Fly Fishing for Bluegill – Where, When & How (Everything You Need to Know!)


Ok, so bluegills may not be the most favored fish to catch on a fly rod, but they sure can be a fun species to target. These little critters and other panfish alike can be found in most ponds and still waters across the US.

Basically, where you find bass, you will find the bluegills. They are an awesome little species to hone your skills on and can grow quite large. A lot of fun can be had by kids and adults alike catching these fish on a fly.

These spiny little critters punch well above their weight and, in my mind, deserve a lot more attention than they currently get.

In the below article, I will discuss where, when, and how to catch bluegills on a fly rod and reel. I will share the tips and tactics that I have learned over the years, and hopefully, this will up your bluegill catch rate.

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A Quick Guide to Fly Fishing for Bluegill

Watch this great short video to get you amped to catch a few bluegills.

Can You Fly Fish for Bluegill?

Firstly, I would like to mention that you can catch any fish on a fly rod, you just need to ‘match the hatch, and you will be in with a chance.

Bluegills are opportunistic feeders and will eat anything from algae to ants, they will quickly devour anything that crosses their paths. At times, they can be very tricky to convince, although this is largely due to certain barometric pressure and or water temperature changes.

It’s important to remember that Bluegills have rather small mouths, and while they are quite aggressive, they can only eat certain-sized prey, so we need to keep the flies small and attractive.

Where to Find Them?

Bluegill like bass and pike can be found in almost all the water in the US. They are a small species and can thrive in any water system as long as they have a steady supply of food, and the waters do get too cold.

Jetties, bridges, and moorings are great places to find bluegills.

Bluegills love structure and find security in the fact that they are out of sight from other larger fish species as well as birds and otters. This is a great place to start a casual bluegill fishing session.

I love to take the kids down to the jetty and get them into a few fish. They can practice their casting and sharpen up their skills for setting an striking

Shallow flats – in the spring/ summer months, it can be a great time to target bluegills.

You may even land a larger specimen, bass, or pike during this session. It’s spawning time for most species over this period, and the Bluegill will go into a complete feeding frenzy.

Small poppers are great fun on light tackle, and a small jig wooly bugger is deadly.

Lilly pads – Lillies can be a great area to focus your efforts on when fishing for bluegills. The pads provide much-needed cover and protection, and anything that lands between them gets smashed!

Muddler minnows are great here, remember that you are fishing with a two, maybe a 3wt set up, so you can’t be tying on a massive mouse pattern or something along those lines. A small floating fly is a way to go.

Trees and overhanging structures are great to have to fish.

You will often find the bigger fish hanging out here, and if there is an inlet of water of sorts, then you could be in for some great fun.

Fishing these types of structures can be frustrating as you need to get up and close to them and often will get stuck and lose a fly or two.

Here, I will fish a fly with a weed guard to prevent any hang-ups or, alternatively, fish a classic dry fly that could imitate a spider, hopper, or bug of some sort.

These areas are generally very productive for fishing, so spend some time here and make the most of it. Work the area with various flies and retrieves. The fish are there; you just need to get that first eat.

bluegill close up being held in hand

What is the Best Time to Fly Fish for Bluegill?

Like your Grandpa taught you, early mornings and evenings are the best time to catch fish, right? Right, Bluegills are most active in the mornings and evenings. Sure, you can catch them in the midday heat with the sun high, but they are very vigilant and spooky.

For the mornings and evenings, my approach is very standard. I like to start with a surface fly of sorts, something that is small enough not to make too much of a disturbance but big enough to push some water and get noticed.

This usually gets them going! Surface caught Bluegill on light tackle is hard to beat.

If the surface game isn’t on for that day, I change to a small jig wooly bugger, black and red or black and olive. I tie the buggers with some added flash in them. I find fish like Bluegill, bass, and pike tend to like a little more flash, but that’s just my experience.

Whatever you end up catching the first fish on, keep at it there are sure to be more. If you find you are fishing and catching a few fish and all of a sudden the fish go off the bite, immediately switch to something bigger as they may be a bass or pike in the vicinity.

Also, check out the article on the Best Time to Catch Bluegill.

fly fishing rod on wooden table

How to Catch Bluegill with a Fly Rod?

Catching Bluegill on a fly rod and reel is pretty simple. It’s important to have the right fly for the right conditions, i.e. Surface flies for the early mornings and evenings and a sub-surface fly for the duration of the day.

How you retrieve the fly is key to catching Bluegill. I always start with a very quick erratic retrieve to see what the area is, and you generally find that the small fish launch themselves at the fly.

The large fish will make that initial burst but stop just before they eat and inspect the fly once more. It is here that I keep the fly dead still, as an insect would act, and if there is no commitment thereafter, one or two small twitches work wonders.

What Kind of Flies to Use to Catch Bluegill?

Bluegills are predatory fish and will eat almost anything. Spiders, bugs, and hoppers are all on the menu. For this reason, I mainly use attractor patterns.

Wooly buggers, Slumpbusters, and small meat whistles are a great start. Small poppers and muddler minnows are very effective as well.

When they are super picky, then a small PTN with a gold bead usually does the trick.

fly fishing equipment - fly rod, reel, backpack, fly box and flies

What Fly Rod Setup Should I Use for Bluegill?

Remember, Bluegill are generally smaller fish, so a small stream rod would be sufficient.

I like to use my SAGE launch 3wt 8’6. I find it is just perfect for throwing those smaller flies and has the backbone to cast a larger popper if I need to. Please see beginner-friendly fly rods for more information.

When fishing for Bluegill, you may come across a larger bass or pike, and you wouldn’t want to pass up that opportunity, so fish a rod and reel setup that could handle a larger fight as well.

Any setup 3-4wt would be ideal with the matching reel. A 9ft leader and 5x tippet are perfect to start the day’s mission. Again I would go slightly heavier on the tippet, say 3x if you switch to target bass.

The best fly rod and reel combos will also give you a good idea of what you may need.

freshly caught bluegill against a grass background

What Other Gear do I Need to Fly Fish for Bluegill?

When it comes to other gear for the day, I always say that it is a personal choice and preference what you take along with you.

The below items are what I take, but please feel free to add them to your own list.

Extras for a day’s bluegill fishing:

  • A good pair of sunglasses, I always carry a second low light pair as well. The low lights help for those earlier mornings and the late evenings when the visibility is bad. Remember, bluegill fish is all about the visual. You want to see that fish come to the fly and eat.
  • A second spool with a heavier line should you need to change for a bass or pike. This is when you should fish a rod setup that can take both lines.
  • A small fly box with the bigger flies in the event of the bass or pike appearance.
  • A warm fishing jacket for that morning and evening.
  • A dry bag to hold all my gear is the only bag I use these days. If I’m on a short session, then a dry bag in my fishing backpack also works wonders.

The complete fly fishing gear list is a great way to reverence your own list.

Conclusion

The answer to the heading is YES! Bluegills are an amazing small species to catch on fly rod and reel. They are great for experienced fishers to hone their skills and for a beginner to learn.

Bluegills are a very forgiving fish and will generally eat a few times before becoming shy.

So grab your stream’s rod and get out onto the nearest water, and have a go. You won’t be disappointed. If there is anything you would like the ask or add to our information, please feel free to comment down below.

Tight lines!

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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