Top 10 Live Baits for Bluegill Fishing

live baits for bluegill fishing

Top 10 Live Baits for Bluegill Fishing

This article will list the top 10 live baits for bluegill fishing. Bluegill are one of the most popular freshwater species. This is due in large part to availability, bluegill are very widespread and are found in just about every body of water that isn’t too cold. While many anglers chase bluegill using artificial lures and flies, the majority of them are caught by anglers using live bait.

My name is Capt. Jim Klopfer and I am a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida. While I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to chase after glamour species such as snook, redfish, tarpon, jacks, speckled trout, and other saltwater game fish, on my days off I actually love to fish for bluegill. For me, it is a very quiet and relaxing way to to fish while putting some tasty fillets in the fridge.

The top 10 live baits for bluegill fishing are;

  • worms
  • nightcrawlers
  • minnows
  • crickets
  • grasshoppers
  • mealworms
  • wax worms
  • tadpoles
  • crayfish
  • commercially prepared baits

These 10 live baits for bluegill fishing will produce fish under any circumstance that an angler may encounter. While there are certainly other live and dead baits that bluegill will take, these are my favorite live baits when fishing for bluegill. Bluegill are the most aggressive member of the panfish family. They also have the most varied diet.

bluegill live baits

Best bluegill fishing tackle

One of the aspects of bluegill fishing that appeals to me is the fact that anglers do not need a bunch of fancy gear or tackle. Ultralight spinning tackle with 4 pound line will work well in just about every situation. Anglers can even keep it simpler and just use a cane pole. I like a longer spinning rod, between 6 foot and 6 1/2 foot long with a 1000 series reel.

The rest of the tackle box is pretty simple as well. I use a #8 live bait hook which has the little barbs on the shank to help hold worms and other baits on the hook. A couple floats and a few bags of split shot is all a bluegill angler really needs when fishing with live bait.

fishing for bluegill with worms

Worms for bluegill fishing

Worms are hands-down the number one live bait on my list of top 10 live baits or bluegill fishing. I use them over other live baits for several reasons. Most importantly, they are very productive. Bluegill and other panfish find a 3 inch wiggling worm extremely difficult to ignore. Worms are also readily available, anglers can purchase them at many retail outlets or dig a bunch of them up in the garden.

Read Capt Jim’s article on bluegill fishing

There are several varieties of worms and anglers can choose from. Red wigglers are commercially raised and are available at many retail spots including gas stations and big box retail stores, depending on location. They are the most active on the hook. The simple garden worm is easy to procure and works just fine.

fishing for bluegill

Worms are best fished under a small float in shallow water. In deeper water and around structure such as docks, free lining the worm with a split shot works well. Anglers can thread the worm on or run the hook through multiple times, both methods are effective.

Nightcrawlers for bluegill fishing

Nightcrawlers are next on my list of top live baits for bluegill fishing. They can be a bit more cost-effective as anglers need only pinch off an inch or so of the worm to use on the hook. There’s no sense in putting an 8 inch nightcrawler on a tiny hook for bluegill and other panfish. Nightcrawlers are readily available at many retail outlets and as long as they are kept cool, nightcrawlers will live for an extended period of time. In some areas, anglers can catch their own nightcrawlers in the evening.

best live bait for freshwater fishing

One advantage of fishing with nightcrawlers is that they tend to catch other, larger species. Many an angler who has been fishing a nightcrawler under a bobber has been surprised when a decent sized largemouth bass takes the bait. Catfish are another species that will readily take a piece of nightcrawler. Some anglers consider these other species to be a nuisance, but most are glad to see the variety. The only downside to nightcrawlers is that they are a tad messy with the type of soil that they are sold in.

Live minnows for bluegill fishing

best live bait for crappie

Bluegill will feed on bait fish. Therefore, minnows are third on my list of the top 10 live baits for bluegill fishing. A 1 inch to 1 1/2 inch minnow is perfect given the small mouth of a bluegill. Minnows are an excellent choice for anglers seeking larger bluegill as the smaller fish will not mess with them. Anglers do need some type of aerator in order to keep them alive.

