If you’ve ever seen a misdirected grasshopper land in the drink, you know what happens next. The hopper stays motionless for a moment and then scurries frantically across the surface. Most never reach land because bluegills stay on the lookout for swimming land bugs, especially during fall, when grasshoppers abound in shoreline grass and more than a few end up with their feet wet.

Fly fishermen understand, which is why their fall panfish boxes are packed with poppers and ‘hoppers. Don’t think for a minute, though, that this extremely fun time to catch bluegills is somehow reserved for the fly-rod crowd. An ultralight spinning rod is an ideal tool for targeting bluegills that abound in shallow water during the fall.

If the bluegills are near the banks and looking up, the most exciting and effective way to target them is with a topwater presentation. When the fish won’t quite commit to the top, though, various other casting strategies work nicely for fall bluegills.

Hopper Time

A Rebel Bighopper, which is arguably the best lure made for drawing terrestrial-feeding fish to the top, typically draws the most action early and late in the day. Bluegills are apt to nab bugs on top at almost any time, though, and it’s pretty much always worth trying a Bighopper. Not only are the vicious surface attacks seriously fun, but Bighoppers tend to attract an extra large grade of bluegill.

Cast your Bighopper to grassy shorelines or close to any cover that stretches out from a shallow bank. When the bait lands, let it rest for a moment or two, and often the next thing you’ll need to do is to set the hook when a fish attacks. Lacking an immediate strike, two different retrieves work well. The first is to reel slowly and steadily with the rod held high so the Bighopper wobbles across the surface and pushes out a wake. Alternatively, you can work the same lure on top with quick short twitches of the rod tip so it darts more erratically and creates more commotion. If your cranking or twitching efforts pull the bait beneath the surface, slow or soften the action to keep it on top.

Whatever presentation you choose, pause it periodically and leave the lure motionless for several seconds. That matches natural behavior because real insects often stop, presumably to rest or regain orientation. Whether it’s a plug or a real bug, a bluegill often attacks as soon as the would-be meal resumes movement.

Occasionally, a Crickhopper, which is a Bighopper’s slightly smaller cousin, will produce more fish than the larger version. That typically only happens when tiny crickets or hoppers are in nearly plague-like numbers around a lake, though, and it’s always worth starting with the bigger version because of castability and because it is a little easier to wake across the surface.

Subsurface Plugs

Just because bluegills won’t quite commit to the surface doesn’t mean that they aren’t aggressive and that you can’t catch them on hard baits. Three excellent subsurface options, each unique in its appeal, are new Rebel Raider and the classic Rebel Hellgrammite and Teeny Wee Craw.

The Raider darts back and forth with rod tip twitches, sort of like a little tiny Spook, except it sinks when it’s not in motion, so it walks beneath the surface. Break up quick little series of twitches with complete pauses or walk the Raider slowly and steadily. Either way, minimize rod tip movement with your twitches as to not overpower the lure.

The Hellgrammite, which is a highly natural imitation of the critter it is named for, also sinks when it’s not in motion. Reeled steadily it has an understated wobble. Let it sink almost to the bottom after you cast it and then work it deliberately with a steady retrieve or with slow pulls of the rod tip to suggest a hellgrammite or other critter moving slowly along near the bottom.

Not to be overlooked, of course, is the simplicity and sheer fish-catching ability of a Rebel Teeny Wee Crawfish. The most basic approach typically works best with this lure. Cast toward the bank or toward a piece of cover and reel the plug back to you at a steady clip.

Micro Jigs

A great alternative to hard baits when even the tiniest plugs seem too bulky is a tiny jig combined with a Lindy Jig Spinner. A micro-sized jig such as a 1/32-ounce Fuzz-E Grub or a YUM  F2 Panfish Woolly Bee on a similarly small jighead provides a buggy profile and looks like an easy meal. The small spinner blade provides multiple benefits, creating flash and vibration to attract bluegills while at the same time slowing the bait’s fall rate and allowing for slower presentations.

A tiny jig/spinner combo lends itself to simple straight retrieves, possibly with occasional changes of speed, slight pauses or twitches. Too much added action definitely takes away from the attraction. Concentrate casts around grass lines, downed trees and other cover because blades will draw fish out of the cover.

For an even slower presentation that effectively imitates an aquatic insect nymph or freshwater shrimp, remove the spinner from the jig, tie the jighead directly to the line and clip a small Thill float a foot or two above the jig. Let the rig settle for a moment right after you cast it and then work it with series of gentle twitches broken by pauses. When a fish hits, the float may dart under or it might just start sliding sideways. Great jig body options for dangling beneath corks include a YUM F2 Houdini Fry, which darts with every slight twitch of the rod tip, and a Lindy Watsit Grub, which has an extremely natural insect-imitating appearance.

However you opt to rig a jig, keep a variety of tiny soft-plastic tails on hand and be prepared mix it up to test the mood of the fish. YUM F2 Panfish Wooly Curltails, Teeny Shads, Tubes and Money Fries each offer a little different action and profile, but all will get the attention of a bluegill some fall days.

Beyond ‘Gills

One warning about this style of fishing: Other panfish and even bass won’t know that you’re targeting bluegills, and you’re apt to catch a mixed bag and occasionally hook into more than you bargained for on your ultralight gear. But maybe that’s not all bad!