soft plastic worm. Pretty much any lure will work to catch them as long as it is small enough and fished correctly. This species of fish have a habit of just eating anything they can easily swallow and this makes it much easier for the angler to hook up with a few more.
Using little crankbaits or other lures that have exposed treble hooks is always a great option. If the fish never fully gets the lure inside its mouth, the hooks can still get the fish. Lures may prove harder to use when after small fish and for this reason, bait may be your best option for them.
How To Fish Live Bait For Sunfish
You have your spinning rod in hand, you are keeping your minnows alive, and you have now found a school of fish. Now what? You need to set up your rig so you can catch some. There are certainly many more ways to rig up some live bait to produce some good results but there are a few ways in particular that have proven to be especially effective. All of the rigs below can be used to target all sizes during every season of the year. They will work for pretty much every live bait you could use.
1. Slip Bobber Rig
A very effective and versatile float rig that we recommend is the slip bobber rig. Slip bobber fishing is one of the most versatile styles of float fishing out there. Unlike traditional bobbers that rest on the line in a fixed position, the slip bobber slides up and down the line.
This allows you to change the depth you are fishing very quickly and efficiently. It also provides weight to help you cast it further. It is a good rig that can be used in cold water as well as warmer. The very first thing you want to do is tie a stopper knot.
After that, you want to add a plastic bead, a slip bobber, a split shot, and a baited hook. Set the stopper knot at the depth you want to fish at. The bead and the bobber will float up to the knot when you cast and suspend your hook at this distance.
The split shot can be pinched onto the line in different places depending on if you want a weighted bobber, a weighted hook, or somewhere in between if you want to mix the two. It is not an exact science. You must experiment and try for yourself to see what works best for you.
2. Basic Bobber Rig
The second rig is the most basic of Sunfish fishing and it is likely the first one many have started out with. Many anglers have caught their first Bluegill on this rig and this is how many anglers started their adventures. The rig is made up of some very basic components that cost next to nothing to assemble.
It consists of a bobber, a split shot, and a hook baited with the natural forage. Take your line and tie a small bait hook to the end. Go up the line about 6 to 8 inches or more depending on how deep the fish are, and attach your bobber. Crimp the split shot one inch below the bobber. This is a good rig to use when the fish are in the shallow to mid-range of the water column.
You can use it for targeting all sizes. It also serves as a good start for catching every other species of panfish. It makes a great rig as Summer and hotter weather rolls around but can be used in colder environments as well as through the ice if you are an ice fisherman.
3. High Low Rig
The High Low Rig is another excellent rig for targeting any fish that will readily eat bait. What you get with this rig is the ability to catch more than one fish at a time and a superb lifelike movement to your baits. You tie it by attaching a sinker, making two or more surgeon’s loop knots, passing the end of the loops between the eyes of the hooks and over the hook itself.
You can be successful in all temperatures of water using it. It is a great one. The only downside is that you must use this one in open water. Having lengths of line and hooks as shown can tangle up very easily if the water you are at has a lot of snags. It is recommended to tie it with monofilament.
How To Fish Artifical Lures For Sunfish
How you plan to fish your lures is heavily dependant on which one you decide to tie on. Many different styles of baits have different methods for fishing them correctly as well as factors such as setting the hook and the weather in which you should use them.
Generally speaking, there are a few things to keep in mind about the way to fish them. The first thing is your selection of bait choices. What lure are you using?
You want to retrieve lures like miniature crankbaits, spoons, swimbaits, spinners, and jigs with a tail. You can just reel them straight in (a straight retrieve) or you can experiment with slowing it down and popping it through the water to entice bites.
Lures such as spinnerbaits, curly tail grubs, paddle tail minnows, jigging spoons, and swimming lures should always be reeled in to get their maximum effectiveness. For lures such as Crappie tubes, straight tails, and other soft plastic lures without a tail, you will want to cast them out, give them a good pop, and wait.
The design of such lures requires that enough action is present to get the attention of fish nearby but not enough that any fish is afraid of taking a strike. You can also fish them under a bobber to keep them at the right depth. These are what are called dead baits or cold water lures.
Lures like your maribou jig, soft plastic tubes, bucktail jigs, straight tail minnows, and flies fit this category. You can use them in the coldest of waters with much success and are the most effective when you are on top of the fishing spot.
Bluegill Fishing In A Nutshell
When you consider everything about the sport, some of the best fun can be had targeting panfish. It makes sense that many anglers start fishing by catching their first fish. Most of the time, that fish is a Bluegill or other type of Sunfish.
If you apply the knowledge you learn to your fishing game, you can catch so many more panfish. You can have many successful days of catches when you learn how to catch Bluegill properly. In its most basic form, it is easy, especially when you know what you are doing.
What is your favorite method of reeling in these Sunfish? Don’t forget to leave us a comment below to tell us how you do it!