STORIES OUT THERE FISHING By: Keith 'Catfish' Sutton, WorldFishingNetwork.com 5 Best Lures for Bluegill Thanks to manufacturing advances, bluegill anglers often enjoy equal or greater success when using artificial lures over live bait; here's breakdown of must-haves for your tackle box Most bluegill anglers are natural bait aficionados, but big bream like this are easily enticed using a variety of artificial lures as well. (Keith Sutton photo) In decades past, bluegill anglers rarely used lures to entice their quarry. Live baits were considered the ticket to success. Worms and crickets were used by most, but in some locales, mealworms, waxworms, leeches, freshwater shrimp and other baits were popular as well. Tiny lures that mimic the miniscule invertebrates bluegills love to eat are more widely available than ever, and anglers have no problem finding the right gear for presenting these bantam offerings. Today’s high-tech rods and reels can cast 1/100- to 1/32-ounce lures to targets 50 feet away. And advanced 1- and 2-pound lines enable deliveries and deep-water success that weren’t possible in years past. In today’s heavily pressured waters, these advances allow bream fanatics to entice bites from wary trophy-size ‘gills using realistic lures made especially for that purpose. Jigs Small jigs are probably the most popular lures used to entice bluegills. Size is the main consideration when choosing one. Bluegills seldom exceed a pound and have very small mouths. Tiny lures catch them more consistently than larger models. Select jigs with 1/100- to 1/32-ounce heads and 1/2- to 1-inch bodies. Thousands of styles and colors are available. Jigs come with bodies of marabou, hair, rubber bands, floss, tinsel, chenille and other materials. There are jigs with curly tails, ripple tails, broad tails and triple tails; jigs with and without spinners; weedless jigs and those that aren’t; and all this in the colors of the rainbow and every combination imaginable. All will catch bluegills. The best for you is one in which you develop confidence. Try several varieties, and one will soon become your favorite. Carry a wide selection of colors. A good rule of thumb is to use dark colors on dark days and bright colors on bright days, but like all rules of thumb, this one doesn’t always hold true. If one color doesn’t work, keep switching until something does. Jigs are especially valuable in dense, shallow-water cover such as willows or beds of water lilies. In this situation, employ a vertical jigging technique using a long jig pole equipped with a small reel or reel-type line holder. This rig gives you extra reach for getting back in the brush where most anglers never fish. It also allows you to reel in excess line to weave the jig into thickets. Then, by releasing line from the spool, the jig drops into pockets of cover where big bluegills await. Use a tube, hair or marabou jig so little movements give the lure action. These jigs move seductively, even when held stationary. Be sure to tie the jig with the knot pulled to the top of the eyelet so the lure rides perpendicular to the line. Position the jig over an opening in the cover, then slowly lower it. Gradually work deeper until you find a fish. If you don’t get a hit on the way down, pull the jig out and move to the next spot. Hit as many spots as you can, and when you locate bluegills, work the area thoroughly for schooling fish. My favorite bluegills jigs are those with hair bodies, especially squirrel-hair jigs like those made by Slater’s. Bluegills find them irresistible, and tiny ones like Slater’s 1/48-oz. models are real killers. I usually fish hair jigs without bait, relying on rod tip movement to give the lure life. But when the bite is slow, adding a waxworm, redworm or Berkley Crappie Nibble adds attraction that may turn fish on. Using a sensitive slipfloat like the Thill Bodied Waggler or Mini Stealth gives extra casting distance and helps detect soft-biting ‘gills. Spinners Small spinners also are effective bluegill catchers. They work best in open water areas like gravel-bottom spawning beds and long rocky points. But using the proper technique, they also can be fished in sparse brush, over weed tops and alongside woody cover like stumps and trees. Position your boat so you can cast and retrieve along the edge of cover, and work the lure very slowly. Bluegills tend to be bait inspectors rather than bait killers. They usually swim up to a lure and spend a brief period looking before they strike. Fast-moving spinners often are ignored. Among the top-producing spinners I’ve used are in-line spinners like the #0 or #1 Mepps Aglia, Black Fury and Thunder Bug. Johnson’s 1/32-oz. Beetle Spin with its scented body and flashy safety-pin spinner has produced lots of monster ‘gills for me, too. My favorite spinner, however, is Blakemore’s Natural Science Panfish & Trout Road Runner, which has a tiny profile allowing it to be more easily swallowed by small-mouthed bluegills. Fish it slow, deep or shallow, by casting, jigging or trolling. My biggest bluegill to date, a 2-1/4-pound monster, was caught on this lure. Mini-plugs Small plugs rate high as bluegill catchers, too. Several lure manufacturers have extensive lines of 1- to 2-inch mini-plugs that mimic natural bluegill forage such as grasshoppers, small crayfish and tiny shad. To tempt big bluegills, cast the bantam plug to a likely hotspot, then let it sit with only an occasional twitch to ripple the water’s surface. A curious sunfish, if one is near, will soon rush in to hit the lure. I’ve nailed some of my biggest bluegills on Rebel’s variety of teeny plugs, including the Crickhopper, Hellgrammite and Bumble Bug. Check them out at www.lurenet.com. Soft Plastics Bluegill anglers also should check out the variety of amazingly lifelike soft-plastic lures on today’s market. Created from molds of real creatures, these durable artificials closely resemble crickets, grasshoppers, worms, crayfish, shrimp, spiders, grubs, nymphs and other bluegill favorites. The soft plastic has a texture like real food, so fish may mouth these lures longer than hard artificials, giving extra time to set the hook. Some come unrigged and are threaded on hooks or fished on leadhead jigs. Others have a hook molded into the plastic. One good way to fish soft plastics is to attach a clear-plastic casting bubble 12 to 18 inches above the lure to gain extra casting distance. A water-filled bubble sinks at about a foot a second. Count down to a depth where the lure brushes the weed tops, then retrieve very slowly, with an occasional twitch to entice hungry sunnies. Lots of these lifelike imitations work wonders on bream, including Uncle Buck’s Panfish Creatures from Bass Pro Shops. Fly-Fishing Lures Popping bugs, dry flies, wet flies, nymphs and other commonly used fly-fishing lures are deadly on bluegills. Like trout, bluegills feed primarily on insects and other tiny invertebrates, so many of the basic trout patterns also will tempt big sunfish. Popping bugs, sponge-rubber spiders and surface flies are among the most popular artificials for spawning bluegills. Shape and color should match natural forage. Cast the lure, and let it sit for a minute or so, with just an occasional twitch, before moving it. Try to simulate a non-aquatic animal that has fallen into the water by accident. If the animal moves, it’s going to sink, so most move very little. Lures worked too fast or aggressively make the fish wonder if they should really be tackled. Outside spawning season, nymphs and wet flies are favored by many fly fishermen to reach big bluegills holding 4 to 12 feet below the surface. The key to plumbing such depths is a 10-foot, sinking-tip line attached to your standard floating fly line. When fishing streams where current will sweep your lure downstream as it sinks, a 20-foot, sinking-tip line is best. Experiment with presentations. Sometimes bluegills prefer a slowly sinking lure. Other times, they will hit best when the lure is resting on bottom. Slowly twitching the lure through the water also can be effective. My favorite lure in this category is the sponge-rubber spider. Bream can’t resist these floating/sinking bugs with wiggly rubber legs. One I especially like is the Dry Cricket available from www.breambugs.com. When conditions are right, it will produce a limit of jumbo ‘gills in no time.