Saturday, February 4th, 2023
Saturday, February 4th, 2023

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Back to the basics: It’s hard to beat bluegills


By Jason Mitchell
Contributing Writer


Whether you do a lot of ice fishing or are new to the game, bluegills are seemingly designed for entertaining ice anglers.  


Abundant, relatively easy to find, and great on the table, bluegills are one of the most popular fish species to target. 


If you enjoy eating a fresh meal of fish, chances are that bluegills are high on your list. If you hope to introduce somebody new to ice fishing, bluegills are perfect. 


But however easy bluegills can be to find and target, big bluegills can be as difficult to find and catch as any other trophy fish. This is what makes bluegill fishing so infatuating and addicting. 


Because of the pandemic, it appears more people are fishing today and more people want to learn about fishing. With so many different activities compromised or canceled outright, there are many people who once fished and now want to get back to it. There also are many people who have never fished but who want to start. There are folks who want to take their kids or families out fishing. Fishing is good for people, and as a fishing community we embrace the new anglers.


More people interested in fishing is good for fishing.  


More people fishing means more funding for conservation and lake and river access. More people fishing means more interest in policy and legislation that can ultimately affect everything from water quality to public use priorities. Water and fish are public domain, managed for the public. Note, too, that resident fishing licenses in most states are amazingly cheap when you look at the number of days you can fish and consider what other recreation costs. We need more anglers who care about our resources.


If you are just starting, fishing can seem technical and even complicated. Some people might be intimidated because they might not have a lot of equipment.  


Don’t be intimidated. At the end of the day, a bluegill has the brain the size of a peanut. 


What makes fishing so much fun is that anybody can become good at fishing or experience some level of success. In fact, some of the best ice anglers don’t necessarily have a lot of equipment – they just know what to do and where to do it.


To accelerate the fishing learning curve, do some research online whenever possible. If you don’t have a lot of equipment, choose lakes that have high densities of bluegills and look for lakes that have relatively clear water. Why? Because clear water allows you to sight-fish – you can often actually watch the fish.  


Some of the best winter bluegill anglers cut their teeth by sight-fishing. At early ice, before there is a lot of snow on the ice, look for weeds frozen into the ice. Simply walk out to the edge of where the weeds dissipate or disappear so that you are on the outside edge of the weedline. That edge is a high-percentage starting point.  


Many new anglers might start out with a hand auger because it’s cheaper, but a hand auger can be particularly useful during early ice. Electric augers also are easy to use and lightweight. You don’t need to be a lumberjack to drill a hole with today’s equipment.


To sight-fish effectively, a shelter is useful for blocking light so you can see down the hole. Hub shelters are an affordable and functional option. Being able to stare down the hole and watch fish is simply addicting. On many lakes, you will not only see bluegills, but also bass, pike, perch, or crappies. On most lakes, fish will hang around this outside edge of a prominent weedline for a good portion of the winter. 


To also help in picking a location, simply upload one of the mapping apps onto your phone. The maps are often not as detailed as some other lake maps, but they do show the basic structure and ledges. Most good fishing areas will simply provide an edge where a shallower hump or point drops off into deeper water. 


Once you get started, you’ll definitely want flasher fishfinder for seeing your lure and seeing fish marks, but you can get started by sight-fishing and add the flasher as you continue to acquire equipment.


Picking high-percentage fish locations is crucial because you must be over the top of fish in order to catch them. The next most important component is your presentation.  


Bluegill rods don’t have to be expensive to catch fish. Choose a light-action rod with a spring bobber or noodle tip if the goal is bluegills. Use a lighter line  – 2-pound monofilament is good. A tungsten jig is a little more expensive than a traditional lead jig, but the tungsten will be much easier to feel on the rod tip. Tip the jig with a wax worm. 


Work the jig slowly down to fish and try to remain slightly above the fish if you can see them. The jigging movements don’t have to be big or drastic. Simply quiver the jig and pause. Quiver and pause until the fish comes up and eats. Small floats can also be used, which can be useful in noting fish bites, especially for kids. If the spring bobber drops or the float moves, set the hook.


For learning the basics and especially for introducing kids to the magic of ice fishing, simply getting over the top of a big school of bluegills is perfect. The fish don’t have to be the biggest. The goal starting out is to catch some fish and check an X next to the win column. Get that experience.  


As you move along in your ice-fishing career, you may want to target other species or target bigger fish, but you must lay down the foundation first. You have to develop infatuation and interest. 


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