Bluegill Fishing in Washington: Everything You Need to Know

Nothing brings out our inner kid like catching gobs of bluegill.  They might not be at the top of most angler’s hit list but they’re easy to catch and put up one heck of a fight.  Not to mention, these little panfish are a tasty treat for the table. 

Bluegill are widely distributed across America in ponds, lakes and rivers.  Just about any water body with weeds, brush and cover is a prime fishing spot.  When the walleye or bass aren’t biting, you can count on bluegill to provide steady action.

Here in Washington State, we are lucky to have an abundance of fishable lakes and many of them provide quality bluegill fishing.  Chances are you live only a short drive from your own bluegill honey hole.

Bluegill fishing in Washington State is often overlooked.  Whether you plan on taking a kid fishing for the first time or you decided to relive some childhood memories, give the bigger fish a break and target bluegill instead.

In this article, we share everything you need to know to about bluegill fishing in Washington.  We’ll cover the gear, seasons and even a handful of spots to try for big bluegill.  

Gearing up

There’s nothing complicated about fishing for bluegill.  The best part is that you probably have everything you need to start catching monster gills.  Bluegill are some of the most aggressive panfish in the water so let’s go over what you’ll need to starting hooking into fish.

Rod, reel and line

For targeting big bluegills, we like to use ultralight spinning gear.  There are a lot of rods to choose from but one of the nicest ultralight rods we’ve found is the 5’ 6” Okuma Celilo from Amazon.  It’s super affordable ($25) and well built.  We paired it up with a smooth, high quality Pflueger Trion SP20B spinning reel which is also available for $40 from Sportsman’s Warehouse.  

Line choice doesn’t need to be complicated.  The best universal line in most Washington State bluegill waters is 4 pound test Berkley Trilene XL monofilament.  

With this setup, you’re ready to take on bluegill and any other panfish out there.  It’s also a blast to fight these feisty swimmers with ultralight gear.  To top it all off, you can get the entire setup for only $70.

Tackle, bait and techniques

If there is one reason why everyone loves fishing for bluegill, it’s because you can catch them with just about any bait or small lure.  

By far, the best bait for bluegill is worms.  They are cheap, easy to rig up and hard for big gills to resist.  To tie up one of the most effective bluegill rigs, start with a small, 1/32 ounce lead or tungsten jig head on the end of your line.  Then, place a bobber at the desired depth.  This is usually 2 to 4 feet above the jig.  Finally, tip the jig with a nice chunk of nightcrawler or a whole red worm.  

For a more subtle presentation, use a thin wire hook in size 6 or 8 instead of a jig.  Thread on a large worm with enough dangling from the hook to make it look irresistible. Keep in mind that small fish often pick apart worms without ever getting hooked.

You can also use the same setup with plastic skirts or grubs on the jig which lets you add some color to get the attention of bigger fish.

Using dry flies, poppers or small nymph patterns is also effective when paired with a small casting bubble.  Retrieve it slowly and add small twitches to impart action on the fly.

When fishing structure like stumps and brush, try using a drop shot style rig or just cast a 1/32 ounce jig with a 2” Mister Twister Curly tail grub.  Fish slow and stay near the bottom where big bluegill hold.  The bobber setup works well but it’s important to add enough weight so that it drops quickly to the big fish suspended lower in the water column.  

Black, white and greens are our favorite colors but any of the natural color plastics should catch plenty of fish.  

Occasionally, when we target bigger bluegill, we switch to small, in-line spinners or micro crankbaits.  Bluegill don’t readily chase down prey so these lures are better suited for pulling big, aggressive males off their beds during the spawn.  

Best time to catch bluegill

Honestly, anytime is a good time to catch bluegill.  These aggressive panfish feed actively during most of the day.  However, targeting bigger bluegill requires slightly better timing so here’s what you need to know.

Winter

Chasing big bluegill through the ice can be action-packed anytime of day.  Usually though, the best bite starts in the middle of the day when the sky is overcast.  This isn’t always the case and it varies from one lake to another.

Target bluegills under early winter ice in areas with healthy vegetation in 10 to 15 feet of water.  As the vegetation dies by mid-winter, move out to deeper basins to find schools of fish

Spring

In spring, bluegill are biting all day but the night and morning bite are generally the slowest times.  Water temperatures are cold and their primary food source is less abundant.  Mid-day and early afternoon usually produce the best bluegill fishing in spring leading up to the spawn.  We’ll talk more about the spawn in just a bit.

Summer

The best bluegill fishing on a summer day is during the last few hours before sunset.  The bite really picks up as the sun sags in the sky and surface water temperatures drop a few degrees.  Big bluegill finally leave structure protected from mid-day sun and feed on insect larvae hatching around shallow weed growth.

Fall

Fall is a great time to fish for bluegill.  You can still find them hanging out in shallow bays, near weed patches or around structure.  But as fall progresses, they start moving a little deeper towards their winter holding areas.  Once again, our favorite time to hit the water for fall gills is during mid-day when the water is warmest and they’re easy to find.

