Spring Spawning Bluegills

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Spring Spawning Bluegills
Click to view this article in ADVENTURESS magazine spring issue.

Let’s give some credit to the little guys. After all, it is usually these small, easy-to-catch and tasty fish that brought us to our love and respect of fishing today. I know I owe that much to the bluegill.

While sometimes we like to overlook common species like this for those larger fish we dream of getting a trophy picture with, there’s really not many other fish that can compare to the bluegill. Catchable at any time of the year, often producing many opportunities, only needing basic tackle while taking a wide variety of baits, not wary and forgiving of less-than-perfect techniques, fun fighters for their small size and exceptional to eat, this makes the bluegill a great way to introduce fishing to youth and beginners. You don’t even need a boat!

Bluegills
Olivia Pudenz (right) and her grandmother Patty double on a pair of male bluegills while fishing from shore.

Abundant in many ponds and lakes, bluegills do not like current. They are closely related to largemouth bass, so where you find one, there’s an excellent chance you’ll find the other. You’ll often find them around the shoreline and structure, such as sticks, stumps or vegetation.

Spawning

Just as the rut makes bucks more aggressive and active providing hunters with better chances to harvest, spawning presents the same behaviors and opportunities to the angler for bluegills. Spring and early summer are the best times to catch bluegills because they congregate in shallow water to spawn, become very aggressive and easier to catch. Spawning peaks when the water temperature is 75 degrees, but you can often determine spawning just by looking into the water from the shore. Bluegills built their nests in shallow water usually 2 to 6 feet deep close to shore, making huge beds of saucer-shaped depressions in sandy or muddy bottoms. You’ll often be able to actually see male bluegills hovering over the nests to guard them.

Mother, daughter
Madyson Hackfort of Iowa with a beautiful male bluegill she caught with a yellow jighead, small piece of live worm and some help from mom (Laura).

This is an exciting time. With aggressive males, you can often cast out into these beds, let your bait sink into the nests and slowly retrieve it to find you catch a bluegill nearly every cast! When you feel them bite or pick up the bait, set the hook!

Most of the fish caught from these nests will be males. Males build the nest and protect the eggs against intruders. Females can be caught in nearby deeper water off the spawning beds. Take note of the locations you produce catches for males and females because the areas will be good year to year.

Summer

Some bluegill will spawn a second time early in the summer. Check into this same spawning activity and areas around late May to early June. However, as the season progresses, males will abandon the nests to travel to deeper water and the small bluegill hatched will move away to feed. Summertime bluegills are usually found at depths ranging from 10 to 12 feet along natural structure, such as edges of weed beds, deep coves and humped or flat areas, as well as man-made structures of stake beds, brush shelters, tire reefs and boat docks.

Male bluegillBoys Vs. Girls

How to identify a mature male bluegill from a mature female? During the spawn, males traditionally develop dark, orange- to reddish-colored breasts, while females are lighter and more yellow. However, for the easiest and surest way to tell the difference, look at the size of their black eartab, which is noticeably longer and broader in the male, and shorter and narrower in females.

Tackle

For the most success and most fun reeling in these tough fighters, use light line and tackle for bluegill fishing. Many prefer ultra-lite graphite spinning rods and small reels with 2- to 4-pound-test monofilament, though you can literally go as simple as a cane pole and a can of worms. Kids are able to catch bluegill with the small youth rod and reel combos as they learn about fishing.

Pumpkinseed sunfish
Ashley Rae of Ontario, Canada with the cool-looking pumpkinseed sunfish. Pumpkinseeds are the same family as bluegills and possess the same feistiness that makes them so fun to catch. See more of Ashley’s fishing adventures at SheLovesToFish.com.

Bluegills have such small mouths, so when choosing a hook, think of their mouths being about the size of the end of your pinky finger. Since their mouths are so small, you’ll also want a pair of fishing pliers handy in case you need to use them to remove a hook further passed their mouth.

For youth, a small bobber can be a great way for them to fish. Otherwise, a small 1/32-, 1/16- or possibly even a 1/8-oz. jighead with a bait is perfect. While a small piece of worm or a jig tail can work great, I prefer to use 2-1/2-inch Berkley Gulp Alive! Minnows. I’ve had such great luck with these minnows for both bluegill and largemouth bass, while they are extremely handy to not have to deal with live bait and they last longer. The Berkley Gulp Alive! Minnows are available in different colors (Emerald Shiner and Smelt are colors I often use) and come in a scented juice. If left on your hook after fishing, they dry out just like a real minnow. Impressive!

Bluegill recipe
Click to view Deep Fat Fried Bluegill Recipe!

Dinner Time!

Bluegills are not only a great way to teach youth and beginners about fishing, their liberal numbers and delicious taste are a great way to teach people about knowing where your food comes from and providing an excellent meal for your family. Check out Recipes on page 52-53 for cooking bluegills! ~JP

Palomar Knot Video
Click to watch a video on tying the Palomar fishing knot.