What most people don’t know is that bluegill are in deep water as well as the shallow banks where most anglers catch them. And the ones in the deep water? They’re almost always bigger.
But you have to approach them much differently than a shallow water bluegill. Bobbers and nightcrawlers aren’t going to work as well here as they do from the bank. You need to change up your game – but the payoff will be worth it.
Below I will explain in depth the deep locations that you can find bluegill, what type of rig and baits work best, and the gear you’ll need to target them. The short version is you need to find transition areas in deep water, use a dropshot with a insect-style imitation plastic, and use a light rod & reel setup with low pound test line. But lets get into what all that means.
Where to find bluegill in deep water
When you’re searching for bluegill from the bank, they’re often easy to find. You can see them in some cases, often ticking the tops of the water feeding on insects.
When a bluegill holds in 20 feet of water though, this isn’t so simple. You’ll instead need to start looking for the structure and cover that bluegill often school on. When you find the right place, you can catch big bluegill by the bucket full.
What to look for on the lake bottom
There are two main features I look for when I’m targeting schools of big bluegill. The first is a hard bottom – preferably with a “pebble” style rock bottom. The second is an area where this transitions into something else – but any type of aquatic vegetation is ideal.
Pebble Rock Bottoms
The reason for a “pebble” style bottom is for two reasons. First, large predatory fish do not often hang on pebble bottoms instead they look for large flat rocky areas. Or larger boulders that they can use to pin bait fish against to feed. The smaller, pebble style bottoms are not as good for this for bigger predatory fish like bass.
But for bluegill pebble bottoms are great for feeding opportunities on plankton and other small organisms living in the pebbles on the lake bottom. Bluegill can easily get in the smaller cracks to feed on the small creatures in the crevices but also feel safe from prey, knowing there are not large boulders to get pinned into. So large schools of bluegill will key on pebble style bottoms in deep water.
Transition Areas and Vegetation
If you can find where the pebble bottom transitions into some type of aquatic vegetation nearby, you might be in a gold mine. Large bluegill will stay with the school feeding on the organisms in the pebbles while also looking to the weeds for other creatures and small bait fish for easy meals. Not all bluegill are big enough to feed on these, but the ones you’re looking for in deep water are!
Bluegill will also hang out in the vegetation nearby if a predator comes into the area to hide. It provides great cover that they cannot be chased into and they feel very safe near the jungle of hydrilla, weeds, or whatever to hide in until it’s safe to return to the pebble bottom to feed.
So your ideal spot to try and find deep water bluegills will be anywhere there is a pebble style hard bottom. Then, try and find the areas where it transitions into some type of vegetation and fish just around the vegetation. You’re sure to find some bluegill schooling in the area.
The types of structure to find bluegill in deep water
The type of structure that bluegill will school on in deep water varies, and I find it much more important to find the pebble bottom and vegetation mentioned above.
But there are a few types of structure you are more likely to find bluegill on which I will mention briefly.
A point is simply where land comes out more into the water than the area around it, creating a “point” where water is shallower with two sides falling off into deep water.
Almost all type of fish setup on points at some time of the year, so it’s always a great place to catch fish. Bluegill however will often find the deeper side of the point where the water depth changes quickly and sit in large schools. This allows them to easily move up to feed when necessary, or drop back down when the weather is too hot or the water level drops.
So if you’re searching for deep water bluegill, try to find a point with a steep dropoff on one side. There may be a school of bluegill sitting on that deep side of the point.
A hump is very simply an area in the middle of water where the land randomly rises up creating a shallow spot with deeper water all around it. Imagine it like an island in the middle of the water that just hasn’t come up fully so it’s visible above the water, it stays just beneath it.
Bluegill will often school in deep water right on top of a hump. It isn’t so deep that it feels as scary for them and open to prey. Usually you will find them sitting just off the bottom on the shallowest part of a hump in deep water.
A dropoff or bluff wall is basically exactly what you imagine – just an area where the depth drops significantly quickly. We are talking almost instantaneous 5 to 10 feet drops or more.
Bluegill will often sit just at the bottom of a dropoff or bluff wall when they want to be in deep water for safety. Much like the point, they will transition to the shallow areas if they want to feed or water level rise. Then when they’re done, they will school at the bottom of the dropoff and spend most of their time there during summer or winter months.
