In this post, I’m going to share the 10 best bluegill flies that can help you land more bluegill than you ever thought possible.
As you may know, fishing for bluegill is a bit of a specialism in the “panfish” category.
Although native to North America, and a fresh water fish, you can effectively fly fish for it rather like trout fishing.
I have been fly fishing for for nearly 50 years and there are a few differences from hunting trout though. Some of the patterns for bluegill are much more “top water” flies, including a variety of foam concoctions which would not be allowed on the typical English chalk stream!
Table of Contents
This post will describe some of the best and most effective bluegill patterns to keep in your fly box and consider how you might fish them to best effect.
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What is a Bluegill Fly?
The first thing to remember when fishing for bluegill is that these are a relatively small species of fish compared with some of the killer trout and other larger species you might fly fish for. Consequently, a bluegill fly is likely to be on the smaller end of the spectrum on the whole.
These fish are omnivorous – and although they will eat pretty much anything, their primary diet will be aquatic insects and fish and the odd dry or top water pattern which they might pick from the surface.
What Makes A Great Bluegill Fly?
Bearing in mind that this is a fish which likes to inhabit the weed beds, usually in the shallow old water, then a selection of flies, some of which won’t get you hung up in the weed are well worth considering and need to be included in your fly box.
What makes a great bluegill fly? It is worth having a look at the usual AIA criteria to see what makes the most effective flies for bluegill.
Although a relatively small fish, it is an omnivorous fish and anything which makes the fly look edible (like an escaping small nymph or terrestrial for example) is worth fishing.
Some of the best bluegill flies incorporate movement such as the black spider which is a classic wet fly pattern with a collar or hackle of soft hen feather which moves in the water and closes round the fly when retrieved and should make it look like a small fish fry.
Anything which provides a key trigger point for a form of food the blue gill will recognize has to be worth including – this might be oversized legs for grasshopper patterns for example.
In the case of the damsel fly over sized eyes and a large profile and tail pattern might be key to triggering recognition of a food pattern.
The mobile patterns, including movement, will also act as an attractor to the fish, but it is also worth considering brightly foam colours top water patterns, for example, (and some of the wet patterns too) to grab the fishes attention using perhaps brightly coloured foam or [?] bodies.
Understanding the Hatch
Since the bluegill feeds on pretty much everything, we need to consider both its environment and likely food sources. A large part of the bluegill diet will be formed of underwater insects, some of which will be striving to the water surface to hatch into flies:
Larvae and Nymphs
Aquatic insects hatch from eggs laid in the water by the adult and might comprise pupae or larvae which burrow into the silt and form a protective cocoon from debris at the bottom of the river or lake, or as a nymph which lives amongst the weed and as it matures in the water column prior to swimming towards the surface and hatching out into a semi-mature flying insect.
So as the pupa or nymph matures, it will swim to the surface and break out of its nymphal shuck and hang in the water surface struggling to escape its aquatic insect case. It becomes an “emerger” and might stay on the surface for a few seconds, or perhaps minutes, as its wing buds fledge into proper wings and dry out prior to flying off.
At this point, the insect is extremely vulnerable to being eaten and is trapped in the water film. This is a key pattern to fish for many species.
There are generally two stages of adult fly, the “dun” or immature adult and “imago” or matured adult – possibly a third category, the “spinner”, which is the mature adult in its dying phase once it has mated.
Obviously whilst the insects are airborne they do not form part of the food chain, but a female insect laying eggs in the water, or a male or female dying insect which has been blown onto the water after mating will all form fish food and are worth imitating.
What Do Bluegill Flies Imitate?
As you can see, aquatic insects form a large part of the bluegills diet and probably the majority of flies fished to catch them will need to also. But there are plenty of other food sources, including terrestrial insects – those which normally mate, breed and live on the land, but are blown onto the water or fall from trees or bushes above.
The fish will be tuned in to anything such as caterpillars, grasshoppers and other land based flies which form part of the diet.
Basic Types of Bluegill Flies
What follows from the point above is that bluegill flies might comprise any of the life stages of aquatic insects or terrestrials including insects in their underwater form, adult flying versions and some more bizarre patterns which primarily attract, and lure with little close imitation about them.
Nevertheless, these can be very effective fish catchers and have to be included amongst the most effective bluegill fly patterns.
Dry flies might include both aquatic forms of life once they have hatched onto the water and imitate the adult fly, or could include a variety of land based insects including grasshoppers, caterpillars, beetles, fawn and other large land base flies.
Some of the other larger floating imitations such as frogs and mice are unlikely to be effective to bluegill given their limited maximum size.
Wet flies designed to sink under the water and, although similar to nymph patterns, do not represent flies so much as small fish fry and the like.
They frequently rely on movement and mobile materials in their dressings to help with this assemblance of movement and imitation.
Emergers as noted above, aquatic insects sit in the surface film as they hatch from an aquatic insect into a flying one and discard their underwater clothing to emerge as a fly.
Well worth imitating, these patterns are designed to half sink, half float with part of the fly submerged in the water to represent the partly discarded shuck or insect case of the aquatic dwelling near-adult.
Nymphs are immature insects which live under the water and generally freely swim through it, but might also include caddis and pupae which are usually mud or silt burrowing insects which fight their way towards the surface before hatching out.
