Species Profile: Bluegills

Facts About the Life and Behavior of Bluegill (Bream)

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Photo © Ken Schultz

At times easily caught by novice and experienced anglers alike, bluegills (Lepomis macrochirus) are among the most popular panfish species in North America. They are one form of sunfish and are commonly called "bream" in some parts of the country.

This popularity of the bluegill is the result of their vast distribution, spunky fight and excellent taste. Bluegills are the most widely distributed members of the sunfish clan, and they so prolific that their popu lations can grow beyond the carrying capacity of the water.

Many adults who fish in freshwater got their first taste of angling as a youngster by catching a bluegill, or a closely related species

  • Description: The bluegill has a significantly compressed, oval or roundish body, a small mouth, and a small head. The pectoral fins are pointed. Coloring varies greatly from lake to lake, ranging from olive, dark blue, or bluish purple to dappled yellow and green on the sides with an overall blue cast; some fish, particularly those found in quarry holes, may actually be clear and colorless. Ordinarily, there are six to eight vertical bars on the sides, and these may or may not be prominent.

    The gill cover extends to create a wide black flap, faint in color on the young, which is not surrounded by a lighter border as in other sunfish. Dark blue streaks are found on the lower cheeks between the chin and gill cover, and often there is a dark mark at the bottom of the anal fin. The breeding male is more vividly colored, possessing a bluish head and back, a bright orange breast and belly, and black pelvic fin.
  • Habitat:  Bluegills inhabit sluggish streams and rivers, vegetated lakes and ponds, swamps, and pools of creeks. Most prominent in lake and pond environments, they prefer quiet waters and may hold in extremely shallow areas, especially early in the season and during spawning time, although when the surface and shallow water temperature is warm in summer, they may go as deep as 30 or more feet. In a general sense, they occupy the same habitat as their larger relative, the largemouth bass.
  • Feeding habits: A variety of small organisms serves as food for bluegills, including insects, crayfish, fish eggs, small minnows, snails, worms and sometimes even plant material. The young feed mostly on crustaceans, insects and worms. Adults will feed at different depths depending on temperature, so they obtain food on the bottom as well as on the surface. Active mostly at dusk and dawn, larger bluegills move inshore in the morning and evening to feed, staying in deeper water during the day.
  • Spawning habits: Bluegills spawn in the spring and early summer in shallow waters, where the round clustered nests are readily visible along the shoreline of ponds and lakes. 

Angling for Bluegills (and Other Related Sunfish)

Pound for pound, sunfish are highly respected fighters even though they are diminutive fish. They are most commonly pursued in the spring and early summer while spawning. Vegetation is a prime place to seek sunfish, especially bluegills and pumpkinseeds, followed by stumps, logs, and fallen trees.

Many anglers pursue sunfish with live worms and floats in relatively shallow water, although the bigger fish are usually found deep. Other natural baits include crickets, tiny minnows and mealworms.

Small jigs are a fine lure, and small spinners and spinnerbaits can be productive. A slow retrieve is best. Sunfish are popular in winter, too, taken on small jigs, flies and mealworms.

Light spinning, spincasting, and flycasting outfits are more than adequate for sunfish; in many areas, anglers use long cane poles without reels to dabble baits into selected pockets for various sunfish species. Four- to 8-pound-test line is ample.