Large bluegills are not the pushovers their younger siblings are. While it is true that larger fish may be easy to catch while on their spawning beds, once the spawn is over truly, large panfish can be some of the most elusive freshwater fish to catch. In this article, I will discuss some of the things I have learned over the years to catch larger bluegills and other panfish consistently.
” Your Going To Need A Bigger Boat”
Well maybe that is a slight exaggeration, but that classic line from the Jaws movie made a valid point. To catch a larger fish, you need to go large or go home. When targeting bigger panfish, I will often fish a fly size six or larger. Even though bluegills have small mouths, they are capable of getting some reasonably large items to fit in them. I routinely have large bluegills completely inhale flies tied on size six, even size four hooks. How many times have you been bass fishing and had you lure or fly intended for a bluegill predator eaten by an actual bluegill? Take that behavior as a clue that larger flies can be and are eaten by big panfish.
One downside to fishing larger flies is that you are likely to catch less fish. Smaller panfish may ignore or nip at these larger offerings as they are unable to eat theses bigger flies effectively. On the plus side, you may draw the attention of larger predators like bass and pickerel. Skip Morris calls flies of this size Bass-Bluegill Lap Flies. He identifies these flies as patterns that mimic the size of the creatures sought by both bass and bluegill. By imitating a food source that both species eat you can double your chances of catching these fish by targeting both. To learn more about Skip’s thoughts on this concept, you can read his articles found in the links below.
I use large, primarily subsurface patterns when going after big fish. Large nymphs, wet flies, sinking bugs, and small streamers are all excellent choices when pursuing large panfish. I like a size six hook occasionally going as large as a size four on some patterns. Many anglers may feel these hook sizes are too large for panfish, but a fish over ten inches will have little difficulty taking one of these flies, and that is what we are after…large panfish.
Some Of My Personal Fly Choices
The Creature: This pattern consistently catches more large panfish than any other subsurface pattern I fish. Tied on a size 8 Mustad 3366 hook, it will catch panfish of all sizes. Increase the size of the fly to a size six or four, and it only attracts the attention of the largest specimens as well as the attention of larger predators like bass.
The Bream Killer: My version of the Ligon Bream Killer is tied slightly different from the original. The placement of the wing adds a different profile to the pattern and effects how the fly sinks. The Bream Killer is a sinking bug that I use when fish are holding tight to cover. The fly sinks perfectly horizontally, and the legs stretched out to the side are irresistible to large bluegill. Strike detection can be a little tricky at first, but I will cover that later in the article.
Small Streamers: I add small streamers to my arsenal later in the season when the young of the year are available to larger panfish as a food source. I fish a variety of smaller streamers, again usually a size six to avoid the smaller fish, including the infamous woolly bugger as well as a variety of buck-tails. One favorite of mine is a big Hornberg Special, especially a dark version that I tie that is deadly on larger panfish. Another favorite is the Stayner Ducktail a fly initially designed to imitate perch fry. Perch are prevalent in many of the waters I fish, making this pattern a logical choice.
You Have To Find Them Before You Can Catch Them
Panfish tend to associate with each other by year class. The largest panfish spend most of their time in different water types than there smaller brothers and sisters. Once the spawn is over look for these fish in deeper water often adjacent to cover. If you are consistently catching smaller fish (or catching nothing at all) seek out different water. For example, I often find larger fish below smaller fish when fishing a fallen tree along a shoreline. You need to get your fly down to these fish, so fly selection becomes critical. A large Bream Killer or Bully Spider is perfect for this type of vertical presentation. I will also focus on weed line edges close to deeper water. Again I concentrate on getting flies down as deep as possible to where these larger fish reside. Large nymphs and small streamers are ideal for these situations. A popper rigged with a dropper long enough to reach these larger fish is also a great option.
Time Of Day Is Important
While it is possible to catch large panfish during the middle of the day, I find they feed better during periods of low light. I concentrate my efforts around sunrise and sunset for the best results. While I know that subsurface patterns will catch more fish, who doesn’t love the crashing take of a big bluegill on a topwater bug. During these low light periods, it is possible to take some large fish on the surface. Once again, I keep my flies on the larger size to discourage hits from smaller fish. Fishing the areas where larger fish congregate you can often coax them to the surface early or late in the day.
To consistently catch larger panfish, you need to up your game a bit. The following tips will help you do just that.
1. Leader design: Most of the time, I don’t pay much attention to my leader when fishing for panfish. The exception is when I am targeting larger fish. I tend to use long leaders (12’ or longer) to avoid spooking fish. Big panfish got to that size by doing something different from the rank and file. They behave differently and spook easier.
2. Fluorocarbon v Monofilament: I usually stick with plain old mono for most of my warm water fishing to keep costs down. The exception is when I am fishing for larger panfish. Fluorocarbon sinks better allow flies to get down to the fish and it is nearly invisible in the water, which aids in duping big panfish.
3. Strike Detection: When fishing vertical sinking flies like Bream Killers and Bully Spiders strike detection is critical. Detecting a take on a sinking fly can be challenging at times, but there are a few things you can do to increase your odds of discovering the take. First off fully stretch out your leader on your cast. A stretched out leader will give you a tight connection to your fly, allowing you to see and react to a hit. If you leader piles loosely on the surface after the cast, you will miss the subtle takes as the fly is depending. Second, keep your rod tip low and take in all slack.out of your fly line as the fly descends This will help you to react to a take quickly and help you hook the fish before they spit the fly. If you still have problems you can try fishing a sinking fly under an indicator. The challenge is presenting the fly/indicator rig, so it remains close enough to the structure your fishing. What typically happens is that the fly lands close to cover and the indicator lands some distance away. As the fly descends in travels in an arch AWAY from the cover and eventually settles under the indicator. These rigs work best when you can fish parallel to the structure allowing both the indicator and the fly to land close to the structure your fishing
4. Presentation: Proper presentation is vital when fishing for larger fish. Casts need to be accurate, and you need to be able to control and manipulate the flies you are fishing, so they appear natural to the fish. While smaller specimens are usually very forgiving of poor or sloppy presentations. This is not the case with larger fish. Bring your A-Game!
Putting It All Together
- Use larger flies
- Concentrate your efforts where you are likely to find larger fish. Think about structure and depth.
- Fish at the right time of day for the methods you are using
- Pay attention to the details like leader design and proper presentation
- Work on perfecting your ability to detect subtle takes on sinking flies
- Bring your A-Game! Big panfish are not pushovers. Trophy panfish are some of the most challenging fish to catch in fresh water. How many 12” or larger panfish have you seen hanging on the wall of your local shop or bar?