At times easily caught by novice and experienced anglers alike, bluegills are among the most popular panﬁsh species in North America. This notoriety is the result of their vast distribution, spunky ﬁght, and excellent taste.
Commonly referred to as “bream,” bluegills are the most widely distributed panﬁsh and are found with, or in similar places as, such companion and related species as redbreast sunﬁsh, green sunfish, pumpkinseeds, shellcrackers, and longear sunﬁsh, all of which are similar in conﬁguration but different in appearance.
Despite their abundance and popularity, bluegills are not heavily targeted in some waters and are thus underutilized. Bluegills are so prolific that their populations can grow beyond the carrying capacity of the water, and as a result many become stunted; these stunted fish are regarded as pests, and waters containing them must often be drained and restocked. There are three subspecies of bluegills in existence, although stocking has intermingled populations and subspecies.
IdentificationThe bluegill has a significantly compressed oval or roundish body, a small mouth, and a small head, qualities typical of members of the sunﬁsh family. The pectoral ﬁns are pointed.
Its coloring varies greatly from lake to lake, ranging from olive, dark blue, or bluish purple to dappled yellow and green on the sides with an overall blue cast; some ﬁsh, particularly those found in quarry holes, may actually be clear and colorless. Ordinarily, there are six to eight vertical bars on the sides, and these may or may not be prominent.
The gill cover extends to create a wide black ﬂap, faint in color on the young, which is not surrounded by a lighter border as in other sunﬁsh. Dark blue streaks are found on the lower cheeks between the chin and the gill cover, and often there is a dark mark at the bottom of the anal fin. The breeding male is more vividly colored, possessing a blue head and back, a bright orange breast and belly, and black pelvic ﬁns.
Size/AgeThese ﬁsh range from 4 to 12 inches in length, averaging 8 inches and reaching a maximum length of 16.25 inches. The largest bluegill ever caught was a 4-pound, 12-ounce specimen taken in 1950. The growth of the bluegill varies so much that estimates of age as it relates to size are at best inexact. Bluegills are estimated to live for 10 years.
Life history/BehaviorThe age of sexual maturity varies with environment and locale, although most bluegills reach spawning age when 2 or 3 years old. Spawning occurs between April and September, starting when water temperatures are around 70°F.
The males build shallow, round nests in water up to 6 feet deep over sandy or muddy bottoms. These nests occur in colonies of up to 500 along the shoreline, densely concentrated and easily spotted by anglers. Females may lay between 2,000 and 63,000 eggs, which hatch 30 to 35 hours after fertilization.
It is common for ﬁsh to spawn many times, with a particular ﬁsh laying eggs in several nests and a single nest containing eggs from more than one female. Males guard the eggs throughout the incubation period and stay to protect the hatched young. Having reached lengths of 1⁄4 to 1⁄3 inch, the young leave their nests for deeper waters. Bluegills travel in small schools, typically made up of similar-size individuals.