Kayak fishing is fun, no matter what you’re fishing for — it’s productive, scenic, and offers much to soothe the soul as we paddle along our varied waterways. The same can be said for fishing from micro-skiffs and mini-boats. The cool thing is you can do it any way you want. Depending on your budget, you can outfit yourself with sonar, electric propulsion, and GPS location systems. Or if you wish, you can simply paddle or pedal along, enjoy the scenery, and cast. Me? I’m on the simpler end of the spectrum, preferring to paddle from a simple kayak while chasing down big, cooperative bluegills that the masses ignore.

bluegill caught kayak fishing
A bluegill bigger than your hand will put up quite a fight.

Most anglers view bluegills as kid’s stuff, pushovers unworthy of their time and effort. I mean, if there is a supply of 12-inch bass around, why not fish for them… right? Not me, I’d rather hunt down bull bluegills that measure nine to 10 inches with the possibility of an even bigger trophy coming to hand. Whether you fish before, during, or after the June spawning time, bluegilling is pure joy. Here are a few tips on getting on those rotund panfish that we all got started with.

Boats for Bluegills

You do not have to have the latest and greatest to get on the fish. Like my good friend Tommy Robinson says, “just get out there.” He has thrown Wal-Mart’s cheapest yaks in the back of his autos and found plenty of outstanding panfish venues over the years. Many of the finer bluegill fisheries throughout the Mid-Atlantic are small public and private ponds and lakes where you couldn’t use a full-size boat anyway, due to the lack of launch sites.

I currently use a nine-foot Vibe Kayaks Skip Jack SOT that weighs a scant 52 pounds. Nothing fancy, just plain nuts and bolts with a few personal touches: Go Pro camera mounts in front, an improved seat for comfort on the water, and a simple anchor system. That’s it. I don’t need a ramp or trailered parking lot, just a body of water to fish. I prefer to paddle as most of my options are in shallow, quiet lakes where electric motors may well spook the fish. There are so many kayak and small boat options out there that it could make for a difficult choice, but the choice is yours.

Bluegill Fishing Gear

Almost exclusively, I use ultralight spinning sticks with soft 6’ to 6’ 6” rods doing most of the work. I like quality four-pound monofilament lines like Trilene Extra Limp or Trout Magnets SOS in green. A 1000 series reel completes the outfit. Traditionally, I carry two rods of this size and one will be for casting tiny lures and the other may be used for bobber ‘n bait applications.

Lure selection is almost totally a micro-jig deal, with weights from 1/80th to 1/32nd of an ounce. I like the Mule Jig 1/80th and 1/64th ounce heads for fishing soft plastics, but they also team up well with worms, mealworms, or Gulp! products when the fish want meat. Trout Magnet shad dart style heads in 1/64th and 1/32nd ounce are excellent choices as well. The Trout Magnet plastic trailers and crayfish plastics, along with the Mule Jig Burro Bug, have been recent favorites of mine to cast to bedding or post-spawn bluegills.

Always on the menu for bluegills are common earthworms and pieces of nightcrawlers. They can be fished on jig heads or a long-shank number-eight Aberdeen wire hook and drifted below a bobber. Small, pear-shaped bobbers from Mr. Crappie or the 3.5-inch Rocket Bobber can add casting distance and serve as a strike indicator for shallow bluegills.

Plan of Attack

Most of the time I will scout for bedding bluegills with polarized glasses. In our region the activity can occur anytime from late April to middle of June and will vary each year depending on the progression of the spring warmup. Look for water temperature in the shallows to be 68 to 72 degrees. This can be a month-long process and may occur multiple times in and around the full moon periods of April through July. However, most of the larger adult fish in any system will spawn first and occupy the prime sand- and gravel-bottomed areas receiving sunlight.

giant bluegill caught fishing
The author with a chunky bluegill.

Once bluegills have been located, either bedding or post spawn, return 15 to 20 minutes later and fish for them while keeping your distance as to not spook the fish. Though deeper bluegills aren’t spooky, shallow fish can be. Clear water ‘gills in a quarry or spring-fed lake can be skittish as well. Turbid water can calm their nature, but they may be harder to visually locate. Sometimes bedding fish may be deeper than you think, too, from three to five feet instead of the usual two feet and shallower.

A good initial tactic is to cast micro plastics, with or without a bobber, to the fringe areas around sighted fish. If they don’t respond to the artificials then switch to live baits and see what happens. Seldom will a bull bluegill refuse a writhing garden worm or nightcrawler chunk. Micro-sized hair jigs tipped with a tiny piece of worm or mealworm also do well. Aggressive fish, however, will not need that extra enticement. Experiment to see what works best.

Where lake or pond aerators and fountains exist, bluegills often cruise on the outskirts of these and can be picked off as they feed on a variety of morsels that get caught up in the oxygen-rich turbulence. Of course, classic panfish structures such as submerged weed beds, brush piles, fallen wood, and docks should not be ignored.

Bluegills are not only fun to catch but offer terrific eating qualities as well. We keep some for the pan a few times a year and most of those fish range from 7.5 to 8.5 inches and make tasty fillets. But trophy bluegills exceeding the 10-inch mark are rare and should be considered for catch and release. Indeed, the internet is loaded with pics of huge hauls of bull bluegills, and catch and release of trophy panfish is a hard pill to swallow for some. But use discretion and after keeping what you need, release the rest for others to enjoy.

-By Jim Gronaw