In fishing, it’s sometimes best to take things back to the start. Getting in touch with your roots and the things that made you fall in love with fishing can remind you why it’s the best hobby in the world. Fishing for bluegills is where many anglers started. These fish can be found in almost any body of water across the United States and are a great species to target if you’re looking to learn some new things about angling!
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Here is a list of some of the best flies to use for your next bluegill adventure!
1. Parachute Ants – Proven to Catch Bluegills
Ants are some of the best flies you can use when targeting bluegills. Bluegills spend quite a bit of time feeding on the surface so if you see any sort of surface activity, start with an ant. When you’re using these flies, spend time near the banks of the river or lake.
Ants tend to fall in the river when they begin the mating process. They grow wings and fly in search of another ant to mate with. The wind often blows the ants into some sort of water source.
You can find these flies anywhere between size 12 and 20. It’s smart to carry all of these sizes in your box. Bluegills are not often picky about what they eat, but can be picky about the size of insects they eat.
2. Elk Hair Caddis – High Floating and Fun to Fish
Elk Hair flies are another common dry fly to use when you’re targeting bluegills. These work great in smaller ponds or up in the shallow portions of a lake. Again, be sure to look for surface feeding activity. You can see this by listening for pops near the surface of the water.
These fish will feed most often in the morning and the evening. Throw the caddis flies between 12-20. If the fly is too large, it could overwhelm the bluegill and deter them from eating.
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3. Popper Flies – A Little Strip & BAM
Poppers are an extremely versatile fly that every angler should keep in the box. It can work to catch bass and even pike. However, size 12-16 poppers are likely not going to be exciting enough for bass, but the bluegill love them.
4. Griffiths Gnat – When You Need to Go Small
The Griffiths Gnat is one of the most realistic looking flies you can find. These work wonders when you’re targeting bluegills. They’re best fished between size 14-18. Fish these in a more erratic way.
Small strips, twitches of the tip of your rod is going to make the fly look like it’s trying to escape the water. Keep working your fly until you get a strike. It’s not going to take long!
5. Sneaky Pete’s – Affective on the Beds
The Sneaky Pete makes a bunch of commotion on the top. When the ‘Gills are on the beds this bug triggers aggressive strikes. Heck it almost seems unfair how willing the fish will take a fly.
Crush the barb and release the fish quickly, so you’ll have a sustainable population. Sometimes if a small lake is overrun with bluegills, another option is to take some home. Bluegills are delicious!
These are fished on size 10-14 hooks. It’s irregular shape is what’s going to make it difficult for the fish to swallow. Bluegill often choke on the hook so it’s a nice surprise when they don’t swallow this one!
6. Foam Spider – Rubber Leg Madness
The foam spider is another great dry to use for bluegills. These are quite active on the water so don’t be shy when you’re retrieving it. Cause as much action as you can! It’s going to work out well for you.
7. Bumble Bee – A Natural
Small bumble bees are another common target for bluegills. These fall into water similar to the way an ant does! It won’t take long for the bluegills to make their way to the surface and strike. You’re going to have more success if you use smaller bees.
Anywhere between a size 12-18 is going to be more manageable for these fish. Cast near shore and use short little movements to see what the fish want. After a while, you’ll learn the feeding tendencies of these fish and you’ll have yourself a field day.
8. Madam X – Go with Red
This is a strange looking fly that doesn’t necessarily imitate anything. It has rubber legs that creates lots of action. I use this fly on still water bays along weedlines. Cast beyond the weeds and strip back. Vary the strip until you find what will trigger the ‘Gills.
I’ve seen smallmouth slam this fly, so be prepared!
Like I said go with a red body, size 14. Apply floatant to a couple flies, that way you’ll have your bug treated and ready to fish. These are great to use on a sunny day and in clear water.
9. Chernobyl Hopper – Foam Bodies are Yummy
In mid-summer grass hoppers will start to pop. If the wind kicks up in the later afternoon the bugs will get blown into the water. Try to fish in a small bay with the wind to your back. Casting a hopper can test your casting skills with a small fly rod like a 3 weight so this would be a great time to pull out a 5 weight to fight the wind.
Dry Fly Setup – Simple and Fast
When you’re looking to set up your rod for dry fly fishing, there are a few things you must keep in mind. First, use a floating fly line on your rig! If you use any other type, your fly is going to get pulled down in the water column.
Next, it’s important that you use both leader and tippet. Many anglers think that using only a leader is enough, but tippet is going to truly hide yourself from the fish. To attach your tippet to the leader, use a double surgeon’s knot. This is the best and strongest knot you can use.
You can use anywhere between 12-16 inches of the same “x” as your leader. As you’re fishing, pay close attention to the fly. Bluegills aren’t going to fly out of the water after their prey. They’ll make a clean swipe at the surface and disappear.