An added benefit is that if crappie are in the area, that is their favorite live bait as well. Live minnows are most often fished 2 feet to 3 feet under a float. Live minnows can be hooked through both lips or under the dorsal fin, it really is just angler preference.

Crickets are excellent live baits for bluegill fishing

bluegill crickets

Crickets are an outstanding live bait for bluegill fishing! In Florida where I live, they are favored over other live baits, especially in the warmer months. Grey crickets are commercially raised and are the species that are available at most bait shops. They are a bit more troublesome to keep alive as anglers will need a special cage to keep them alive. However, the effort is usually worth it.

Live crickets often tend to catch larger bluegill as well. As with other live baits, they can be fished under a float in shallow water or with a split shot in slightly deeper water. One other technique is to allow the cricket to struggle right on the surface. This can produce some explosive strikes! The cricket is hooked or just behind the head, under the collar. Crickets stay on the hook well when hooked in this manner.

best 9 fishing lures for blegill and panfish

Grasshoppers will catch big bluegill

Grasshoppers are another insect that bluegill will happily devour. They are next on my list of the top 10 live baits for bluegill fishing. Very few bait shops sell grasshoppers, so anglers will have to catch and keep their own. Early-morning is best when there is still dew on the grass which hinders the grasshoppers ability to move. Once caught, they can be kept in a similar cage as with crickets. Grasshoppers tend to be large and are a good option for anglers targeting larger fish.

Mealworms are productive bluegill fishing bait


Mealworms are another popular and very effective live bait for bluegill fishing. They are extremely popular among anglers ice fishing for bluegill and panfish, however they are effective in open water fishing as well. Mealworms are available at tackle shops and can even be purchased online. They will live for quite a while when kept cool and dry.

Several mealworms can be threaded on a hook and fished under a float or allowed to sink slowly through the water column with a split shot. One very successful technique used by both open water fishermen and anglers ice fishing is to combine the meal worm with and artificial lure such as a tiny jig or spoon. This is extremely effective in vertical fishing situations when bluegill are schooled up and deep water.

Wax worms are top ice fishing baits for bluegill

ice fishing with jigs

Wax worms, also known as “waxies”, are very similar to mealworms. They are easy to obtain and keep alive and are very effective bluegill fishing baits. Wax worms are the predominant bait for anglers ice fishing for bluegill, though they do produce in open water as well. Like mealworms, combining the wax worm with and artificial lure is an excellent combination.

Bluegill fishing with tadpoles

Tadpoles are another good live bait for larger bluegill. Obviously, like minnows, they must be on the small size, with 1 inch being about the right length. The best part of fishing with tadpoles for bait that they are very easy to catch when they are around. Anglers can simply dip up a few dozen in a net and any type of slack water where they are present.

Bluegill love small crayfish

Tiny crayfish are fantastic bluegill fishing baits! This is particularly true for anglers fishing for bluegill with live bait and rivers and streams. Crayfish prefer rocky habitat in most cases and can be caught in traps or with nets in streams. The crayfish is hooked through the tail up from the bottom and is cast out and allowed to drift naturally with the current. A 1 inch crayfish is perfect, and don’t be surprised if a small mouth bass interrupts your bluegill fishing.

Commercial bluegill fishing baits

gulp alive minnow

Commercially prepared baits are last on my list of top 10 live baits for bluegill fishing. While technically not live bait, they are so productive and easy to use that I thought that I would include them. There are many different companies which sell these types of baits. The 1” Gulp Alive Minnow is an excellent little bait/lure that can be fished on a hook or on a tiny jig head. Gulp also sells waxies and other baits that are fine for bluegill fishing.

Berkeley also offers anglers fishing for bluegill several options as well. There Power Bait line has many choices including Panfish Nibbles which will catch plenty of fish. The Magic Bait Bluegill Bait is another good choice. The main advantage of these prepared baits is the ease and convenience with which they can be used. Anglers can keep them stored in the tackle box and ready to go any time he or she wants to go bluegill fishing.

In conclusion, this article on my top 10 live baits for bluegill fishing will hopefully help anglers catch more of these feisty and tasty little freshwater game fish species!

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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