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Fun on the Fly

Buggin' for bluegill offers enjoyable, relaxing activity

By: David A. Brown,

Between the complex and challenging tactics anglers strive to master, the occasional interlude with simplicity offers a pleasant balance to more demanding pursuits.

Case in point: bluegill - that widely distributed panfish with an epic appetite and a willingness to bite just about anything. Floating worms, crickets and even bread balls will yield plenty of action, but for a truly relaxing and entertaining approach, break out the skinny stick and throw a fly at your favorite bluegill waters.

Now, if there is a polarizing element of fishing tackle, it is fly gear. If you're into it, you're really into it. If not, the whole whipping back-and-forth stuff can seem, well let's just say it, intimidating. True, fly fishing can get as technical and challenging as you want to make it when stalking skittish bonefish, or matching the exact day of the local insect hatch, but folks, we're talking about bluegill.

If you can make your fly hit the water, you have a pretty good chance of catching at least a couple. No kidding; I have literally caught bluegill with barely more than my leader hanging off the rod tip as I stripped out line to prepare for my most unorthodox and profoundly unimpressive casting style.

But then, that's really the point here. We have a tendency to make fishing tougher than it needs to be sometimes, and I've personally found about as much fun flinging foam spiders and little poppers around the edges of lily pads as I have on some of the more "serious" angling adventures I've undertaken. 

Doubtful? OK, spend an afternoon fishing surface flies in bluegill-infested waters and tell me it's not a hoot watching those little hellions "blooping" your bug.

In fairness to the sport's legitimacy, basic mechanics and habitat targeting does matter, but it's really pretty simple and anyone willing to put in a morning of practice will quickly dial in this deal. Once you figure out a form that lets you fling the fly a good 20 feet, you'll find that catching bluegill on fly is like eating popcorn - it's hard to stop.

Click the image for the bluegill photo gallery

Consider that this gluttonous fish will eat just about anything it can catch and you'll have an easy time picking productive flies. Tiny minnow patterns work, as do little shrimp flies that resemble the translucent crustaceans inhabiting shoreline vegetation. For entertainment value, though, it's tough to beat the surface game.

Next time you're around lily pads, clumps of arrow heads, or any dense emergent vegetation, look closely and note the abundance of insects - aquatic spiders, dragon flies, water beetles. The smacks and pops of feeding bream are unmistakable, so pay attention also to where the visual and audible cues occur.

Fly Selections

Small poppers with various painted patterns, tail feathers and rubble legs are the classic bluegill fly offering and most sporting goods stores and online retailers offer plenty of productive options such as the Betts Popper Assortment ( With any popper, short, tight strips will produce the gurgling, popping disturbance that simulates bluegill feeding and thereby entices others.

With spiders, hoppers and other floating flies designed to resemble vulnerable insects, consider how the real ones move. Water spiders traverse the surface in low, lateral hops, so keep the action modest on these impersonations. On the other hand, flying or terrestrial insect that fall to the water's surface instantly go into panic mode with erratic twitching and sputtering, interspersed with fatigued rest periods.

When the big bluegill bite is on, expect immediate attacks. The fish may be less interested in rising topside when it's really cold or really hot, but bluegill are inherently curious, and they're always watching for a potential surface opportunity.

Long pauses are important during lethargic periods, but if a stalled fly suddenly dips or spins, that means a non-committal panfish just boiled below. Leave your fly where it is - maintain maximum vulnerability - and chances are you'll get a second shot. In any season, bluegill readily smack motionless bugs, so don't think success always depends on a constant strip fest.

Around heavy vegetation, check you flies often, especially if their action or posture suddenly changes. Grass, algae strands or debris can hang on your fly and mar its appearance. Also, snagging a lily pad and pulling your fly free may leave a small piece of the pad stuck on your hook, so check after each close encounter.

Simple Setup

A 7-foot, 3-weight outfit will handle any Florida bluegill but an 8- to 8 1/2-foot, 5-weight outfit balances sport with sufficient strength for taming the (mostly) smaller bass that occasionally crash a bluegill party.

Fly fishing purists enjoy building their own leaders with just the right knots and tippet, but the one-piece tapered leaders sold at fly fishing retailers offer a fine option for the casual bluegill angler. As for line, just keep it simple - floating line for poppers and other surface flies and intermediate sink tip line for submergents.

Often, some of your best bluegill action may occur in the most unlikely of spots. Retention ponds, roadside canals and golf course water hazards (when access is allowed) often produce great action with fish that rarely see a hook. To make sure you don't miss any such opportunities keep a multi-piece outfit inside a travel case in your vehicle or luggage.

From a boat, work the edges of vegetation and any lanes or bays dipping into lily pad fields or grass lines. From shore, look for spots where bluegill have quick access to deep water. Give yourself plenty of room for back casts and keep the wind at your back.

Once you figure out how much fun a bluegill fly fishing trip can be, consider taking a young angler or maybe a novice angler interested in expanding their knowledge and experience. This is an easy deal to master and the best way to compound the enjoyment is to share it.

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