Florida Bluegill Fishing – a Complete Guide!


Florida bluegill fishing

Florida Bluegill Fishing

In this article I will thoroughly cover Florida bluegill fishing. While bass get the lions share of publicity, I could make the case that bluegill are the most sought after freshwater fish species in Florida. They are scrappy, great fun on light tackle, and fantastic eating. What more could an angler ask for?

My name is Capt Jim Klopfer and I have been running fishing charters since 1991. Many clients are surprised to find out that I really enjoy fishing for bluegill. They may seem less than glamorous, but to me they are just great fun. I especially like to chase them using a fly rod.

bluegill fishing in Florida

Florida bluegill fishing

One of the aspects of bluegill fishing in Florida is the simplicity of it. Bluegill fishing is not complicated, especially in Florida where most lakes are shallow. Fish can’t escape to deep water as they can in other parts of the country. In fact, the warmest months offer the best fishing as bluegill and other panfish spawn in shallow water.

Anglers pursuing bluegill can do so using a variety of methods. A live worm or cricket under a float still produces. The bait can be cast out or anglers can use a cane pole. I prefer to use artificial lures and flies, I just find it easier and int is often just as productive.

Bluegill tackle and lures

bluegill and panfish lures

The best all round rod and reel is a 6′ to 7′ ultralight spinning rod with a 1000 series reel. I usually spool it with 6 pound line as the Florida waters are fairly dark for the most part. Also, there is always the chance to hook a decent bass, and the 6 pound line gives anglers at least a fighting chance.

I really enjoy casting tiny lures when Florida bluegill fishing. My “go to” lure is a 1/16 ounce Johnson Beetle spin, usually in black. This is a miniature spinnerbait that is deadly on bluegill and will catch bass, crappie, shellcracker, and stumpknocker as well.

fishing for crappie, bluegill, and panfish

My next favorite lure is a tiny curly tail grub. These are inexpensive baits that are effective and easy to use. Like the Beetle spin, jigs also catch a variety of species. Chartreuse is my favorite color, followed by white. Small plugs are a great choice for anglers seeking larger bluegill. With all lures, slow and steady generally produces best. Bluegill will shy away from something moving too fast or erratically. Lures should be worked around weed lines, docks, fallen trees, and other structure.

Trolling lures is another very effective bluegill fishing technique.  Spinners, jigs, and plugs all work well. This is a great approach on a large, unfamiliar body of water to help locate bluegill more quickly. Generally speaking, trolling needs to be done in fairly open water, it just gets frustrating if a hang up occurs every couple minutes. Weed lines are great spots, as are drop offs and submerged vegetation.

bluegill fishing

Fly fishing for Florida bluegill

As mentioned above, I really enjoy fly fishing for bluegill in Florida. The fish are almost always shallow, making them easy targets. Long casts are nor required. Bluegill are an excellent species for novice fly anglers to practice on and gain confidence.

Read more about Florida freshwater fly fishing charters

The best fly outfit is similar to what anglers use for stream trout. A 3wt or 4wt outfit with a floating line and a tapered leader works well. A 4x tippet is fine for bluegill fishing, that equates to about 6 lb test. Anglers do not need to spend a lot of money, a serviceable rod, reel, and line can be purchased for under $200.

fishing for Florida panfish and crappie

Fly selection need not be complicates as well. Many anglers associate bluegill with poppers, and for good reason. Bluegill are well known to attack a popper or other surface bug. As with most fishing, anytime a visual element can be added to the fishing experience, the better. Surface flies also stay up out of the weeds, reducing snags on vegetation.

Read more about fly fishing for bluegill

When the bluegill refuse to take a popper or surface bug, it is time to go to a sinking fly. Anything black and “buggy” will catch bluegill. A #8 black Wooly Bugger is an excellent all round choice. I also like tiny bait fish patterns such as deceivers and Myakka Minnow patterns.

fly fishing for Florida bluegill

Florida bluegill fly fishing techniques

Fly fishing for bluegill is easy! Anglers only need to get the fly out 15 or 20 feet in order to be successful. Top spots would be weed edges, submerged vegetation, docks, and fallen trees. Bluegill love wood of any type! When using poppers or surface flies, the fly is cast out and allowed to settle. Do not be in a big hurry to move it! After a bit, a small twitch will get the popper to pop or bug to undulate seductively. This is repeated a couple more times before being picked up and re-cast.

