Bluegill, Lepomis macrochirus


Identifying characteristics: (Native Fish) Two dorsal fins with spinous and soft-rayed portions united, small mouth, long pointed pectoral fins, faint black spot on soft-rayed part of dorsal fin separates the bluegill from other sunfish, which lack this dorsal coloration.

The sunfish family, or Centrarchidae, includes such popular panfish as bluegills, rock bass and large and smallmouth bass. The members of this family resemble the perch and sea bass families, but they differ in that the sinous and soft portions of the dorsal fin are united and confluent. The large mouth bass is an exception, with a deep notch between the front and rear parts of the dorsal fin. The Centrarchidae generally prefer warm water, and are nesting fishes. That is, the males scoop out a depression where one or more females deposit eggs. The males then fertilize and guard the eggs and the newly hatched young.

The bluegill is a native to eastern and central North America, including the lower Great Lakes. This fish enjoys a well-deserved popularity with anglers. Many a young angler boasts the delicious bluegill as a first catch, while seasoned anglers using light tackle find it a valiant fighter. Bluegills favor warm waters (64 to 70 degrees F) with plenty of cover such as weed beds, submerged logs, or drop-offs. They usually stay in relatively shallow water, but as temperatures rise in the summer, large bluegills will head for deeper water. This fish also provides good winter sport since it remains active all winter long.

The bluegill spawns in the shallows in the late spring or early summer when the water temperature reaches 65 degrees F. Males build nesting colonies in gravel, sand or mud and will guard the eggs and newly hatched fry until they reach the swimming stage. The young fry eat algae and zooplankton. As they grow larger, bluegills add small fish, aquatic insects and plant matter to their diet. The bluegill feeds off the surface of the water the midwaters and the bottom, where it can be a serious competitor with other bottom feeding fish. The average adult bluegill is 6 to 8 inches long, although some reach 10 inches. Sexual maturity occurs at 2 to 3 years for males and 3 to 4 years for females. Average life-span of these fish is 5 to 6 years.

For more information on how and where to catch bluegill see our Michigan Fish and How to Catch Them and Better Fishing Waters.

Bluegill graphic courtesy of Joseph R. Tomelleri and copyrighted.