Some hair wing patterns, if tied sufficiently small, might well appeal to bluegill, although the typical large dressings used for pike, large trout and so on, are probably too large for this relatively small panfish species.
The Best Bluegill Flies For Fly Fishing
This section includes a variety of flies specifically for bluegill, but remember that many of the patterns will overlap with panfish and trout fishing generally.
When fishing for bluegill, hook sizes should be tailored towards a smaller fish species rather than the pattern you would use for a ten pound trout. Remember also that a small hook will catch both large and small fish, but big hooks may not be edible to the smaller fish. Consequently, hook sizes below about 14 are probably the order of the day at least as a starting point.
Some of the best bluegill flies which you should include in your box are included below in our “top ten” best bluegill flies.
Wyatt’s Deer Hair Emerger
This is an extremely simple to tie and very buoyant fly requiring little in the way of floatant, if at all. The deer hair in the dressing keeps the fly on the water surface.
Tied in a size 14 or 16, and although primarily intended as a baetis or blue wing olive imitation, I suspect the fish take it for pretty much anything that might be hatching on the surface.
The Deer Hair Emerger is such a good pattern and will catch any other panfish, trout, grayling and the like and it has to be worth including – and has the added advantage of being a universally acceptable pattern.
Whilst considering surface fished flies, a foam or deer hair grasshopper pattern has to be included amongst the best bluegill fly patterns.
A third top water pattern to put in your kit – a foam ant. When flying ants are about, you may find fish are focused on feeding on nothing else.
You may not need many, but you do need some in your fly box for summer days when the fish are zoned in on ants and nothing else will do.
My fourth top water pattern and essential bluegill fly is the foam popper. These are relatively cheap and again will appeal to a variety of fish and consequently, well worth including in your fly box in a range of sizes.
Some of the brightly coloured poppers will have an added attractor element and are worth using on days when closely imitative patterns simply do not work. We all have those days.
You need a fly or lure pattern different from anything else in your fly box in order to ring the changes.
The McGinty Wet Fly
This is a now an American classic wet fly dressing which dates from the 1880s. The McGinty Wet Fly looks rather like a wasp or bumblebee and is dressed using a combination of yellow and black chenille to create a striped body. Also good for grayling, trout, pretty much anything!
Despite its age, this is one of the best all round fly fishing patterns generally and certainly one of the most effective bluegill patterns. The fly has a soft red or brown hen hackle which provides added movement in the water and offers all of the advantages of an attractor (colour), as well as action from the hackle movement.
The Black Spider
This is another wet fly dressing and has a black body with black hen hackle collar.
Again, the hackle acts as a movement/ attractor element providing action to the fly. I always think that a black spider fly offers improved visibility to the fish when the water is coloured and a brightly coloured attractor fly may not be appropriate.
The black quite often shows through well in coloured water when others do not.
Effectively, this is a fish fry imitation.
Red Tag Wet Fly
The last of my wet fly selection, this is another old pattern. Like the black spider it probably dates back 150 or 200 years.
The fly uses a typical wet fly dressing – soft hen hackle to impart action and movement. Tied with a peacock herl body which adds a bit of sparkle and a red wool tail as a further attractor element this is a proven wet fly. You could probably fish this anywhere in the world and catch something!
Damsel Fly Nymph
This comes in a variety of dressings, but an olive green marabou dressing will add movement to the fly and a pair of large bug eyes provide an additional trigger/imitation element – albeit, somewhere overemphasized.
You may want a heavy version of this fly since the damselfly is a silt burrower before it hatches out and enters the water column. If bluegill are feeding deep down in the weed this is an ideal pattern to fish, though you may get the odd hang up within the weed instead of catching fish!
Marchbrown/Hair and Partridge
This is a simple tying. Technically, it is a wet fly, but I suspect fulfills a variety of functions and could be taken by the fish as either a small fish fry or as a nymph.
The partridge hackle is extremely soft and folds around the fly when retrieved and the colouration means it could represent all things to all fish. This has to be one of the best and most effective bluegill flies and will catch plenty of other fish.
Another classic and relatively old fashioned dressing which still works.
James Wood Bucktail
This is a pattern I came across relatively recently and I have to confess, I have not fished it. But the pattern looks perfect for covering a variety of imitation situations rather like the marchbrown above. It is one I will be fishing shortly and I cannot believe this fly won’t capture a variety of fish, including bluegills.
If you are tying your own, it is a relatively straightforward pattern to make up. Again, it offers all the right qualities of movement/attraction action, colouration and a degree of imitation.
Based on my reading on the internet, I cannot believe I have missed out on this fly before and I look forward to giving it a test drive shortly. All of the reports suggest this remains one of the best pan fish (and bluegill) flies going.
There is my selection of “best panfish flies” suitable for fishing bluegill. Remember to consider the hook size.
It may be worth asking around to consider local fishing conditions and see if there is a consensus of opinion on hook and fly sizes. Sometimes it is worth going really small with your flies, perhaps down to a size 18 or even 20 in heavily fished waters where most people use a larger fly size.
Quite likely the fish will be less spooked by a small dressing when they have seen everything else at a size 14 pulled through the water in front of their nose.
This is a series of flies which you could keep in your number one trout fly box, and provided the sizes are correct, will pretty much catch you fish anywhere around the world!