Bluegill will often take subsurface flies as they slowly sink. The fly is cast out to a likely spot and allowed to slowly sink. As it does, anglers need to watch the line for any movement. After a few seconds, the fly is retrieved back in using short, sharp strips. When a fish takes the fly, the hook is set with the stripping hand, not the rod tip. This is called a “strip set”.

Freshwater fish species

Bluegill fishing in Florida with live bait

While I personally enjoy fishing for Florida bluegill with lures and fly, there is no doubt that live bait is incredibly effective. Top live baits include worms, nightcrawlers, crickets, and grass shrimp. Most anglers purchase live bait at local shops or retail outlets. Crickets are more of a specialty bait that tend to produce larger bluegill. Serious anglers will use a fine mesh net in the vegetation to catch tiny grass shrimp. They are a deadly bait fished on a #10 fine wire hook.

Since most bluegill caught in Florida are found fairly shallow, the best approach when using live bait is to suspend it under a small float. The float adds casting weight, suspends the bait, and provides a visual indication of a strike. Floats come in several styles, from the classic read and white float to the more sensitive quill floats.

bluegill fishing

The bait is usually suspended 2-3 feet under the float. However, anglers can go deeper is required. A tiny split shot can be added near the hook. A #8 bait holder hook is a good all-round choice for Florida bluegill and other panfish.

More Florida panfish species

Anglers chasing bluegill in Florida will inevitably catch other species as well. These include crappie, bass, shellcracker, stumpknocker, warmouth, and other species. It can be tricky identifying them at times.

Crappie

fishing for crappie bluegill and panfish

Crappie are a very popular freshwater species throughout the country. Florida has an excellent population of these delicious fish. Crappie do not fight as hard as some other panfish, but they grow larger and are outstanding to eat. Crappie feed mostly on minnows, therefore live minnows and lures and flies that mimic them are most productive. Fall and early winter are the best times as this is when they spawn

largemouth bass

best small spinnerbait for bass

Anglers chasing bluegill in Florida will invariably hook largemouth bass as well. After all, bass really are just larger sunfish. Most will be in the 1 to 3 pound range, which are great fun on light tackle. It is difficult to land a larger bass in heavy cover using light tackle. Right now, there is an overabundance of small bass in Florida waters. There is a minimum size limit and the smaller fish are good to eat.

fishing for Florida panfish and crappie

Shellcracker, also known as redear sunfish, look a bit like bluegill but grow larger. They put up a terrific battle and are fantastic eating. As the name implies, shellcracker feed on crustaceans. They also love live worms. While they will take lures and flies, live bait will catch more fish.

Top 15 Bluegill lakes in Florida

  • Lake Okeechobee

  • Lake Panasofkee

  • Lake Istokpoga

  • Lake Talquin

  • Lake George

  • Lake Hamilton

  • Lake Kissimmee

  • Lochloosa Lake

  • Lake Rousseau

  • Lake Jesup

  • Lake Hatchineha

  • Lake Toho

  • Lake Monroe

  • Lake Weir

  • Lake Pierce

These are just some of the top bluegill fishing lakes in the state of Florida. By no means is the list complete, there are a ton of great fishing options!

In conclusion, this article on Florida bluegill fishing will help anglers catch more of these diminutive game fish in the Sunshine State!Anglers can view the current Florida freshwater fishing regulations on the FWC website.

 

Jim Klopfer

Capt Jim Klopfer has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. He grew up in Maryland, fishing the Chesapeake Bay waters. Capt Jim has been creating an writing articles about fishing for decades, contributing to many regional and national publications. He also lives part time in the North Carolina mountains where he fishes for trout and other species. Capt Jim Klopfer is a wel rounded angler with 50 years fishing experience, and he loves to share what he has learned with other anglers!

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