Fly Fishing for Bluegill

Fly Fishing for Bluegill and Other Panfish

ANGLR Expert Jon Dietz started fly fishing about 10 years ago, but being originally from Northeast Pennsylvania he didn’t really have a lot of access to trout waters. What he could find were ponds full of bass, bluegill and other panfish. That’s how he grew up practicing, fly fishing for bluegill and other panfish!

So tune in as Dietz gives you the full breakdown on how to get started!

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Getting Started Fly Fishing for Bluegill

I’ve been fly fishing all-in-all for around 10 or 11 years. My mother got me a fly tying kit for Christmas one year. I started fly tying before I started actually fly fishing. I used them on conventional gear. The real driving factor was that I chase steelhead a lot, being from Erie. When I would go, all the guys that were using flies and fly rods were catching way more fish than I was, so I wanted to figure out how to do this thing.

So I got myself a fly rod, and my buddy got one at the same time. We were using live bait on fly rods because we thought we were cool. Then I finally broke my fly tying kit out and started taking fly tying lessons.

It grew into an obsession from there.

Why Fly Fishing for Bluegill?

Fly Fishing for Bluegill(1)

You can catch panfish literally everywhere. It’s the most overlooked fish, I think.

Ice fishermen target them a lot because they’re plentiful and they fight really well on light tackle, but they’re forgotten about for the majority of the year. As soon as the ice is gone, no one thinks about them. But they’re everywhere. You can catch them in farm ponds, lakes; pretty much any lake in Pennsylvania is going to be home to one of the eight species of bluegill that reside in PA.

There are actually quite a few anglers that enjoy fly fishing for bluegill. They’re extremely fun fish to fight. As bad of a rap as bluegill have for not being any fun to catch, they really do put up a fight!

I use a five or six-weight fly rod, which is what you’d use to catch trout or smaller bass, and those bluegill put up a really good fight, especially when you find them in the 10” to 12” range. They can really pull pretty hard. They use their flat body when they swim to sort of parallel you. That large body disperses a lot of water and makes them feel a lot bigger than they are.

They’re actually one of my favorite fish to go catch in the spring. I have another buddy who feels the same way, so every spring we get super amped about it because they spawn in the bays of Presque Isle and we’ll take our kayaks out and head out bluegill fishing. Everyone looks at us like we’re crazy! We actually like to consider bluegills the “gateway drug” to the rest of the fishing world.

They’re great for smaller children and people that are just getting into fishing because they’re so aggressive and so prolific. Generally you can have a great day and not have to sit forever before you catch one. Their action is generally fast and furious, they fight really well, especially on smaller rods and lighter tackle. You can keep catching them all day long. It’s a great introduction into fishing.

Where to Look When Fly Fishing for Bluegill

In the spring and fall bluegills are pretty easily accessible because they stay really close to shore. In the spring and early summer, they spawn way up shallow, in the same places largemouth bass do. They rely on the areas that don’t have a lot of vegetation, so a lot of times they’ll be right up along a boat launch or access areas.

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That makes them really easy to access for everyone.

But as the water gets warmer, they push out deeper in the bigger lakes so it’s hard to target them in the summer with fly fishing gear. But if you have access to a pond, they don’t really have that many places to travel to, so they’re usually always within casting distance.

By using my ANGLR App with the Bullseye, I can keep track of where my catches are, along with all the pertinent information like time of day and weather and water conditions, so I know right when and where to come back on my next trip.

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Fly Fishing for Bluegill: Flies and Gear

You’re using basically the same motions for everything- the hooksets are the same, the same flies, same rod and reel. I just got the practice I needed for trout on bluegills! The lines you use for fly fishing vary in weight, to give different sinking times, depending on what you’re looking to do.

As far as panfish go, they’re pretty easy to catch if you can find them. They’re opportunistic, which is what really makes them so prolific.

They can feed on a variety of different things. As far as flies go, you want to throw pretty small flies in the 12-14 size range. Look for anything that appears “buggy” like a small aquatic insect. They’re going to eat it; they’re pretty aggressive when it comes to that.

Generally when I’m fishing for bluegill, I’ll fish a lot of wet flies and small streamers, or dry flies. Because they have small mouths, it limits what you can throw and get away with. They’ll hit at anything, but when it comes to hook-up percentage, I think the size 12-14 little wet flies work best. You can fish them just under the surface.

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Whatever you do, make sure that you’re using flies that have been finished well. You need them to be indestructible because the bluegill have very small, fine, sharp teeth that can really tear fine thread apart pretty quickly. I like to tie my own because I’ll really put a good finish on it that won’t be destroyed very easily.

Fly Fishing for Bluegill: Locations and Movement

Early in the summer when they first start spawning, they can gather in huge colonies of 60 to 100 fish. You’ll pull up and it’ll look like someone threw a dozen dinner plates on the bottom because they make those big nests. They get incredibly aggressive at that time, so you can catch them on dry flies or anything. I’ll put three flies on at a time and space them out about five feet, and I can catch three at a time. That makes for a really fun time.

The real key with bluegills is that they like movement.

You’ve always got to keep something moving in front of them to really keep their attention. If it stops and sits for too long, generally they lose interest and back out. If I’m fishing a dry fly on top, I’ll fan cast in an area where I think the fish are, then I’ll give it an 8 to 10 second count before I twitch it and leave it sit again for another few seconds before I twitch it again. If I’m fishing a wet fly just under the surface I won’t generally give them more than a one or two second pause. The size makes them really easy for fish to eat, and that movement just drives them crazy.

Generally the only time I’ll stop something is if there’s a bluegill that’s sitting on a nest. He’ll want to keep that nest clean of all debris, so he’ll pick it up to move it. If I put it on the nest and let it rest, he’ll either think that something is eating the eggs, or he’ll want to clean it off because he wants the females to think he has a really nice looking nest.

These are just a great fish to go after, all around. You can find them just about anywhere, you won’t get bored waiting for them to show up, and they’ll give you one good fight. What more could you ask for?


This article was contributed by an ANGLR Expert

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Jonathan Dietz

ABOUT Jonathan

I am an up and coming avid tournament bass fisherman. I currently fish on the Penn State Bass Fishing team. I have placed in the top 15 in multiple FLW BFL tournaments as a co-angler. I also used to compete on the United States Youth Fly Fishing Team, where I placed 11th in the world and was a part of 2 world championship team gold medals. In my spare time, I am an avid angler, I’m always trying new techniques, as well as inventing some of my own. I want to help spread some of the knowledge I have picked up to the fishing community!

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