If you’re targeting bluegills, go ahead and use a 3 or 4-weight rod. You need the right amount of finesse to land these fish!
GUIDE TIP: When you’re fishing with an indicator rig, don’t set the hook on the first time you see it drop in the water. Wait until the second strike and set the hook! Bluegill will play around with the bait before they commit to it.
10 . Pheasant Tail Nymph – Every Fly Box Should Have!
The Pheasant Tail Nymph is a classic in the world of fly fishing. You can catch everything from trout to pike with these flies! They’re also going to work great with bluegill. The bead head on these nymphs is going to drop it in the water column.
Depending on where the fish are in the water, you may need to reach the lower levels! Bluegill are willing to feed on non-moving bait, but small action is going to work better. Let these nymphs hit the bottom and use short, six inch strips to entice the fish. Strip, pause and strip. It will work wonders!
Fish these nymphs in size 12-18. You’ll love the success you have with these flies.
11. Hare’s Ear Nymphs – Seriously Buggy
Hare’s Ear Nymphs are not the most appealing flies that you can find, but they work. Plus, if you’re new to fly tying, this is a great fly to try! Fish are more willing to eat a less “manufactured” fly. They see all sorts of perfect looking flies so it pays to be different.
Fish these between size 10-18. Again, pay attention to the size of bugs that the fish are eating. This will help you determine what size of fly that you need to use. Don’t make your life too difficult!
12. Squirmy Worm – Gotta Love Worms!
Bluegills and worms are two peas in a pod. They never fail to land fish. If you remember anything from your childhood fishing adventures, you’ll know that worms and bluegills are always going to lead to a fun time on the water.
This worm is also easily tied on your own. Bluegill will eat any size of worm as long as it looks somewhat natural. The best colors to use are either pink or green. These aren’t going to throw the fish off in any way.
Cast these near lily pads or any other area of the water with vegetation. You can also cast these parallel along the shore line and strip slowly towards yourself. A short, slow strip is going to draw the bluegill towards your worm. Once you stop stripping, wait. You’ll start to feel a tug on your line and you know it’s time to set the hook!
GUIDE TIP: When targeting bluegills, patience is key. These fish don’t need much action! Let the fly sit and the bluegill will eat.
13. Carrot Nymph
Carrot nymphs are another classic in the world of fly angling. You can find these with and without beadheads. Beadhead nymphs are going to drop a little lower in the water column. Fish the beadheads when the water is warm.
Warm water drives the fish lower. It also means that they may be less active so don’t be too aggressive with your retrieve. The fish may need to be coaxed into feeding. Stay patient because the fish will eat, but it may take some time!
Use this in size 10-18!
How to Setup your Nymph Rig
When you’re targeting Bluegills with a nymph, use a 3 or 4-weight. Also, weight-forward line is going to work great. This will bring the flies lower in the column to meet the fish. Use 4-6x leader and similar size tippet.
The most important thing you can have on this rig is some sort of strike indicator. The strike indicator is going to alert you when the bluegill are eating your fly. Put the indicator a few feet higher on your line than the depth of the water. Your line will fall at an angle so you need to make sure your indicator is high enough!
14. Small Clouser’s – Gill’s Love EYES
The Clouser is a small streamer that works great for larger bluegills. Larger bluegills often hang on the outside of the school a little deeper in the water.
Cast it, let it fall completely in the water column and then slowly raise it. It won’t take long for these fish to strike. You also have the potential to catch bass with this fly. Bass will hang out a bit deeper and away from the school of bluegill. If they see one in distress, they’ll try and eat it!
15. Mickey Finn – Go Small
I’m not sure why I fall back to a Mickey Finn when I think the bluegills are deep and streamers are the quarry. Probably because a Mickey Finn was the first fly I tied and caught a fish on. If you can find size 14 Mickey Finns buy them. If you tie your know flies make sure this is on your “to-do list”
I will usually increase the length of my tippet to 30 inches and add a small split shot above the knot connecting the tippet to leader.
What Kind of Fly Box for Bluegills and Other Panfish?
Slit fly boxes are great for panfish flies. They hold a variety of flies or all styles and sizes. Since the flies for panfish are so unique, you need a box that is going to hold them all.
At the End of the Drift for Bluegill
Trial and error doesn’t always work when you’re fly fishing. However, when you’re targeting bluegills, it does. These fish will eventually eat if you’re willing to put in enough effort. Focus on sight casting for these fish. When you identify their location, be patient and focus on short and slow strips.
Hey David here the maker of Guide Recommended. I’m super passionate about everything fly fishing fishing; writing, teaching and even video.