Bluegill, or bream, is a species of sunfish found throughout the United States that typically fill the role of every angler’s first fish. These feisty little fish can be caught on pretty much anything and everything- bread, crickets, worms, minnows, and of course artificial lures.
But what about on the fly rod? Absolutely.
Bluegill on a fly rod is a great time for anglers of all ages and skill levels. The fish can also be found almost anywhere too which helps with accessibility.
The real question is- how does one go about catching the bluegill on the fly rod?
The Fish – What Is A Bluegill Or Bream
Bluegill is a native sunfish species living throughout the United States in ponds, rivers, streams, and lakes. Bluegill are mainly found anywhere east of the Rocky Mountains. They feed naturally on insects, crustaceans, worms, and small minnows. The bluegill can range in size from less than a pound and upwards to four pounds.
These fish are very aggressive and can not only be a great first fish for a young angler but a challenge and thrill for a fly fisherman. Beware, although they do not have any teeth, their dorsal fins contain very painful spines that must be pushed down gently when attempting hook removal or release.
Although they are a target for hungry anglers, they are also a favorite morsel for largemouth bass, striped bass, musky, and pike. This is why we must respect the rules and regulations for keeping bream; they may be food for us, but they also feed other fish we like to catch.
Fly Fishing For Bluegill & Panfish
Where To Fly Fish For Gills
Bluegill is not like larger predatory fish in that they are ambush hunters. They are opportunistic feeders that simply either hold in schools around structure or swim around a shoreline. Once they are presented with a floating insect or injured minnow, they do not hesitate to scarf it down.
Fly anglers can fish for bluegill in the same streams they would fish for trout, as well as in lakes, rivers, and ponds.
Bluegill is notorious pond targets and can quickly be found either through seeing them pop little bugs on the surface, or if it is the right time of year, spotting their spawning beds. They can also be found in lakes this way. However, if an angler has a depth finder, locating underwater structures such as a ledge or submerged tree can help pinpoint them too.
In rivers and streams, fly anglers should target shorelines, especially with overhangs. These fish will either feed on food that is swept down to them or snatch up bugs that fall out of the trees overhead.
What Tackle I Used For Panfish
Fly fishing for bream is relatively cheap and easy. They are light tackle fish so no heavy-duty rod and reel is required.
Fly anglers should use two or three weight line class setups. The lighter rod and reels help the angler cast the smaller lines, feel the bites when using a subsurface fly, and provide a more fun fight than if a heavier setup was used. Use caution though as a hungry largemouth will happily take a presentation intended for bluegill.
For a tippet, light tippet material such as 5x is just fine. These fish do not get very big and you want to ensure a stealthy presentation. Although the occasional bass or bowfin may take your fly so be ready.
Flies that can be used to catch bream include hoppers, poppers, divers, worms, bait fish, and crustacean patterns. These flies should be tied on size eight to size 12 hooks. Bluegill has a very small mouth, even the bigger ones.
Specific fly patterns that work well for bluegill are Sneaky Petes, Stealth Bombers, any popper, Wooly Buggers or Wooly Worms, Foam Spider, or really small Clouser Minnows. These are all great patterns to try out.
If an angler is tying their own flies, these flies are some of the easiest to tie. Minimal materials and minimal effort. In fact, no particular recipe has to be followed. A few pieces of feather, some flashy material, and a head of some sort whether foam or a bead, and you have yourself a bluegill fly.
Fly Fishing Techniques That Work For Bluegill
Bream can be targeted in a variety of different ways. From vessel or shore, a fly angler can opt for any approach they may to locate and catch these sunfish.
If a boat is unavailable, the fly angler can easily walk a shoreline and either blind cast or sight fish. Wading is another option if the water permits; use safety and common sense by considering weather, alligators, cottonmouths, and water depths.
When using a vessel, a canoe or Jon boat work best. They can get to the shallow areas you need to be to target these fish and offer a more stealthy approach. The angler should either set up adrift in the current along a shoreline or over a lily pad patch. If a school is found or a large target area such as a lily pad area or large submerged structure, the angler can anchor up and catch their fill.
When fly fishing for bluegill or other panfish, the main approach is a top water fly of some sorts- either a popper, diver or dry fly.
A slightly advanced technique is to use the “hopper dropper” method. With this technique, the angler uses a top water fly such as a popper or grasshopper pattern, and tied to that main fly is a small length of a leader with a subsurface pattern such as a worm or bait fish pattern. The idea is that the surface fly creates noise and disturbance to attract the fish and they either eat the surface fly or the fly beneath it.
Other techniques include blind casting, sight fishing, and drifting.
Blind casting involves the angler hand-picking spots to cast to as they look the most likely for a fish to be. Fallen trees, submerged logs, rocks, weeds, lily pads, debris, and docks are all great places to make blind casts.
Sight fishing can be done only in clear water and with the use of polarized sunglasses. The fly angler spots the fish and then makes a cast to the fish in a way that the fly is presented in a natural and stealthy way. Most of the time, if the angler hits the fish with the fly they spook.
Drifting a fly can be very effective. Typically done in rivers, streams, and creeks, the angler casts a fly upstream in a way that it will drift into an area (under an overhang, over a log, etc.) that fish may be lying in wait. This is best done with a surface pattern fly so the angler can watch the fly to keep it from being snagged and to know when the fish eats. This is similar to how dry fly anglers catch trout.
Other Panfish You Can Fly Fish For
When targeting bluegill, it is not uncommon for a fly angler to hook up on other fish. Other panfish such as crappie, warmouth, perch, and pumpkinseeds (shellcrackers) will all jump on a bluegill intended fly.
Each of these fish behaves similarly to bluegill in that they seek the same shelter and prefer the same food sources. Other than perch, they all are generally the same size as bluegill too so your tippet material and fly size will not be an issue if you incidentally hook one.
All of these fish can be handled on a three-weight line class and are equally as fun as bream are. They are all also as tasty as bluegill are.
Other Equipment You Can Use To Catch Fish
There are some other tools and equipment that a fly angler should keep handy when targeting bluegill on the fly.
Be sure to bring extra leader material and in some cases small split-shots. The leader needed for these fish is so light that either a snag or an unexpected smallmouth bass can break you off. The split-shots can be used to get a fly down to the depths where the fish may be located, just like trout fishing.
As with any fishing, a good pair of polarized sunglasses should be used. This can help the angler see spawning beds, underwater structures, and the fish themselves.
A good pair of forceps or pliers are handy for hook removal. Be sure to “pet” the fish when grabbing them as they have very painful dorsal fins.
A stringer or bucket is necessary if you are looking to catch dinner. A ruler is good too so as to ensure the fish are proper length (or just to brag to your buddies). If you are planning on keeping your catch, be sure to check your local rules and regulations regarding seasons, bag limits, and minimal lengths for bluegill and any panfish you may encounter.
Bluegill And Fly Fishing Is Worth Your Time
Bluegill are certainly an underrated fish, especially on the fly rod. I firmly believe if bluegill grew as big as muskie, then we would never have bass tournaments. These fish are very aggressive and in bountiful numbers.
Anyone looking to target these fish just needs a three-weight rod and reel, a box full of little flies, and a little bit of patience. A quick and easy way to locate a good bluegill hole is to talk to your local fly shop. They can not only point you in the right direction but can help get you set up to fly fish for these fun fish. Be sure to exchange any knowledge shared with in-shop purchases.
Once the fish are found, enjoy hours of exciting blow-ups on top water flies and feisty pulls from fish that never disappoint when it comes to providing entertainment. These fish can be anyone’s first fish, but a fly angler may end up fishing them until it is their last fish.