Physical Description

Bluegill are a widely dispersed member of the sunfish family and a close relative to the largemouth bass. The bluegill’s body is fairly compressed, oval or rounded, with a small mouth and head and pointed pectoral fins, all of which are characteristic of the sunfish family.

A bluegill’s coloring will vary greatly from one body of water to the next, ranging from olive, dark blue, or bluish purple to yellow and green on the sides with a blue background. There are six to eight vertical bars on each side, which may or may not be prominent, depending on the sex of the fish and the time of year. The gill cover extends to create a wide black flap and is not surrounded by a lighter border as in other sunfish. Dark blue streaks are located on the lower cheeks between the chin and gill cover. (This is where the bluegill gets its name.) Bellies are almost always a deep yellow or orange in color.

Colors become more prominent in breeding males and bright blue and orange are widespread, along with black pelvic fins. Females and young bluegill are less brightly colored.


Originally, bluegill were native to the eastern half of the United States from southeastern Canada to northeastern Mexico. As a result of intentional and unintentional introductions, bluegill are now common throughout the entire United States. The greatest abundance of bluegill is found in the large region running from the St. Lawrence River to the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River basin east and south to the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Rio Grande River. However, bluegill can be found in some numbers in every state. Bluegill have also been introduced in Europe, South Africa, Asia and South America.


Bluegill are found in lakes, rivers, reservoirs, creeks, streams and ponds throughout their native and introduced ranges and can thrive in nearly any water that provides food, optimum temperature and adequate spawning grounds.

They prefer environments with warm water and plenty of vegetation and will spend a great deal of time in shallow areas. Their ideal temperature range is between 65 and 72 F but bluegill can tolerate temperature levels much higher or lower. Many bluegill are caught through the ice, as well as during the hottest days of summer.

Bluegill prefer calm, protected waters and will be found most frequently in shallow, weedy environments that harbor adequate numbers of insects and small minnows. In flowing water, they will seek slow-moving streams and rivers, especially around pools. The habitat preferences for bluegill are generally the same as that for the largemouth bass, and anywhere you find largemouth bass, bluegill will likely be nearby.

Spawning Habits

Bluegill spawning begins in the spring when water temperatures reach about 70 degrees F., peaks in May or June, and continues until the water cools again in the fall. In areas that are free from overcrowding, some will spawn again during the latter part of the season. Because of this long spawning season and multi-spawn ability, bluegill have outstanding reproductive potential. In fact, they often spawn too successfully, which tends to produce overpopulation and stunted growth.

Males create nests in gravel or hard bottoms found in water about 1 to 3 feet deep. Several bluegill will gather in a small area, often creating a spawning “colony” with 50 or more nests. In clear water, this area may appear as a congregation of white spots on the bottom. Males will make the first spawning movements to build the nests. When ready, females will move onto the nests and deposit 40,000 or more eggs. After fertilizing the eggs, males will then protect the nest until the eggs hatch.

After hatching, young bluegill fry will first feed on plankton before their diet shifts to insects and larvae. Eventually, fry will move away from the spawning grounds and travel in small schools until they reach maturity.

Food Usage/Selection

 Because bluegill prefer not to chase their food, their principal food source is slow-moving aquatic insects. However, the also enjoy small crayfish, fish eggs, minnows, snails, and worms. Bluegill are opportunistic feeders, meaning they will take advantage of whatever food source is present in a given area. If necessary, they will also consume aquatic plants.

Young bluegill will focus on insects, worms, and crustaceans almost exclusively in shallow water. Adult bluegill will feed at various depths depending upon water temperature and food availability. Thus, they seek food on both the bottom and the surface of the water. During the hottest periods of the year, they often reside in deeper water and then come shallow to feed at sunrise and sunset.

Sporting Qualities 

Bluegill are among the easiest fish to catch in fresh water and, for their size, provide an excellent fight and a tasty meal. One reason they are so popular is their accessibility to shore anglers and the ability to be caught in great numbers.

Bluegill can be caught at any time of year, though, as with many fish, the spawning months are best. In fact, bluegill can be caught quite easily because they are attracted to a wide variety of baits and lures, not easily spooked, and seemingly always hungry.

Males can be easy to catch during spawning season because of their protective nature and location of their nests in shallow water. During this season, finding bluegill can be fairly simple. In rivers this will mean finding stumps nestled in a shallow area with a sandy or gravel bottom away from the main current. In lakes, reservoirs and ponds, they will be found in shallow bays, coves and other protected areas near the shoreline.

In summer, lake bluegill will move to deeper water, usually 10 to 20 feet. They also seek out areas of weeds in deep coves. In fall, they will move back toward shallow water, usually near their spawning area. Then, in winter, they will again move back to deeper water.

Most anglers prefer light line and tackle when fishing for bluegill. Because of their propensity to not chase food, it is important to fish slowly. In addition, because of their small mouths, it is preferable to use a small hook. Once one bluegill is caught, the chances for catching more are high because they tend to travel and locate in schools.

Many types of bait and lures will attract bluegill. Nightcrawlers, grasshoppers and crickets are highly effective, and small leadhead jigs tipped with tiny bodies will also work well. Bluegill are also a favored species for the fly angler. They will readily strike dry flies and small popping bugs on the surface.