What Do Bluegill Eat? Learn This & Catch More

Bluegill are one of the most widespread and abundant species of sunfish found in North America. They are a very popular gamefish species for anglers and they are also popular with aquarium enthusiasts and pond owners. So what do these small yet mighty fish eat, to become so prolific and highly populated?

What Do Bluegill Eat?
What Do Bluegill Eat?

What do Bluegill Eat In the Wild?

Bluegill are primarily sight feeders and eat a variety of foods throughout their life cycle. Juvenile fish feed on microscopic zooplankton such as Cladocera and Copepods. As they mature, Bluegill will feed on insect larvae, crustaceans such as grass shrimp, small baitfish, and even aquatic vegetation if other foods become scarce.

Common foods found in the wild that Bluegill eat:

  • Insect larvae such as dragonfly and mosquito
  • Water spiders
  • Crickets
  • Grasshoppers
  • Grass shrimp
  • Crayfish
  • Minnows
  • Shad
  • Nightcrawlers
  • Juvenile fish
  • Fish eggs
What do Bluegill eat?

Chances are if you are looking to catch bluegill, you’re going to use one of the above-mentioned baits, or something that mimics this bait. Just think of the range of Bluegill Lures available on the market today, and how many of them look like minnows, spiders, insects, etc. Find out what the Bluegill are eating, and you will catch more Bluegill!

What Do Baby Bluegill Eat?

Each summer when the water temperatures reach 69 degrees Fahrenheit, the Bluegill begins to Spawn. Hundreds of thousands of baby bluegill hatch from eggs in shallow water. These baby bluegills are called fry and they are hungry and grow very quickly!

Baby bluegill feed on zooplankton which are microscopic organisms that are central to the health of freshwater ecosystems. The most common groups of zooplankton include Cladocera and Copepods. Once Bluegill reaches about 1-2″ inches in length they will feed on more visible food sources such as dragonfly larvae, mosquitofish, insects, and freshwater shrimp.

What Do Bluegill Eat In Captivity?

In captive environments such as aquariums, Bluegill can eat both traditional food sources and commercially available fish foods.

If you want to feed your Bluegills minnows, grass shrimp, crickets, they will certainly eat it! Some Bluegill owners even feed mealworms or grubs which are available in pet shops. However, if you prefer to give your bluegill commercial food just do a search for “Bluegill fish food” and you should see a lot of options.

Popular brands include AquaMax, Purina, and AquaNourish. These offer an easy alternative to feeding Bluegill and other sunfish in your garden pond or aquarium. Some folks even feed their bluegill hot dogs or scrap lunchmeat!

What Do Bluegill Eat In a Pond?

In ponds, Bluegill will often eat the normal wild food sources we’ve already mentioned. Things like minnows, insect larvae, worms, and crustaceans. But what about privately managed ponds meant to grow BIG TROPHY Bluegill?

There are a variety of “fish pellets” available on the market for private pond owners. Think of these as ‘dog food’ or ‘cat food’ for fish. It’s a pellet packed with nutrients available in large quantities.

High capacity Automatic Fish Feeder
High capacity Automatic Fish Feeder

Many ponds throughout the country grow trophy-sized Bluegill with regularly scheduled feeding with an Automatic Fish Feeder. These units usually mount to a dock or along the bank and feed fish at set time intervals. The key to growing big healthy Bluegill is regular and consistent feeding.

What Do Bluegill Eat In The Winter?

Like many warm-water fish species, Bluegill feeding and activity drastically reduces during the winter months. In fact, many Bluegill fish do not bite at all when the water reaches below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

So what do they eat during the winter when bait and forage fish are at a minimum? In some cases, Bluegill will feed on aquatic vegetation. This may include hydrilla, duckweed, and bottom sediment that contains microscopic forage such as fish eggs and insect larvae. If you’ve ever cleaned a Bluegill and cut open the stomach and noticed green vegetation, that’s what this is.

Ice fisherman during wintertime often downsize their tackle, to micro jigs and tip them with mini grubs like wax worms. These smaller more delicate presentations can coax Bluegill into biting during frigid temperatures when they are not feeding aggressively. It’s very possible to catch Bluegill during the winter, but summertime is Bluegill season!

Too Many Bluegill In Pond?

Bluegill and other sunfish species are known for taking over a pond, becoming overpopulated and stunted. If your pond or lake is full of 3-4″ bluegill that nibble and attack everything in their path then your pond may be overpopulated!

This is usually caused by some sort of imbalance in your pond eco-system. This could mean you do not have enough large predator fish such as Largemouth Bass to eat the bluegill and keep populations low. Or it could mean that your pond has a more systemic problem such as poor nutrients or inadequate habitat.

Baby Bluegill
Baby Bluegill

If you are serious about managing your pond for Bluegill and other gamefish species, I highly recommend contacting a lake management consultant. They can run some tests on your lake or pond, talk about your goals and recommend the best course of action.

In some cases, culling the bluegill is an option but it may be an uphill battle. Some consultants will recommend you drain the pond and start completely over, or introduce other predatory fish to control the bluegill growth. Remember, there is a reason Bluegill are one of the most common and popular sunfish found in North America!

Is It Legal To Keep a Bluegill as a Pet?

I have fond memories of catching bluegill and other sunfish from local ponds, ditches, and creeks near my home. I did what every 10-year-old boy did, I gave him a name and threw it in a bucket! That’s what sparked a love for fishing and my quest to understand the natural world around me.

In most states, it is legal to possess and keep bluegill as a pet in your aquarium or private pond. However, you may need a fishing license in order to catch and keep the Bluegill as it’s often considered a gamefish.

I highly recommend you simply check with your state Fishing Regulatory Agency to find out the specific rules and regulations in your area. A quick phone call or email and someone will be able to answer your question!

Final Thoughts

So why is it important to understand and know what Bluegill eat? Well, if your an angler this information can be very important when determining what bait, or lures to use.

If your a pond or lake owner, you may want to introduce Bluegill or perhaps control the overpopulation of Bluegill.

Or perhaps you want to set up a freshwater fish aquarium, with Bluegill caught from your local waters to study for a school project.

Understanding what bluegill eat, their biology and habits can help educate you on these cool fish and achieve your goals. I hope you enjoyed this article.

To learn more about Bluegill biology and their spawning habits, check out my write up here: