Bluegill Sunfish


bluegill sunfishLepomis macrochirus, also known as the bluegill sunfish, is found throughout the state in all types of water. Bluegill sunfish are members of the sunfish family, which you can read all about inside this issue of Outdoor Oklahoma, and are known by several names. You might be more familiar with some of them, such as: bream, blue bream, sun perch, blue sunfish, copperhead, copperbelly, and roach.

Bluegills have small mouths and oval-shaped bodies. They get their name and many nicknames from an iridescent blue color on the lower portion of both the jaw and gill. A good way to identify a bluegill from other sunfish is to look for a prominent black spot on the rear edge of the gill-cover and a black spot at the base of the posterior portion of the dorsal fin. Body coloration is highly variable with size, sex, spawning, water color, bottom type, and amount of cover.

Darker water tends to yield darker bluegills with olive to black backs that get lighter toward a yellowish belly. Clearer water will produce bluegills with blue-green backs with white bellies. Males typically have brighter colors than females, especially during breeding, when they may have orange to rusty-red breasts. Bluegills have five to nine dark, vertical bands running down their sides. The bands get lighter as they go down the side, disappearing near the belly.

Bluegills prefer quiet, warm waters with abundant vegetation, where they can hide and feed. They inhabit lakes and ponds, slow-flowing rivers and streams with sand, mud, or gravel bottoms. Young bluegill will frequent areas that are shallow and weedy near the shore; while adults prefer deeper water during the day and shallower waters during the night. Bluegill will avoid direct sun, instead choosing the cover of aquatic vegetation and submerged brush.

Bluegill will primarily feed on a variety of aquatic and terrestrial insects, insect larvae and crustaceans. They will also eat vegetation, small fish, mollusk, and snails during the year. But anglers seem to be able to catch them on just about anything.

Bluegills are well-known for “bedding” in large groups. They create circular beds by touching one another. This occurs in water that is typically two to six feet deep over sand or gravel bottom, often among plant roots. Spawning typically occurs from April through October, with the peak in May and June, when the water temperature rises to around 70-85 degrees. A female may lay 2,000 to 63,000 eggs that hatch 30 to 35 hours after fertilization. After the eggs are deposited and fertilized, the females are then driven away by the males who stay and guard the nest. The males tend to the eggs, fanning them with their fins to keep them aerated and free of debris. The protective father will generally stay with the fry, guarding them for several days before leaving them to fend for themselves. Bluegills can grow rapidly in Oklahoma. For example, a five-inch bluegill in Oklahoma is typically two to four years old, and they have been known to live up to 11 years.

The bluegill’s willingness to take a variety of natural baits — crickets, grass shrimp and worms and artificial lures such as small spinners and popping bugs — during the entire year, combined with its gameness when hooked and its excellent taste make it an important sport fish in Oklahoma. The current record bluegill for Oklahoma was caught in 1987 and weighed is 2 lbs. 6 oz.

Next time you are out fishing, don’t forget about the bluegill. It may be a smaller fish, but it’s qualities make it a trophy in every sense.