A variety of panfish tips
The classic method: a Cunningham Falls Lake bluegill taken on fly tackle with a rubber–legged popper. (Bill May photo)

The classic way to fish for bluegill/sunfish (hereinafter referred to generically as bluegills) is casting a size 10 or 12, rubber-legged popping bug or spider with a light fly rod and floating line.

That still works and is arguably the most enjoyable way to fish for bluegills. But it’s not the only way.


I like to use a 5- or 6-weight (trout weight) fly rod, floating line and 9-foot leader tapered to 3X or 4X. If I do use the standard popper above, I trim the legs considerably; bluegills often try to tug the bug under by grabbing the legs and miss the hook. Better yet, I prefer a foam-bodied bug with short legs or no legs.

I recently received a CD created by outdoor writer Rob Streeter entitled “Tying and Fishing for Panfish” that includes several floating and sinking fly patterns. His Gartside Gurgler-style foam fly is an ideal top water pattern.

While top water is fun, it’s not always the most effective for bluegills, and most other panfish prefer sunken flies.

Besides patterns found on the above CD, I like a size 10 beadhead wooly bugger and a Trout Magnet dart head with a white/chartreuse tail. Both have produced bluegills and crappie for me. These flies can be fished on a floating, sinktip or sinking line, depending on depth.

They can also be fished on a floating line with a split shot and indicator, like a small Thingamabobber.

But flyfishing is not the only option.

This Magothy River Yellow perch took my jighead/grub/offset spinner rig. I took a 13-pound carp on this rig later that day.
This Magothy River Yellow perch took my jighead/grub/offset spinner rig. I took a 13-pound carp on this rig later that day. (Bill May photo)

Ultralight to light spinning tackle is the choice when targeting panfish with 4- to 8-pound monofilament line. All of the above lures and flies can be fished by adding a small clip-on float. For floating flies and bugs I like a clear float attached about 18 inches up the line.

This is an easy, visual and fun way to catch bluegills, and a great rig to start kids fishing.

For sinking lures and flies you can adjust the float to fish at depths up to several feet. With any float arrangement you’ll need to adjust your casting to a smoother, more gradual arc.

The farther the float is from the lure or fly the more likely the rig will go out with a “helicopter” action. It gets the rig out, but accuracy suffers.

But the use of a float offers great versatility. Not infrequently when fishing for bass or stripers with heavier tackle like floating frogs or swimming flukes you find bluegills, crappie and perch striking your lures. When fishing Delmarva ponds I usually use a bite leader of at least 20-pound test, too thick to fit through the eye of small bugs and flies. A Duolock snap solves the problem.

So I clip on the size 10 beadhead black wooly bugger, add the float and I’m in business with the panfish.

The results can be startling.

I took this bass and bluegill combo on a tandem rig at Lake Charles this July.
I took this bass and bluegill combo on a tandem rig at Lake Charles this July. (Bill May photo)

Sunken trees often hold mixed populations of bluegills and crappies, and this rig produces both. But it also takes pickerel, bass, channel cats, stripers, trout and even carp. One slow fall day I tried this rig in Prettyboy Reservoir to relieve the boredom of taking no bass by targeting bluegill. I did catch a few but I also took 4 largemouths and 3 smallmouths in an hour before my buddy wanted to try deeper water.


I had, in effect, been fishing a version of the “float-and-fly” rig.

Another variation on this theme is attaching a trailing lure or fly to a standard floating bass fishing lure.

My favorites are the ¼-ounce Pop-R or Tiny Torpedo. A floating frog is another option. Simply attach about an 18-inch piece of 6 to 8-pound monofilament to the bend of one rear hook and a bluegill bug or dart jig to the terminal end. The floating lure serves as a magnet, and the panfish take the trailer. It seems like this tandem rig brings out competitive instincts in fish.

So a remarkable number of times, you’ll take a “double,” and it can be a bass or pickerel and a panfish, or two panfish or two bass or two pickerel. On occasion the panfish takes the larger lure, especially the Tiny Torpedo, and a bass or pickerel takes the smaller one.

Fishing hair jigs or jighead and grub combinations, sometimes “sweetened” with a bit of bait, on ultralight spinning tackle and 4-pound monofilament is almost as much fun as fly fishing. These lures range in weight from 1/32 to ¼ ounce and are ag good choice for bluegills and trout.

My favorite lure targeting crappie and white perch is a chartreuse curlytail grub on a 1/8-ounce jighead with a clip-on, offset gold spinner. Commercial versions of this rig, with different style grubs are known as “Beetle Spins,” and small spinnerbaits are another option. All these lures can be found in 1/16 to ¼ ounce sizes.

Besides taking the target species this rig takes bluegill, yellow perch, pickerel, walleye, largemouth and smallmouth bass, stripers, channel cats, all species of trout and carp.

Fished on medium-light spin tackle, this is another good rig to give to kids starting out fishing.