Details make the difference between icing a few bluegills or limit catches. Good anglers use plenty of little tricks not necessarily complex; usually it’s a combination of knowledge regarding gills and their feeding characteristics, common sense and wisely using modern innovations that keep them consistently catching fish. Any ice angler worth his salt knows that first ice provides the hottest fishing of the year. The trick to catching buckets full often hinges on the activity level of panfish and first ice is when they go bonkers. In addition here are 10 hints that will help you catch more bluegills.
1. Proper Rod & Reel
Choose tackle that maximizes your ability to detect subtle strikes. Select ultralight spinning reels and match them with ultralight graphite rods that feature responsive tips and create excellent balanced combos. Most anglers like 30″ rods that will accommodate 1 pound test line. Some modern rods are so sensitive you don’t need a spring bobber to detect strikes.
2. Light Line
For this ultralight style of fishing 2 pound test mono is considered too heavy. Smart anglers choose ¾ and 1 pound test clear mono line that is built to offer improved handing and flexibility in extremely cold weather situations. Use line that resists coiling, kinks, and yet provides sensitivity; minimum visibility and quick hook sets from minimal stretching. Consider the Asso fishing line that resists freezing, remains soft and gives great ability to feel fish. Contact: www.YourBobbersDown.com.
3. Spring Bobbers
One crucial element in the puzzle to catching winter gills is the spring bobber that is attached to the end of your rod. Oh sure, some super ultralight rods can be used to detect strikes, but savvy anglers hand-wrap a fine wire strike indicator to the rod tip. The spring bobber is made of flexible wire, much like piano or guitar wire, which has a loop where your line goes. The spring bobber will bend slightly down with just the weight of the tiny jig. This allows you to see the lightest strike and give the jig a seductive swimming action. Winter gills are finicky feeders; they suck in the bait by flaring gills and venting water into their mouth. A spring bobber allows you to detect this faint strike or mini-movement of your jig, even when your offering is in deep water. Two quality spring bobbers are Art Day’s Sneaky Bobber and Snider’s Spring Bobber.
4. Best Bait
Let’s skip details and make the bold, but true, statement that the best bait going for ice fishing for gills is spikes. Sure there are specific locations and certain conditions that warrant use of waxworms, or mousies, but spikes get the nod from gillin’ pros. Some savvy anglers claim that spikes give off an enticing odor that gills can not resist, others say it is the action of the tuff skinned critter that draws fish and holds their attention.
5. Hooking The Bait
Perhaps the most important element in ice fishing is how you place the bait on the hook to entice strikes. One proven tactic is to thread the spike on the hook, covering the barb and hook point. This is accomplished by placing the hook through the spike’s head, piercing the body near the two eyes and threading the critter on the shank until the tip of the hook is covered by the tail. This strategy ensures that the hook is completely camouflaged by the bait; if it is exposed wary gills will reject the offering.
When using this style bait presentation check your bait often to make certain the hook point is not exposed. If gills follow the jig but will not strike, 9 out of 10 times the point of the hook is showing.
A second strategy is to hang two spikes from the hook. This is accomplished by squeezing the head on a spike until a tiny protruding bulge appears near the head. Pin the spike by lightly hooking a tiny bit of flesh on this protrusion. Beginners make the common mistake of sending the hook through too much flesh, causing the spike to not wiggle freely when jigged underwater. Smart fishermen squeeze the spike until body fluids ooze from the hooked location, which causes the bait to milk when jigged, placing fish attracting scent in the water.
The idea of jigging for gills makes little sense without the use of modern electronics to see if fish are attracted to your presentation. The most understated advantage of electronics is to see how fish respond to your jigging style. Are they charging your lure? Swimming away? If gills are approach your offering and do not strike, is something wrong? Knowing how to move the lure to guarantee strikes takes plenty of practice and patience.
One trick is to jiggle the lure slowly upward, away from fish, coaxing them to follow the swimming morsel. This mimics the natural swimming action of microorganisms that live in fresh water lakes. Key fish into instinctive strikes by slowly dancing the jig up by jiggling the spring bobber, then pause only a second or two, strikes come when the jig is moving slightly upward or on the pause.
If a fish charges your lure, you see a red band on the electronics moving quickly toward your jig, stop upward action and hold the rod stationary for the strike. If several fish show on the electronics, entice strikes by jigging slightly above the red bands, encouraging fish to move upward as much as 3-5 feet off bottom.
If they reject the offering and swim toward bottom, stair-step the jig back down, do not let it free fall into waiting fish. At times, fish will follow your jig up and down several times before they finally strike.
7. Hole Hopping
Wise gill fishermen keep drilling holes until they find fish. Seldom do they begin fishing unless fish show on their electronics. If action slows after catching a few, they move and keep moving until they locate the mother lode. Rarely do they stay in a particular hole unless plenty of fish are on the electronics and they are catching them.
Plan on drilling at least 12 holes for a two-hour outing. Winter gills often stage in a particular area; find it and you will have good success. Gills roam, drilling new holes close to productive locations can put you on a school. Try drilling several holes from deep to shallow water, determining the depth gills prefer by how many you catch; now, move up or down the shore at that determined depth.
8. Jigs for Gills
It is true that just about any jig will catch gills, especially if you are on first ice which provides plenty of active fish. But during mid-winter the panfish develop a negative mood and hug bottom and catching them is work, that’s when you need to use fish tested jigs. First, keep them small, size 10 or 12. One style that swims horizontally in the water is the Marmooska Jig made by HT Enterprises. K & E Mfg. in Hastings, makes the Glo Jig, Glitter Jig and Lava Jig. Another top producer is the Snider’s jig. But the top jig for gills, crappie, perch and other panfish is the Fiskas Wolfram Jigs available from www.YourBobbersDown.com. The Fiskas are hand painted, have epoxy finishes, metallic in glow colors and come in different sizes. I recommend the size 5mm for most fishing situations.
Experimenting with jig color and design and your jigging presentation can lead to success. Try allowing the bait to sit motionless, lift it slowly with only a few jiggles to draw wary fish close. Yes, you will have to research, plan and use common sense and innovation that take time. But you will find one method that out produces the others, and like so many other things in life, soon find that carefully invested time and strategic approaches eventually pay big dividends.
10. Decipher Locations
Focus efforts on bodies of water that hold good numbers of quality bluegills. Do your homework, study lake maps, talk to knowledgeable sources, call bait shops or DNR contacts, and then use this information to plan strategic approaches. If your local lake is producing nothing but grunt gills it is time to make the switch to a body of water that has a reputation for outstanding bluegill catches. Some of my favorites include: Houghton Lake, Higgins Lake for perch, Hamlin Lake near Ludington, Gull Lake, Sanford Lake, Holloway Reservoir, Duck Lake, Hodenpyl Dam, Lakes Cadillac and Mitchell and many more.
When old man winter brings a cold spell and local lakes develop a layer of safe ice it is time for you to grab ice fishing gear and hit the hard water. Got your reels spooled with fresh line, auger blade sharpened and battery on the Vexilar fully charged? Fresh fish for the fry pan are waiting!