Flyfishing for summer bluegills
A typical bluegill taken on a foam popper on a recent trip to Liberty. Note the overhanging shoreline trees and submerged trees. (Bill May photo)

The white fly line shot low over the water and unfurled, straightening the leader and dropping the tiny bug delicately to the shaded surface under an overhanging tree. A bluegill shot to the surface to inhale it.

The fish was only about 8 inches, but it was classic summer flyfishing for bluegills.


I had noticed this area and its bluegill population when coming in from a bass fishing trip earlier this year. So I went back recently, taking a 6-weight fly rod with a floating line and a size 10 foam popper and a spinning rod with a plastic crayfish. After two hours of steady bluegill action, also featuring one bonus smallmouth, I moved to deeper water and took a 2-pound largemouth on the first cast. An hour later that was still my only bass with the spinning rod.

The bluegill were more fun.

This spot, not far from the second ramp at Liberty Reservoir, has all the characteristics of an area providing good summer bluegill fishing. It is near deeper water dropoffs, has lots of cover in the form of fallen trees, and, most importantly in summer, has overhanging trees providing shade well out over the water probably to depths of four feet during ideal sun conditions.

Fishing for bluegill — and I'm including rock bass, shellcrackers and various sunfish in this category — is probably the epitome of easy summer fishing. A lot of fishermen think bluegill fishing is strictly a spring affair. That's mostly true in terms of size and numbers of fish. Then good-sized bluegills move to deeper with weeds or other structure.

Trying for them on the surface or in the shallows in the daylight hours is usually futile; only probing the deep edges, usually with bait, "Ned rigs" or similar approaches will succeed. Jim Gronaw wrote about probing such spots with sweetened spoons last week. Personally, I don't like fishing in the summer sun, preferring the cooler, quieter shades of first light and dusk to dark, a predilections shared by most fish. By the time the sun is up or it is fully dark, the fishing is over.

But in the time between, enough fun-sized bluegills enter the shallows to make for some easy and fun fishing.

Deep shade and cover, like the spot described above, extends the low light hours in many waters. However, such areas usually demand precise casting. I was able to hit those shady pockets, despite winds, mostly with low sidearm and backhand roll casts, with the 6-weight Wulff line powering these "line drive" casts.

My favorite and most productive time is the "magic hour," the period just as the sun sets and as the day fades into dark. Very often the insects are active as are the fish that feed on them. This is a pleasant, quiet time after work and after the heat of day. It's a great time to take kids fishing and just the right length of time for their short attention spans.

Some favorite bluegill waters are Piney Run, Centennial Lake, Cunningham Falls Lake and Triadelphia, Rocky Gorge Liberty, Prettyboy and Loch Raven reservoirs and Delmarva ponds. Even some of the local rivers, including the Patapsco, Potomac, and Monocacy, provide good bluegill/sunfish opportunities.

Some of these places have boat rentals and some have room for shoreline fishing, but, unfortunately, many are open only in restrictive hours that exclude much of the prime time described above. So anglers need to pick places accordingly where they can fish from boat or shore.

Ideal fly tackle is an 8- to 9-foot, 4- to 8-weight fly rod, matching floating line, and 9-foot leader tapered to 4X. A variety of flies work including bushy dry flies in size 12 such as the Humpy, Wulff patterns, sponge "spiders," poppers and sliders, ants and beetles. I like floating poppers and sliders in sizes 6 to 10 for topwater action, and a weighted size 10 black wooly bugger for when the fish are reluctant to rise to the surface.

The bigger flies won't discourage the smaller fish but will discourage their deeply swallowing the fly.

Of course, fishing with kids or from tree-lined shores may make fly tackle impractical. The answer is to use light to medium spinning gear and a "spinning bubble," a clear float. These come in a variety of sizes and attachment methods. I like a teardrop-shaped, clip-on model about 2 inches long. Simply tie on one of the flies listed above and clip on the float 1-3 feet up the line.

One downside is that it's hard to be accurate with this rig.


Cast the rig out and gently reel in until you can tell the fly is trailing directly beyond the spin bubble. Then simply retrieve the rig with the same gentle twitches as you would in flyfishing. With floating flies, you will usually see the strike and can react; with wet flies and nymphs, strikes will be signaled by the twitch of the bobber.

Make sure to flatten the barbs of the hook of any lure or fly and take along a pair of hemostats (available at most tackle shops) to facilitate unharmed release of the little fish.

Summer bluegill fishing often will not provide the steady action of the spring. Sometimes I take only a few in an hour's fishing; other times I take a dozen or more in this time. Depending on the lake or river, you may also a find a surprise or two, as largemouth and smallmouth bass (as mentioned above), crappie, trout, rock bass, catfish and even carp go for the tiny bluegill flies.

But summer bluegill fishing is not about numbers or trophies; it's about relaxing on the water. By this criteria, summer bluegill fishing is wonderful.