It’s hard to say what exactly you would call “bluegill flies.” Basically, if it is small enough to fit in a bluegill’s mouth, they will eat it. Done! That’s all you need to know. Well, not quite.
When fly fishing for bluegill, presentation is the most important part, once you’ve found the bluegill that is. So, this is the best way to think about bluegill flies, that is, how the flies contribute to your presentation.
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BLUGILL FLIES IN GENERAL
Outside of some chironomid patterns that you might use in very limited dropper situations, bluegill flies should have as much inherent motion in them as possible, most of the time. This means lots of rubber legs, marabou, flash, hackle, etc.
Bluegill, like all sunfish including smallmouth and largemouth, will take your fly on the pause a fairly high percentage of the time. If your fly continues to ungulate and tempt the fish on the pause, you’ll catch a lot more fish. You’ll still catch bluegill on patterns with nice buggy profiles, but building inherent motion into your flies, or buying flies with inherent motion built into them, will up your odds.
CHANGING CONDITIONS AFFECT BLUEGILL FLIES
Like with all fish, certain changing conditions will affect your fly selection. For example, in murky water, you should start with dark and/or chartreuse patterns. A killer fly is a Chicken Little with a chartreuse body and bright orange head. Bluegill will actually still eat this flly in clear water, but it’s even more important to have these colors in murky water.
Likewise, if a hatch is going on, and the bluegill are feeding heavily on a certain species of insect, like chironomids are damselflies, then by all means throw a fly that matches the behavior of the insect species.
BLUEGILL FLIES: 2 BASIC TYPES
Really, we can divide bluegill flies into two main types: topwater and subsurface. Topwater flies really become more important when the water temperatures move into the 50s and above. Subsurface flies are always effective for bluegill, and they should make up the bulk of your flies, unless you only fish for bluegills in prime conditions.
TOPWATER BLUEGILL FLIES
To be the most effective with topwater flies, build in inherent motion. This includes flash, which gives the illusion of movement as it flashes on the surface. You can be more aggressive with the movement of your flies than you might be with trout normally. Bluegill need to be coaxed into eating topwater flies at times, so this movement helps get more strikes. Poppers will call bluegills as well, but you can be just as effective, if not more effective, with standard topwater “trout” patterns, like the Elk Hair Caddis or a foam beetle. Carry some flies that have sound as a trigger, and some that are lighter and more buggy like.
SUBSURFACE BLUEGILL FLIES
Bluegill feed on virtually anything that lives below the water column that is small enough to fit in their mouth, and they will try to eat stuff that won’t fit in their mouth too. Virtually any nymph or small streamer you throw is effective on aggressive bluegill, and when the fishing gets tough and the bluegill are sluggish, you will without question be using subsurface flies for them.
In most cases, don’t retrieve the fly super fast for bluegill. If the fish are sluggish, you may literally have to not move the fly. When in doubt, fish slower for bluegill.
BLUEGILL FLIES AND FEEDING SCENARIOS
You should imagine bluegill fly size, proportion, action, and any other characteristic on a continuum based on three main factors: temperature, fishing pressure, and sight fishing versus blind casting. For all intents and purposes, you can think of this as fish that are sluggish and fish that are aggressive. Technically, that’s over simplifying, since you can sight fish to aggressive fish, but from a success perspective, you can approach these scenarios based on negative and aggressive fish.
BLUEGILL FLIES: NEGATIVE SCENARIO
Flies for me, have three characteristics when bluegill are in a negative scenario.
1) Smaller in size. Bluegill have amazing eyesight, and even in warm water, an entire school will follow your fly maybe taking a little shot at it from time to time. This is particularly true when the fish get fished to a bit as in smaller ponds. Make it easy for the fish to get the fly in its mouth with a smaller pattern. Also, use an imitation that fits primarily on the hook if possible, since the fish might short strike the fly. In other words, don’t use flies with really long tails.
2) Suspending or with a slow fall. Hardcore general tackle anglers have the ability to use heavier weight to get their pattern down to the fish and then get a tight line on the jig and move it slowly even with this heavier weight. Fly anglers, however, by and large, need to have patterns that resist the water and thus drop very slowly or even suspend. Using nylon monofilament and/or patterns that have little weight will help your flies to just hover, giving the bluegill enough time to suck in your imitation.
An important exception would be when using flies that sink to the bottom. Use these types of flies when the fish are really sluggish and you know where schools of bluegill are.
3) The fly needs to have materials with inherent movement. Little hackle, tiny rubber legs, marabou, ostrich herl, craft fur etc. all allow your fly to move subtly to entice a bluegill, even when the fly suspends. Finally, in certain situations, you may fish a nymph off of a dry fly or with a greased leader technique etc. In this case, a solid profile is important for your fly, particularly when imitating midges. You can also fish a small pattern on a Czech nymph hook or a tiny jig hook with a non-slip mono loop knot to give your fly the horizontal orientation even when fished off of a dry fly.
SUNFISH EAT BLUEGILL FLIES TOO
BLUEGILL FLIES: AGGRESSIVE SCENARIO
On the other hand, if the water is warm, the fish are not heavily pressured, or you’re blind casting, then you can alter your bluegill flies appropriately.
1) Bigger flies. You don’t have to use big flies to catch big bluegill, but when you’re prospecting for bluegills, the bigger fly will alert the bluegill school easier. You can switch if you get on a school, and they are missing the bigger flies you’re throwing.
Bluegill will be more likely to smack a fly more than once in warm water. They often miss larger flies, particularly on the surface, so you can still be efficient fishing these flies in aggressive scenarios.
As far as sizes, we’re talking more around the size 10 and 8 flies of bulkier flies like a Bugger. With other nymphs, you might fish size 4s, depending on hook size.
2) Topwater flies. In aggressive scenarios, topwater can be tons of fun, and there are times when fish will prefer a topwater presentation. Having buoyant flies that you can skat and flicker across the surface, help you keep that fly riding up. Very small poppers are a killer fly on aggressive bluegills in warmer water temps.
3) Action. Flies that have not only inherent movement, but actual action, are more important when fish are aggressive. A Ruffed Damsel with a bulky head prospects the water and sends a little pulse to notify the bluegill that food is nearby. Also, lightly weighted flies on the front will give the fly a nice kick. When you tie flies with inherent motion, you can fish the fly a big more aggressively and really make the fly look alive.