Year of the Fish: Bluegill


As you walk along the banks of Lake James, you will see park visitors fishing from the bank. Dangling small bait such as a worm or cricket below a bobber, anglers patiently wait for a jerk of the bobber to mark “the bite.” This scene plays out on the lake shore during the warm months of the year as anglers search for one of the most common freshwater fish species in the country - the bluegill. If you have ever wet a line, you have inevitably sought the bluegill.

Because they are so prolific, they can be one of the easiest fish in the lake to catch. If you fish, it is likely you started by fishing for bluegill. Because of their modest size, the fishing tackle needed to catch them can be purchased for a nominal cost, increasing their popularity with the weekend angler.

Also called brim or bream, bluegill can rival the coloration and patterns of some tropical aquarium fish. They are generally round, thin fish that can grow up to 15 inches, but more commonly measure between six and 10 inches; about the size of an average adult-sized hand. The bluegill is often brown to olive green in coloration with dark vertical bars adding camouflage against their compact bodies. Accenting their mouths and lower jaw, back toward the gill plate is marked with a beautiful powder blue for which they get their name. One of the easiest characteristics to identify on the bluegill is the dark black circle, or “tag” located directly behind the eye on the upper portion of
the gill plate.

Compared to other fish such as bass and catfish, the bluegill has a small mouth. But don’t let that fool you. Bluegills are accomplished predators, often feeding on whatever they can fit in their mouths. They’ve been known to eat macroinvertebrates such as crickets, worms, crayfish, dragonfly larva and various other types of small insects. Additionally, they will eat small fish, tadpoles and even aquatic plants.

Bluegills can be found in all 100 North Carolina counties. They prefer warm, slow-moving water, but can be found in streams, ponds, lakes, rivers and reservoirs. As you visit Lake James and walk the trails around the lake, you can discover small circular indentations in the lake bottom. These occur in relatively shallow water, especially in areas the bottom is made up of sand or small gravel. These circular indentations are about the size of a trash can lid and are guarded by the male bluegills. As the water temperature rises in the spring, bluegill mating occurs when the temperatures exceed 70 degrees. Female bluegills are capable of laying 2,000 to 60,000 eggs that are protected from predators by the males. They are known to lay eggs monthly until the water drops below 70 degrees. Even as adults, bluegill can fall victim to other predators such as larger fish, snakes, turtles, blue herons, osprey, eagles and other bird species.

The bluegill is often overlooked by seasoned anglers. But when you slow down to observe their beauty; they are one of the prettiest fish that can be caught out of Lake James. Coupled with their compact shape and voracious appetite, the bluegill is one of the most exciting fish to catch. Whether you’re a beginner or veteran, we hope to see you out on the lake, fishing rod in hand. And if you’re lucky, you may get to catch one of these pan-sized predators.

News, Nature NotesMolly Sandfoss