A lot of adults who enjoys fishing got hooked on the sport (pardon the pun) by fishing for bluegill as a kid. Because of its willingness to take a variety of natural and artificial baits, its feistiness when hooked, and its excellent food eating, the bluegill is one of the more important game fish in the eastern United States.
Most folks can easily identify the bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus). They are oval shaped and average around 6-10 inches long, but you’ll see hundreds of them much smaller and very dexterous at stealing your bait. Bluegill are dark green to blue-green in color, have dark bars on their sides, a black spot on the dorsal (top) fin, and a black flap at the edge of the gill cover. Other identifying features are a small mouth and long pectoral (front side) fins. Bluegill have a close cousin some call sunfish or bream (Lepomis gibbosus), which is a more brilliant green color with an orange belly and spots on their sides.
Bluegills can be found everywhere, in ponds, lakes, and slow moving rivers and streams. They prefer quiet, weedy or brushy waters where they can hide and feed. Insects, insect larvae and crustaceans are the dominant foods of bluegills, with vegetation, fish eggs, small fish, mollusks, and snails being of secondary importance, although they may dominate their diet during certain times of the year.
Besides eating and hiding from predators, bluegills do a lot of propagation. They spawn from April through August, peaking in late May through June when the water temperature rises to about 78-80 degrees. Bluegills are well known for “bedding” in large groups, with the males building circular beds (called nests) by fanning their tails. Bedding occurs in water two to six feet deep over sand or gravel, and often among plant roots when the bottom is soft. After the bed is built the female lays 12,000 to 40,000 eggs depending on age, which hatch in 2-5 days. The male guards the nest, keeping it clean and protecting the young for a few days after they hatch.
From a food chain standpoint, bluegills are important in being food for the larger carnivorous game fish, and are often stocked in ponds with bass for that purpose. The bluegills multiply so rapidly that the pond often becomes overstocked, resulting in stunted fish. For human predation, bluegill meat is excellent; the flesh is white, flaky, firm and sweet. They are generally rolled in cornmeal or dipped in pancake batter before frying. Many rank the bluegill as the most delicious of fish, and I find it hard to argue with that.