Professor Bluegill

By Mike Kruse | May 2, 1997
From Missouri Conservationist: May 1997

The facts shouldn't have surprised me, but I was still stunned by the magazine article. It read, "Fly fishing is the fastest-growing segment of the fishing industry with 30 percent growth in the last two years. Women are entering the sport in record numbers and approximately 14 percent of America's households now contain a fly fisher."

Because of the popularity of fly fishing, fly shops now appear in suburban shopping malls like morels on a warm spring day. Satellites splash fly fishing videos and adventures to all points of the globe. Fly fishing vests have become teenage fashion items in Japan.

Why the popularity? In a world that's become increasingly crowded, polluted and complex, fly fishing offers an environmentally friendly escape to the wilderness and pristine trout streams.

There's a huge disparity between that Madison Avenue image of fly fishing and the opportunities available to many anglers. For instance, trout streams, particularly in Missouri, are scarce and often crowded. Let me offer an alternative.

Try fly fishing for bluegill:

I love bluegill because they provide some of the same kinds of fun that trout do at much less cost - one of those "great taste, less filling" sort of things. For trout fishing I have to save up my vacation days, spend long hours behind the wheel or in a plane and fuss over tackle and tactics. Great fun, but sometimes it's just nice to grab the old fiberglass rod from the corner of the garage and walk out to the pond with whatever fly is attached to the leader.

In the spring this tactic works well. The big males are stuffed into a pocket of shoreline at the corner of the dam. They're aggressive, strong and intolerant of almost any fly thrown their way. For new fly anglers, spring on a bluegill pond is the perfect time to hone your casting and sharpen your fishing, hooking and landing skills on cooperative fish. A variety of flies and small poppers fished on a light fly rod guarantee some fun, once the spawning fish are located.

Later on in the summer, bluegills become more choosey about what they eat. They mostly feed on insects, so match your fly to the size, shape and color of their natural food. A variety of small woolly worms, simple black wet flies and even tiny jigs are useful.

Usually, the biggest challenge is locating fish. When fish are not concentrated in spawning colonies near shore, I resort to sinking fly lines, or weighted flies and strike indicators, often prospecting around drop offs, submerged trees and brush until I find fish. A few avid bluegill anglers utilize electronic fish finders to locate fish in larger bodies of water.

You'll find lots of bluegills but the challenge is finding "big" bluegills. I consider a big bluegill anything over 8 inches long, with trophies starting at 10 inches. I know anglers who specialize in stalking trophy bluegills with a fly rod, traveling all over Missouri and to distant states in their quest.

Whoa! Wait a minute, this is starting to sound like trout fishing.

The truth is, you can make fly fishing for bluegill whatever you want. You can use one fly pattern, fish the known spawning locations of a familiar local pond on warm spring afternoons, and you have the ingredients for rewarding and relaxing fishing fun. Scientific anglers might even enjoy chasing schooling bluegills with size 20 dry flies during a hatch of Caenis mayflies on a late-summer evening.

Whatever approach you choose, you'll find that bluegill, like trout, were designed for the fly rod. Bluegills make their living eating invertebrates, insects, crustaceans and a myriad of other small bugs. They're not designed to chase down 6-inch gizzard shad, so throwing a plug the size of a small poodle just scares them. Fly fishing is the perfect way to catch almost any fish that eats small foods imitated by tiny artificials.

Fly fishing for bluegills isn't just fun, it's deadly effective. However, don't get greedy. Help yourself to a nice meal of bluegill fillets now and then, but give big bluegills the same respect you'd give big bass or trout. In Missouri, bluegill take 6 or 7 years to grow to 8 inches. Obviously, Mother Nature cannot replace such old fish overnight. Limit your kill, don't kill your limit.

To Get Started:

  • Rod: 7- to 9-foot fly rods designed to cast 4- to 6-weight lines.
  • Reel: a lightweight, single-action reel with a clicker drag is all you need.
  • Line: Double taper or weight-forward taper floating fly lines are the most versatile. Check your rod for the manufacturer's suggested line weight before you buy.
  • Leaders: 7.5- to 9-foot tapered leaders with 3- to 6-pound test tippets.
  • Flies: A wide variety of wet and dry flies, nymphs, streamers, cork and deer hair poppers, jigs and sponge bugs will all catch bluegill. Size 10-14 hooks are usually best.
  • Accessories: Because bluegills have such small mouths, a pair of hemostats is useful for removing hooks. Polarized sunglasses and a hat with a brim will keep sun and hooks out of your eyes and help you see the fish before casting.

This Issue's Staff

Editor - Kathy Love
Assistant Editor - Tom Cwynar
Managing Editor - Jim Auckley
Art Director - Dickson Stauffer
Designer - Tracy Ritter
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Photographer - Jim Rathert
Photographer - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Joan McKee
Staff Writer - Charlotte Overby
Composition - Libby Bode Block
Circulation - Bertha Bainer