Live Bait for Bluegill: A Rundown of Your Best Options

Like most anglers, I’ve caught quite a few bluegill over the years. And despite their small size, catching these little devils never gets old.

Bluegill are popular for a reason. Not only are they great fun to catch, fighting hard for their size on ultralight tackle, but they’re also great on the table. And the relative abundance of them, their tremendous geographical range, and the ease with which they can be caught make them a great choice to help new anglers learn to fish.

Today, we're going to take a deep dive into the best live bait for bluegill, so keep reading!

As you can guess, we've had a lot to say about bluegill, and if you want to know more, check out these articles:

Bluegill Basics: Natural Diet

Once bluegill fry have consumed the yolk sac that feeds them for a brief period after they hatch, they’ll start hunting tiny - nearly microscopic - invertebrates. Copepods, rotifers, water fleas, and the larvae of chironomids provide all the nutrients they need to grow.

bluegill natural bait diet

But as they mature, they’ll look for larger meals, and the menu changes.

Mature bluegill will still chase insect larvae, but they’ll also hit mayflies, dragonflies, and other insects that happen into the water. Invertebrates are their speciality, and from freshwater shrimp to leeches and snails, they’re not particular.

Even small minnows - and in a pinch - other bluegill are not out of the question! 

“Voracious” is the best way to describe their appetite.

Live Bait

While I’ve caught bluegill on tiny topwater lures like the Teeny Torpedo, casting it up under overhanging vegetation and slowly walking it out, there’s no question that live bait is superior.

Heddon Teeny Torpedo Bullfrog (2-1/2')

Amazon 

Nightcrawlers, red wrigglers, and common worms

Worms of all kinds - even the ones in your backyard - are amazingly effective for catching bluegill.

As you probably know, terrestrial worms aren’t native to the water, and bluegill certainly don’t feed on them in nature. But a wriggling section of worm works like magic on them, especially when you suspend it under a bobber or slip float and know where to look.

Bigger isn’t necessarily better when it comes to bluegill bait, and small worms work just fine. 

In fact, you don’t want a lot of worm dangling from your hook. Just enough to cover it is perfect. Too much worm just provides a free meal, and you want the bluegill hitting your hook, not excess bait.

Speaking of hooks, my bluegill worm hook is typically a #6 baitholder like the Eagle Claws that come pre-snelled.

Eagle Claw 139H-6 Baitholder Snelled Fish Hook, 6 Piece (Bronze)

Amazon 

They’re easy to use, plenty sharp, and those barbs on the shank hold your worm in place like superglue.

If you prefer to rig your hooks yourself, it’s hard to go wrong with the Gamakatsus

Gamakatsu 5107 Baitholder Hooks, 10-Pack, Bronze, 6

Amazon 

If you want precise instructions on how to bait your hook with a live worm, check out this article:

How to Hook a Live Worm: An Easy-to-Follow Guide

wrong way to hook a worm

This is just a free buffet for the fish!

Once you've got your worm set, the trick is to rig the hook to ride just above where the bluegill are feeding, keeping your bait higher in the water column than they are, but not too far. Bluegill will typically hunt upward, looking for prey items to be silhouetted against the surface; be sure to keep your worms where they’ll stand out against the sky.

Adjust the depth of your hook below the bobber or float until you get it right, and you’ll be amazed by how interested the bluegill will be!

Crickets

cricket bait for bluegill

Crickets are another awesome live bait option for bluegill, and since they’re readily available at most bait shops, they’re easy to come by.

A good cricket cage is essential for holding them until you need them, and something like the Frabill Cricket Cage Tube is perfect.

Frabill Cricket Cage Tube, 11' x 3' x 2.8' Yellow

Amazon 

I’ve used crickets extensively for bluegill, and while they’re alive and kicking, they almost like cheating!

It’s simple to rig a cricket.

You want to hold the cricket firmly - but without smashing it to death. Slide the point of your hook under the exoskeleton below the head, running it as shallowly as you can. Push the point back through the hard shell on the back, and push the cricket gently into place on the bend of your hook.

That’s it! You’re ready to go!

Just as with worms, the trick is to suspend the cricket above the depth where the bluegill are feeding - just a foot or two will do.

It won’t take long, and I can’t count the times that my cricket has been devoured the moment it touched the water!

Mealworms and maggots

mealworm and maggot bait for bluegill

Tiny insect larvae like mealworms and maggots are often available at your local bait shop.

Frankly, I don’t think they’re as good a choice as worms or crickets, but there worth a try if the better options aren’t available.

Why are worms and crickets better? 

Mainly because size matters. 

Mature bluegill will feed on larvae, no question about it, but if you’re hungry, do you want the 6-ounce sirloin or the 12-ounce strip?

Worms and crickets, being larger, are also easier to see, and bluegill are sight predators.

Finally, the scent that worms and crickets release into the water is tempting, while insect larvae just don’t produce as much scent given their tiny bodies.

If maggots or mealworms are what you’ve got to work with, don’t despair!

Thread a mealworm onto your hook, piercing the head with the point.

You’re looking for something like this:

mealworm bait hooked for bluegill

If your mealworms are too small for that, use more than one to achieve the same effect.

Maggots are a bit more work, but they offer an enticing display when you get it right.

Feed one maggot up your hook to cover the shank and eye. Then, string a row of maggots onto the curve of your hook, leaving the point and barb uncovered.

You want the final result to look like this:

maggot bait on a hook for bluegill fishing

Those maggots will wriggle and dance, and that motion rings the dinner bell for bluegill.

And just as with worms and crickets, you want the fish to be able to see your bait, so keep it higher than they are in the water column.

Other options

leeches for bluegill bait

Grasshoppers, leeches, snails, even bread can work as bluegill bait.

I’ve heard of anglers using pieces of hotdog, too, though I’ve never tried that myself.

hotdogs for bluegill

It’s OK to experiment!

Bluegill aren’t picky eaters, and if it’s the right size for a #6 hook, produces some odor in the water, and is placed where they can see it, there’s a very good chance you’ll catch at least a few on whatever you throw.

Final Thoughts

We hope that you’ve learned something from this article, and if you’re new to fishing, or just new to bluegill, we’d love to hear if it helped you catch a few!

Please leave a comment below.

About The Author
Pete Danylewycz
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Pete grew up fishing on the Great Lakes. Whether he's casting a line in a quiet freshwater stream or battling a monster bass, fishing is his true passion.