Idaho bluegill fishing: Where to catch tasty panfish

Most of my early fishing memories follow a similar script. They involved me sitting patiently on a dock, beach or grassy bank, wondering if my red and white bobber would ever move. And then it did! Slowly, the tap-tap-tap cadence of a bluegill nibbling on a worm would manifest. When the bobber finally sank, I would delight in the scrappy fight of a bluegill on my blue and white snoopy pole.

My angling success was limited in those days, and many trips were salvaged by a hungry pack of panfish. It established in me a deep affinity for these feisty little fish — a love that continues to this day.

pound for pound

I’ve often joked that if God made five-pound bluegill, no one would fish for anything else. I’m only half-joking — the bend these little guys put in an ultralight rod is spectacular. Once bluegill reach the size of your hand, they are absolute bulldogs, especially on light spinning or fly tackle. Despite their small size, bluegill are aggressive predators. Present a lure or bait where more than one fish can see it, and it’s often a race to see which bluegill will get there first. I got the rare treat of ice fishing for bluegill this past winter, and it was a blast watching my flasher as multiple marks competed for my jig.

Idaho’s state record bluegill weighed 3.5 pounds and has stood since 1966. The world record, caught in 1950 Alabama, weighed 4 pounds, 12 ounces. A close cousin, the redear sunfish, frequently grows that big (and bigger!) in Arizona’s Lake Havasu, where I tangled with a nearly two-pound slab this spring. Trust me — catching a giant panfish is a thrill every angler should experience!

Strength in numbers

One of the best things about targeting bluegill is that the fish live in large schools. Once you locate one, dozens are likely nearby. For kids and beginners, this means steady action and lots of fun. When you graduate to more serious fishing, finding the school allows you to experiment with different tactics — upsizing lures, probing the edges of the school or bumping along the bottom — to pick off larger ‘gills. In Idaho, bluegill in the 8-to-10-inch range are nice fish, and perfect for the frying pan. Anything 11 inches or bigger is a trophy. Idaho’s catch-and-release record stands at 11.5 inches.

Identifying bluegill location and behavior often takes some trial and error. Weed beds, rockpiles and other natural hideouts are good places to explore. Depth matters, too. On a recent trip to one of my favorite bluegill haunts, my buddy Jon and I grinded through a couple slow hours before finding the right presentation — bait or jigs fished semi-deep under a bobber, six-to-eight feet below the surface. Once we unlocked that secret, it was game on! We landed dozens of feisty gills, giggling like kids with each bobber dunk.

Local stomping grounds

We southern Idahoans are blessed with lots of quality bluegill habitat. They are a fixture in local ponds, although they do have a tendency to overpopulate and stunt in many small fisheries. Small desert lakes with heavy weed cover also offer ideal bluegill habitat. Larger bluegill waters include Crane Falls Lake, Cove Arm Lake and CJ Strike Reservoir, which grows some real slabs.

One strategy that has paid off for me at CJ is fishing suspended suspended schools of crappie while tipping my jigs with worms (which crappie usually ignore). Bluegills, on the other hand, LOVE nightcrawlers, so fishing this way is a great technique for targeting ‘gills specifically. Once I set the hook, I know right away if I’ve found my quarry. If the fish offers token resistance, it’ll be a crappie or perch. If it takes off on a powerful, fluttering run, it’ll be a Frisbee-shaped bluegill — the beloved panfish that’s been making this angler (and countless others) smile since 1990. Tight lines!

Jordan Rodriguez has been fishing Idaho waters since he was a teen. Share your fish stories, adventures and questions with him at [email protected]or visit www.tightlines208.com for the latest local fishing reports and upcoming class offerings.

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