Bluegill might not be the largest fish you’ll find in area streams and ponds, but in terms of popularity, they’re high on the lists of many Ozark anglers.

This is the time of year many Ozarkers add fishing for bluegill to their list of favored pastimes because now is when we’re getting into the primary spawning period for this member of the sunfish family. In terms of length (up to 10 inches) and weight (usually about 12 ounces or less), bluegill might be considered rather small in comparison with other species that area anglers like to catch (crappie, bass, etc.). However, the fish’s fighting ability and the tastiness of its filets are two reasons this species is so popular among anglers.

Bluegill numbers have taken a dramatic upswing in Missouri in the past 75 years. The earliest statewide survey of Missouri fishes, conducted in the 1940s, stated that bluegill existed in small numbers in parts of Missouri and were apparently absent from some northern areas of the state. Today, bluegill are found virtually statewide. You’re likely to find them in nearly any stream in Missouri that’s capable of supporting fish life. The biggest reason for this dramatic upswing in the state’s bluegill population is undoubtedly the increase in the number of farm ponds across the state. More than 250,000 farm ponds have been constructed in Missouri since 1950, and most of these contain bluegill. It’s inevitable that large numbers of bluegill escape from these and other artificial impoundments whenever they overflow. It’s theorized that stream populations in many parts of Missouri are maintained almost exclusively by continual escapement from impoundments.

In natural waters, the largest populations of bluegill are in the deeper pools and backwaters of low-gradient streams and in overflow pools along river floodplains. Bluegill are intolerant of continuous high turbidity and thrive best in warm, clear waters where aquatic plants or types of cover are present.

Bluegill begin nesting in May. This nesting activity continues into July, and sometimes even into August, but the spawning peak is June. Almost any type of bottom might be used for nesting, but bluegills prefer gravel. Nests are usually in water from 1 to 2 feet deep and consist of circular depressions. Many nests are typically close together in a limited area. Several females might spawn on the same nest, and a female might deposit her eggs in more than one nest.

Growth of bluegill varies considerably from one body of water to another. Growth is most rapid in new ponds and reservoirs. It’s slowest in turbid or overpopulated ponds. Stunted growth commonly occurs in these latter situations.

Bluegills bite on a variety of small baits — both natural and artificial — but crickets, grasshoppers and worms are at the top of the list. Fly-fishing is becoming an increasingly popular method of fishing for bluegills. If you opt for this method, wet flies, dry flies or popping bugs are most effective, especially near dusk on warm summer evenings when bluegill move into shallows to feed.

Because bluegill are classified as nongame fish in the Wildlife Code of Missouri, catching your limit is going to take some work. The daily limit for nongame fish taken by pole and line methods is 50, and the possession limit is 100.

More information about bluegill, and other species of Missouri fish, can be found at mdc.mo.gov.

Francis Skalicky is the media specialist for the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Southwest Region. For more information about conservation issues, call (417) 895-6880.

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