About Bluegill

Article By Terry & Roxanne Wilson

Bluegill populations on big reservoirs are largely ignored by anglers, which creates an untapped resource for the enterprising longrodder. Here are six reservoir hotspots we target to search for big bluegills and the flies and presentations that work best for us:


1. Docks. Bluegills love overhead cover and docks make them happier than campus radicals with a Xerox machine. Unfortunately, not all docks are created equal. To be a bluegill magnet there must be an escape route to relatively deep water and the presence of some other cover such as a brush pile or weeds to enhance its attractiveness. Start by fishing the deepest edges of the dock. To do otherwise can spook the largest concentration of fish before they are located. Careful boat positioning will enable short, accurate casts alongside the outside edges of the dock and into the empty boat stalls where that's possible. A locator is very helpful in finding brush piles near these deeper areas where many dock owners anchor discarded Christmas trees to attract fish. We use a small barbell-eyed fly with a tuft of marabou for the tail and E-Z Shape Sparkle Body for the body and head on a size-8 TMC 5262 hook in these deepwater zones. A variety of color combinations are possible but gold/yellow and chartreuse/white grab first-string status.

Cast progressively shallower along the sides of the dock using these same flies. On the back or shallow side switch to a slower sinking fly. Our first choice is our own Bully's Bluegill Spider. Again, it's a simple tie. Five wraps of .020 lead wire covered with chenille and two 2-inch strands of round rubber hackle are secured behind the head and splayed at a 90-degree angle from the hook shank just behind the head on a size-8 to -10 Mustad 94840 hook. Florescent colors, such as chartreuse and hot pink, may be more visible to the fish in this situation.
Many of these docks will have fish-cleaning stations. Keep an eye out for those that get frequent use. Often bigger bluegills take up residence there to wait for easy meals

2. Bluffs. Bluffs are places comprised of rock, clay, or mud that drop vertically into the water. Depending upon their location, they may provide shade and wind protection for both the fish and angler. A locator can be important in scouting the area beneath the bluff. The area can contain piles of fallen rock or clay, brush, or even a submerged creek channel that winds along its length. It's these additional features that enhance the importance of the bluff and cause it to become the focal point of the bluegills' interest. This is primarily a deepwater location where heavier flies and sinking lines are best. If there's a gradual slope to the deepest water, cast directly at the bluff, allow the fly and line to sink to the bottom, then slowly strip it into the depths. As an alternative the boat can be positioned close to the bluff. Casts can be made in either direction, allowed to sink, then retrieved along the base of the bluff and parallel to it. This keeps the fly in the "fish zone" for a longer period of time. If you are not familiar with the bluff and unsure of the fish location spots along it, try trolling or drifting with the wind. Use full-sinking line and frequent stops to keep the fly deep.

Bluegills often suspend along the wall of the bluff. To present flies to them, use the locator to determine depth, then count your offering to the appropriate depth before moving the fly. Look for irregularities along the wall and concentrate your efforts there. During cold fronts, look to the lip of the creek channel for bluegills that have retreated from their normal feeding stations. These areas can be quite deep, but on post-cold front days it's one of your best opportunities to catch some larger fish.
3. Gravel Bars. Gravel bars, even clean ones, that jut out into the lake can provide exciting action under certain conditions. During periods when winds are calm and temperature and light penetration combine to cause a mayfly hatch, big bluegills will be attracted to gravel bars to feed on nymphs.
We sometimes cruise the lake to scan the gravel bars looking for hatching mayflies. When located, we cast a nymph over the gravel, allow it to sink to the bottom, then slowly lift the rod tip to simulate the nymphal rise to the surface. This tactic requires short casts and good line control. Stillwater mayflies can be quite large, so on our lakes we fish our version of Sawyer's Pheasant Tail Nymph on a size-8 TMC 200B hook that we call the North Fork Nymph. The tail and body are tied the same as the English Riverkeeper's version, but the thorax is built of five turns of .020 lead wire covered by natural-colored fox squirrel dubbing.
The best gravel bars have two to three feet of water covering their tops and deeper water on at least one side. Deep water boat positioning will spook fewer fish. Care should be taken to avoid casting a shadow over the thin water.
4. Weedbeds. The depth to which weeds grow depends upon the clarity of the water and corresponding depth of sunlight penetration. Points, pockets, and edges of the weeds are important bluegill locations. Positioning the boat so that casts can be made to the points and into the pockets is a good presentation if the fish are high in the weeds and in a positive feeding mode. Flies with a slow descent rate, like Bully and the North Fork Nymph, are excellent high-weed flies. If the fish are low in the weeds, it's a good sign that they may be in a neutral feeding mode, but it may offer your best opportunity. Sinking line could present a Bully or nymph well to the deeper fish along the edge of the weedline. If that fails to connect, another viable choice is a heavier barbell-eyed fly. It will hang up with regularity, but usually a quick firm strip will free it and at the same time move the vegetation enough to interest nearby fish. Let the fly continue sinking for several counts before activating it again. If the edge of the weedbed is well defined, trolling or controlled drifting can be as effective here as it is on the bluffs.

5. Woodpiles. Woodpiles can be defined rather loosely. They might be logjams that are semi-permanently anchored into the bank or bottom, but they could also be areas of woody bushes that were inundated by the reservoir or artificially placed bunches of anchored Christmas trees. Woodpiles can be shallow or quite deep and their relevance to bluegills depends on the depth. If they are from three to twelve feet deep, they will likely support a summertime population. If they are deeper they may only be used during cold fronts or in late fall and early winter. Deep, always a relative term, must be judged in relation to water clarity and sunlight penetration.
Woodpiles require study with the locator so that their shape and composition can be understood. Otherwise, too many flies are sacrificed. Counting the fly down to the tops of the structure is essential to success. Generally, we prefer slow-sinking flies and fly lines for woodpile presentations. When the water exceeds ten feet we are forced to use heavier flies, but we try to compensate by keeping the fly moving. Barbell eyes cause the fly to ride hook-point up, which helps to keep it from harm's way. Trolling and controlled-drifting are good mid-depth to deep presentations for woodpiles.

6. Standing Timber. Many reservoirs cover timbered land where trees were simply left uncut. This provides some excellent habitat, but unfortunately not all treetops hold fish. Look for trees near the backs of spawning coves. Trees located along old submerged creek channels and on small points or humps will be best. Once again, a locator can be invaluable. This is not only true for determining which trees hold fish, but for showing the feeding attitude of the fish. If the bluegills are high in the treetops and out on the extended branches the fish are in a positive mode. If they are low and against the trunk of the tree, fishermen are in for a tough day.
If the fish are high or relatively shallow, the fly can be presented from stationary casts. But if the fish are deep, a vertical presentation may be required. In either event, wood hookups are common. If freeing or breaking off the fly causes too much disturbance, it's necessary to move on to another tree.
Try light-colored, slow-sinking flies of the same basic patterns in shallow treetops and the heavyweights farther down.
Give these six reservoir hotspots a try in your area. You may discover the season's best fishing.

Terry and Roxanne have had articles pertaining to fly fishing for bluegill, largemouth and smallmouth bass, crappie, channel catfish and shortnose gar appearing in many national magazines including: Fly Fishing and Fly Tying Journal, Warmwater Fly Fishing, Fly Fishing Quarterly, Bassmaster, Ontario Out Doors, Popular Flyfishing and the Flyfisher. Their first book, Bluegill Fly Fishing & Flies, was published in 1999. Largemouth Bass Fly Fishing, Beyond the Basics, is their second book. Terry and Roxanne are life members of the Federation of Fly Fishers. They live in Bolivar, Missouri.