The bluegill is the state fish of Illinois. It is one of the most common fish in our rivers, lakes and ponds. They are also a popular catch for anglers. Bluegills will try to eat just about any kind of bait. They are often called a “panfish” because they can be fried whole in a pan. They considered very flavorful by many people.
These fish are on the smaller side, normally averaging about 6 inches in length and weighing less than 1 pound. Bluegills have vertical stripes with iridescent skin. They display a range of colors: yellows, greens, blues and sometimes oranges, pinks and purples. The color can be pale or bright, but breeding males are always the most colorful. Bluegills have a rounder shape than many fish. Their most distinguishing feature is a little black ear flap behind their eyes.
The breeding season for bluegills is in late spring and early summer. Males will use their fins to sweep out a bowl-shaped nest in shallow waters near the shore. They will circle around the nest very quickly and grunt, waiting for a female to select them. Then, they will both circle around each other in the nest. The female will lay an average of 12,000 eggs, but sometimes as many as 30,000. Then the male chases her away. A large male may be chosen more often and have multiple females lay eggs in his nest. He will determinedly guard the nest for five days. That is all the time it takes for the eggs to hatch and the baby bluegills to be able to swim.
Bluegills usually hang out in schools of between 10 and 20 fish. They are great swimmers and can change directions very easily. They are most active at dusk and dawn. At other times of the day they may hide out in vegetation and in and near fallen logs. They are mostly carnivorous, eating insects, worms, zooplankton, small fish and sometimes aquatic vegetation. Largemouth bass and other carnivorous fish will eat bluegills. They are also eaten by great blue herons, kingfishers, raccoons and, of course, humans.
Right now is the time you can probably see male bluegills guarding their nests if you go for a walk around a pond or small lake.
Bluegills are often the first fish ever caught by new anglers. Teach someone today! The Forest Preserve District of Will County offers many fishing opportunities. To learn more about locations, regulations and fishing programs, visit the Forest Preserve District's website.
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