When Michigan waterways warm and gills leave shallow spawning locations, most anglers hang up their rods and assume big gills have disappeared for the year. The truth is those big hump-backed bulls are still out there, and you can fill your live well with big gills and get shark attack savage strikes by following some simple fishing rules.
Summer gills pull a nasty trick on fishermen. The big adult bluegills leave the shallows. Big spawned-out females are the first to go and some males remain near nesting locations to protect the young. Bright sun and warming water drive the males to deeper water and soon only dinky bluegills are available for fishermen. The french-fry-size gills spend most of the summer in the shallows, although the occasional decent size fish might appear during cold weather. The slabs vacate the shallows and move back to deep water lairs.
In summer, the key is to look for large adult gills near the bottom or by structure in deep water. Often you find them stacked along weed edges on inside turns, points and other irregular locations. Many congregate on deep humps, sunken islands and on the deep side of weed edges. They spend the summer far from most fishermen. Oh sure you can have a riot catching dinky fish along shore or off docks, but the big fish are not there. The trick to summer gill success hinges on your ability to locate them in deep water hide outs. Of course electronics can be the key to success, and once you find them most Michigan anglers use live bait presentations like crickets, garden worms, leeches and more. Slip-bobber rigs are very popular and they make it easy to cast and fish with slip bobbers over gill hot spots.
Summer gills often feed on plankton, freshwater shrimp and freshly hatched out fish fry. Again, good electronics will help you to locate gills that are suspended and feeding on micro-organisms. Often schools congregate in deep water just out from weed beds, other times they are over open deep water. The trick is to adjust slip bobbers so the offering is in the strike zone. Some anglers prefer to use two hooks set 12-18-inches apart to help locate the exact depth where fish congregate. With this technique it is not uncommon to hook two gills at a time.
I hit on a hot fishing strategy a few years ago and the results have been outstanding. I’m using a light action or ultra-light rod/reel combo spooled with 4 or 6-pound test clear mono. Basically, I’m using ice fishing tactics during summer, micro baits for macro panfish. I use electronics to locate fish and rather than using a bulky bobber, I rig straight to a Fiskas jig made from tungsten. My favorite jig is 5mm or 6mm size colored Glow with Black Spots.
I’ve had excellent luck on summer gills with jigs colored Yellow Spot, Glow Zebra, Clown, White Perch and more. These lures are designed to hang in the water at a 45 degree angle, which gives them a horizontal profile and great action while jigging. They have super sticky hooks for best hook set. More importantly, tungsten jigs sink fast and get you deep and back down into fish at lightning speed. I get my jigs online at www.YurBobbersDown.com. Choose from three gill catching finishes: hand-painted, epoxy or metallic.
Just because a jig weighs 1/64 ounce doesn’t mean it will catch gills. Round jigs tend to lay vertical in the water and each jig falls in a different manner. Plus, jigs made from lead don’t weigh as much as tungsten and they fall too slowly to reach deep water gills. Fiskas silver and gold mirrors are flat discs with through head line ties and highly reflective surfaces that will hammer gills when combined with Little Atom Micro Nuggie. The slow fluttering design is ideal when gills go negative and bites are difficult to achieve with the Fiskas wolfram jigs. The secret to the success of this technique hinges on tiny ice jigs with authentic, Latvian produced heads of the most dense, high grade Russian tungsten.
If the weather is beautiful and winds calm I’ll get out my ice fishing rods and hammer deep water gills. Sure, fishing with a short rod requires patience, but the results can be impressive. If the wind is blowing and waves are rockin’, I use my 6 ½’ walleye jigging rod with 10-pound Berkley Pro Braid that is 2-pound diameter, and lures sink fast. I attach the braid to a tiny Blackbird barrel swivel and a 2-foot long leader of Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon fishing line 4-pound test. The line helps me to feel strikes, and when I get gills to the surface I can swing them aboard.
Super soft scented tails are the secret to success in this game. My choice is Little Atom Micro Nuggies from www.YourBobbersDown colored glow, bubble gum, hot chartreuse and more. These tails are customized for ice fishing and the pointed tails offer quick action that draws fish from afar. They are impregnated with scent and also come in two tone colors like red/glow, tadpole/glow and more.
Don’t overlook their sparkle tail colors and the forked tails catch crappie like crazy. Maki Plastics produce some of the most inventive plastics with fish attracting shapes. Maki Plastics Jamei has multiple legs and forked soft tail that resembles a fine-tailed invertebrate and can be trimmed to fit any hook.
Don’t overlook Akara Mega Soft Tailed bloodworm or the J&S Custom jigs ice Mite Jr. Keep in mind that the reason micro soft baits on tiny jigs are so effective is because the action resembles zooplankton and other underwater critters that gills prefer to eat. Manufacturers in recent years have developed soft plastics in micro proportions. Even the most reluctant panfish inhale these baby baits.
The most important element of this deadly tactic is lure action. The tiny dancing jig and fast wiggling tail imitates a variety of freshwater food like shrimp. The soft plastic tail dancing in the water drives big gills bonkers and they hammer the hook like a Great White shark attacking prey.
Here’s how you slam ’em. Use a bow mounted electric trolling motor to cover water. Have your electronics mounted to the electric motor so you can see bottom, locate drop-offs and deep water, and most importantly, locate gills. Now you take a page from the spring river walleye riggers hand book and you vertically jig for gills. The electric motor is used to keep your jig dancing directly below your boat. The trick is to keep the line straight up and down and dance the jig slightly above gills you mark on electronics. Oh, what if the marks are crappie? Well, you will find out pronto because you will catch crappie. But that’s another story; your goal is to hammer gills.
Some days the lake is simply too rough with waves and the wind makes it a chore to stay on fish. That’s when I simply put a couple size #7 sinkers above the jig and lower the offering into the strike zone and drift with the waves. When drifting, you can set your rods on the side of the boat and watch the rod tip for strikes. If fishing with a friend, use the electric motor to keep the boat sideways and a wide spread between lines.
Now here comes the most important part. While you can catch plenty of summer gills on soft plastics, I prefer to tip the hook with a single wax worm. This adds smell, and the dancing white bug grabs the attention of gills and brings them close for a better look. Many times you catch smash gills by constantly swimming soft plastics, but once in a while they prefer a pause, which gives them an opportunity to get kissin’ close and once they get a whiff of the live bait they pounce on the hook.
While some anglers prefer to thread the wax worm on the hook I like to barely pin the head and leave the entire body dangling. This gives the entire presentation more action and big bulls tend to slam the wiggling live bait. Sure some gills attack the presentation and rip off the live bait. On days when they are shark attacking feel free to thread the waxie, but if the bite slows or fish become neutral or negative leave the tail dangling
There are several plastics that work like dynamite with this technique. Some look like crawlers with a pointed tail or a wiggler complete with legs and extended triple tails. I’ve had great success on forked tailed plastics during summer. The trick is to use finesse size plastics that mimic the size and profile of freshwater living creatures.
Consider replacing your traditional knot with a loop knot, like Surgeon’s knot or non-slip loop. For vertical presentations, the loop knot allows more free and random movement and enhances the attractive wiggle of the soft plastics. The loop gives lures more side-to-side action and undulating pivots of the jig, worthy movement that results in more strikes.
With modern changes in fishing line, electronics, jigs, soft plastics and more the days of gills disappearing the entire summer no longer exist. Michigan fishermen have learned micro-baits catch gills like crazy year round and they have taken gill fishing to atomic proportions. Today, Michigan has a growing army of successful fishermen that are quickly adapting ice fishing strategies to the dog days of summer and the results are impressive.