When do bluegill spawn

Most anglers set their calendars by the bluegill spawn.  Unlike crappie, the bluegill spawn starts a little later since they prefer warmer temperatures to get things going.  Not much is understood about what triggers the spawn but in general, when water temps reach 65°, spawning begins.  

In Washington State, that can be anywhere from May through June.  The spawn doesn’t occurs all at once though.  Bluegill spawning happens in water up to 80° which means from May to August you’ll find big gills on spawning beds.

Spawning beds are usually located in 1 to 6 feet of water on gravel or sandy bottoms.  Beds are often situated near points or submerged humps.  More commonly, beds are found in the space between the shoreline and the inside edge of weed beds. 

It’s important to note that the spawn is when quality bluegill populations are at their most vulnerable from angling pressure.  Big saucer-shaped males guard the best spawning beds and are easily caught by anglers.  Be sure to release big males and keep only mid-sized fish to encourage the development of a higher quality population.

Lakes with big bluegill in Washington

While bluegill are easy to catch in just about any lake in Washington, finding spots with big bluegill is a challenge.  However, there are a handful of lakes that consistently produce big gills for anglers looking to put in the time to find them.

Here are 10 of the best lakes to catch big bluegill across Washington State.

1.  Leader Lake

2.  Moses Lake

3.  Lind Coulee, Potholes Reservoir

4.  Stan Coffin Lake

5.  Sprague Lake

6.  Lake Number 12

7.  Horsethief Lake

8.  Rowland Lake

9.  Swofford Pond

10.  Ohop Lake

There are plenty of other lakes with excellent bluegill fishing around the state as well.  Other lakes may produce bigger gills but it’s up to you to find them.  Bluegill fishing seems to be a boom or bust fishery.  

When the conditions are right, these panfish flourish for several years until something upsets the balance.  You can narrow down your search for big bluegill by looking for the right balance of habitat, predation and angling pressure.  

Here is what we look for when picking promising lakes for dinner plate sized bluegill.  

  • Look for moderate weed growth.  Bluegill primarily feed on insects and invertebrates among weeds and brush.  Good weed growth supports a healthy abundance of forage for fish.  Heavy weeds in a lake still hold gills but it’s almost impossible to fish.  
  • Predator fish should be present.  A lake only filled with bluegill might grow lots of fish but the limited space and forage means they’ll be stunted and small.  Having predators like bass and walleye help keep the bluegill numbers in check.  There might be fewer bluegill but they will be bigger.  Angling pressure is also a good way to reduce fish numbers.  Unless of course, everyone keeps the big males.
  • Lakes with warm water early in the season.  Warm water means better food supplies for fish and the sooner the water warms, the longer fish have to eat and grow.  Shallow lakes with small pockets of deeper water provide a good mix of habitat and temperature.  
  • Private ponds are bluegill gold.  Take a look at state record bluegills across the country and you’ll notice most of them are caught from private farm ponds.  There are many farm ponds in Washington, so get on a farmer’s good graces and you may have yourself some of the best bluegill fishing around.   

How big do bluegill get

On average, bluegill in Washington State reach 6 to 8 inches in length and up to a half pound.  In quality populations, bluegill reaching 8 to 10 inches are possible.  A one pound bluegill is a real trophy and it generally takes 5 to 6 years for them to reach that size. 

Any bluegill pushing 12 inches would be a contender for record book status.  The current Washington State bluegill record is 2.33 pounds caught in Yakima County on June 10, 1984.  Be sure to check out our complete list of record bluegill for every state to see how bluegill in Washington compare to the rest of the country.

Most lakes experience cycles in which bluegill size and abundance fluctuates from year to year.  A lake that produces big bluegill one year may have a significant decrease in size the next.

Both eastern and western Washington lakes have excellent bluegill fishing but east side lakes lay claim to some of the largest gills in the state.  

Washington seasons, limits and license

A basic freshwater fishing license is all that’s needed to fish for bluegill in Washington State.  A 2020 freshwater fishing license costs $29.50 for residents 16 and older.  Kids under 15 years fish for free and a combination salt and freshwater license for anglers 15 years of age is $8.05.

For most lakes in Washington, there is no daily limit or size restriction on bluegill.  However, some lakes are managed to provide better than average bluegill fishing and have size and catch limits in place.  Always check the regulations before heading out to fish.

Bluegill fishing is generally open year round except on lakes with seasonal closures.  You must abide by the season dates listed in the regulations for the lake you intend to fish.  Visit the WDFW website for current seasons, limits and license fees for 2020. 

Do bluegill taste good

Bluegill are often ranked among some of the best eating freshwater fish in North America.  They have a firm, flaky meat with a sweet succulent taste.  Because of their small size, most anglers don’t fillet bluegill but instead fry them whole with the guts removed.  Once they reach 8 inches, filleting produces decent sized boneless portions that are excellent for frying.