Early Season 'Gills

Bluegill can actually be picky eaters

bluegill taken on a chironomid fly pattern

I remember, as a kid growing up, throwing simple setups of a hook, worm and bobber to catch loads of small bluegill from a local pond. We even experimented and were surprisingly successful with just leaving the worm off and having them strike a bare hook. Apparently, our soda-can reel and lack of worms didn't dissuade the fish much and we had fun catching these small guys all day. However, there are times -- especially early in the season and/or just after ice-off -- that you might need to put a little more thought into catching these fun panfish.

Anyway, the genesis for this whole early-season bluegill strategy started a number of years go. We were cajoled into hitting a great bluegill and bass fishery just after ice-off. I was pretty sure it was going to be slow as these fish are, after all, a "warm water" species. And true to form, an hour into the day of fishing produced very disappointing results using the standard table fare of buggy colorful "they'll hit anything" patterns.

Eventually, arriving at the other side of the lake to see how my friends were doing, my buddy and his crew were surprisingly getting into good numbers of fish. But again, to my dismay these little fish weren't too interested in my bluegill flies.

I eventually broke down and asked for the secret sauce. It turned out to be a simple matter of looking at the water and realizing there were scads of chironomid shucks on the water. Turns out the bluegill were gorging themselves on these juicy chironomids to the exclusion of anything else. So I quickly rigged up an indicator and dropped a couple of bead-head chironomid patterns and started picking up fish. It also turned out that they didn't like their food if it was just sitting there, so imparting a little action to the flies was almost a must. We term this style of chironomid fishing (with an indicator) as "mooching". And finally, the last piece of the puzzle was to present the flies at the right depth to the fish right along the reed-lines and structure where they were holding. They were not inclined to venture out of hiding too far. So: match the hatch, little movement and right depth/location were the keys.

bluegill taken on a chironomid fly pattern

With this simple strategy in play, the rest of the day was incredible. Using mostly chironomid patterns suspended from strike indicators, we caught large numbers of bluegills and even a few nice Bass.

bass taken on a chironomid fly pattern

 Since then, I'm looking forward each spring to heading out and fishing the colder waters for some nice bluegill. This technique has transformed my approach to early season bluegills and I hope it can be useful to you too!

bluegill taken on a chironomid fly pattern Sand Hollow Utah

Here's a quick video on tying up one of our favorite early-season bluegill chironomid patterns: