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Illinois hunting and fishing

Bluegills are the most widely available fish in many areas, and good-size ‘gills are worthy fighters and superb table fare. Here, a nice summer bluegill fell to a Lindy Little Nipper jig. Spend some time this year pursuing bluegills in addition to other species.

Catching bluegills galore

July 04, 2012 at 10:43 AM

Mark Strand Outdoors

It’s a cinch that bluegills don’t get the respect they deserve. Most anglers prefer the thrill of playing tug of war with a huge muskie or watching a smallmouth bass rocket out of the water or feeling the throb of a super-sized walleye. Bluegills are bait, bite-sized morsels for most larger gamefish.

But bluegills have a place in the fishing world. For one, they’re a great way to introduce kids to the sport while spending quality time with the family on a hot summer day when prospects for catching other fish are slim.  For another, some people think ‘gills are the fillet mignon of freshwater fish. And who can deny that bluegills fight like heavyweights on ultralight gear?

Like any other species of fish, catching the big ‘gills isn’t a sure thing. There’s a science to finding big bluegills just like there’s a science to finding big muskies or walleyes or bass. Don’t laugh when we use “big” and “bluegill” in the same sentence. The world record bluegill weighed in at more than 4 pounds!

We don’t promise this article will lead you to the next record.  But, you just might learn a trick or two that can make your next ‘gill outing a thrill for the kids and the kid inside you.  A 9-inch bluegill is a beautiful fish to behold.

First some facts.

• The scientific name for bluegill is Lepomis macrochirus. But they go by a number of names depending on what section of the country you’re in.  A few of their aliases are bream, copperbelly, sunfish, yellow belly, baldface, and sun granny.

Bluegills are members of the sunfish family along with (guess what?) largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, spotted bass, crappies and a few others. Adult fish range from 6 inches to 10 inches.  But as mentioned earlier, the world record is 4 pounds, 12 ounces.  That fish came from Ketona Lake, Ala., in 1950 when Give ‘Em Hell Harry S, Truman was in the White House.  It’s a record that might stand for years to come – or it could be broken tomorrow.

Besides identifying with the runt of the fishing world, kids love bluegills because they’re literally everywhere from farm ponds, local lakes, reservoirs, rivers and streams from Canada to Mexico and all points in between.

Bluegill spawn when the water temperature reaches 65 to 70 degrees F, and spawning can last from April in the south through the summer months in the north. Tradition has it the very best time to catch bluegills is at the peak of spawn during the full moon of June. But bluegills don’t all spawn at the same time and some female fish in the Midwest have spawned as many as nine times from May to September, according to the scientists. Fish move into shallow, sandy spawning areas featuring huge numbers of nests. Savvy anglers are out during the full-moon phase of July and August.  But don’t wait until spawning time. They can be caught during the day when they find shade and cover in weed beds, submerged trees, rocks, and docks. They can be caught at night near lit docks where they come to feast on insects attracted by the lights. They can be caught around the calendar, making them a favorite of ice fishermen.

Bluegills eat whatever they can get.  Small ‘gills eat plankton, but larger gills eat insects and worms, tiny minnows, even crayfish.

Because bluegills are so good at reproducing, competition for food can create situations where bluegill populations are stunted.  The best bluegill lakes often feature many, but smaller predators like largemouth bass that can keep the bluegills in check.

Scientists are also looking at newer research that indicates bluegills might also stunt for another reason. Over-harvesting of big bluegills in a lake can remove the natural incentive for bluegills to grow large to dominate the population and have the best chances to reproduce.  That means bluegills can be successful spawners when they are small and once fish start expending energy spawning, they have less energy to devote to growing larger.

The bottom line: don’t take many big bluegills from their nests. Leave them to present a benchmark for other bluegills to reach before they mature.

Finding Big ‘Gills

The biggest challenge to getting a stringer of bluegills isn’t catching them.  It’s finding them.  The process starts with selecting the right lakes. Expect the lakes nearest population centers and popular parks to get hammered. Try targeting remote lakes that others overlook. The harder a lake is to reach, the better the panfishing may be.

You know those good walleye lakes you enjoy spending time on?  Forget them when it comes to bluegills.  Deep clear lakes may be great for ‘eyes.  But Bluegills, not so much.  Instead, look for weedy lakes with a mix of hard and muck bottoms. Deep water is not mandatory.  Some of the best bluegill haunts are extremely shallow.

Target weed edges, especially points and inside turns, and places where different types of vegetation meet.

Catching Big ‘Gills

Use slip floats like the Thill Mini-Shy Bite. Weight them properly so they balance perfectly with a small ice jig, a regular jig or a small hook and allow just one-eighth of an inch of the red tip of the float to peek from the water.  Action below the water will be telegraphed to the float anytime a fish touches the bait.

If you choose a jig, try small ice jigs like Fat Boys or #8 Frostees. Little Nippers and 1/32-ounce Fuzz E Grub jigs are also excellent choices.  Dress the jigs with wax worms, spikes, nightcrawler pieces, small leeches or crickets. Try letting the bait rest below the float first.  If that doesn’t work, lightly jiggle it to see if the fish want some action to the jig. You can also cast along the weed edge or over the top of the weeds.  Try this action…reel, stop, reel, stop, then slowly bring it back to the boat.  This action imparts an irresistible swim, drop, swim, drop action.

Adjust the bobber stop up or down to test different depths in the water column. Bluegills move shallower and deeper to feed on light-sensitive plankton, which change depth during the course of a day. If the fish stop biting, try changing depths before you move.

Bluegills are proof that good things can come in small packages.

Note: Takasaki is teaming up with Anderson Trucking Service to offer fishing tips to the company’s drivers, along with the chance to win all-expenses-paid fishing trips with the Hall of Fame angler. Ted’s Tips are found at, along with information on joining this industry leader, founded in 1955. Interested drivers can also call 1-855-JOIN-ATS.

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