The Best Fishing Rig to Catch Bluegill from Deep Water
So know you know exactly where the bluegill are schooling in deep water. But how are you going to catch them? Thankfully this is a singular answer. Use a dropshot rig. It’s the absolute best way to catch deep water bluegills.
This is because almost always bluegill will be schooling about 1 to 2 feet off the bottom of the lake when schooling in deep water. They are down at the bottom near a feature they feel safe against. They also will be looking at the bottom for food, not swimming around the middle of the water where nothing is.
A dropshot rig will perfectly get you down to the bottom of the lake and put the bait just a few feet off the bottom – right in front of the nose of a bluegill. When you get a school active, you’ll get bites as soon as the weight hits the bottom of the water. You don’t have to do anything but drop your line straight down when you’re over them.
Which is also a great reason to use a dropshot, you can use your electronics to directly locate where the school is you’re targeting and then drop right on their heads. No need to try and find the specific spot, just hover over and when you see it on the graph, drop down the bait.
The only keys you need to remember is to use a smaller hook and weight since you are fishing for bluegill which can be finicky and have small mouths. So I recommend an aberdeen hook in size #6 as it has a good long arm but a small barb that makes it great for catching bluegill on a dropshot. The weight depends on your water depth, but I like to try and stay around ⅛ or 3/16 ounce if possible.
Finally, you can use many types of baits but I recommend any grub or insect type imitation lure that is no longer than 2 inches long. I find these panfish kits have many great color options so you can determine which works better on any particular day. But if you want to go with live bait, very small minnows and crickets will work equally as well as will nightcrawlers.
If don’t already know how to setup a drop shot rig, please watch this very short video which will cover everything you need to know
The Fishing Gear you need to catch deep water bluegills
Finally, we get to the gear that you need to go out tomorrow and start catching those big beautiful bluegills sitting in deep water. Many people will suggest an ultralight setup with the smallest reel you can find – and this will work. But it is not my recommendation.
Instead I recommend going with a light or even medium light rod with a spinning reel that has a good size to it – something in the 2500 or even 3000 size.
The reason I like to beef up a little bit is because you will be fishing in deeper water for bigger bluegill. Sometimes a little more backbone on the hookset when you’re pulling 20 feet of line is good for really getting it in a fish’s mouth. And you’ll be fighting bigger gills that can be a little too much for an ultra light setup.
You also will be fishing in areas with rocks and vegetation, and getting stuck is a real possibility. You might be stuck and trying to pull yourself out with an ultralight and end up breaking your rod. Or if your reel is too small, you’ll lose lots of line from getting stuck several times and need to respool. It’s just a headache you can avoid with a heavier rod and bigger reel.
So will an ultralight still work? Of course. But I recommend going just a little heavier with both the rod and reel if you want to seriously deep water bluegill fish. This combo is a great option from Bass Pro.
The best fishing line to catch deep water bluegills
The type of fishing line you use is pretty important though. I am usually a pretty big proponent of monofilament as it is cheaper, more abrasion resistant, and has less memory than fluorocarbon. But in this one specific case, I would recommend using fluorocarbon in 4 pound test.
The reason for this is fluorocarbon has no stretch. If you are fishing monofilament in over 20 feet of water, you have 20 feet of line that will stretch between you and the fish when you set the hook. That can result in a lot of bad hooksets and lost bluegill. The hook is just too far away from you and the line will stretch too much.
Fluorocarbon however does not stretch at all, so that 20 feet doesn’t matter. It’ll stay just as tight as if the fish was only a foot from the end of your pole. That difference can result in a lot better hookups and no missed fish.
Fluorocarbon is also the least visible line which is important for drop shot fishing as the fish will have a lot of opportunities to see the line clearly. So while I think the stretch factor is the most important reason to use fluoro, it also helps you know that a bluegill won’t be seeing the line and get spooked either.
Four pound test is also recommended because of visibility. It’s a good mix of strong enough to catch any bluegill that will bite, but thin enough the bluegill will never see it and get spooked. I would go no heavier than 6 at the most and you can even get away with 2 pound test if you want to go even lighter, just be very careful when pulling those big gills up. They can snap a 2 pound test line easily.
Now you should know everything you need to know to go hammer some big bluegill from deep water. Find the pebble rock bottom where it transitions into vegetation, maybe even on a hump or point. Those are sure places to find big schools of bluegill in deep water. Tie on a dropshot rig with your bait of choice on the fishing setup discussed. Let it sink down and get ready for the feeding frenzy!