By Vic Attardo
I once knew a guy who bought a treasure map while he was vacationing in the Bahamas. It was a beautiful forgery – and his better judgment told him it was fake – but he couldn’t help himself spending some bucks because, “It might be real.”
I feel the same way about any “map” or advice that would tell me where to find plump pumpkinseeds – those luscious cousins of the bluegill – under the ice.
I’ve been trying to chart the placement of winter pumpkinseeds for decades, and I can tell you no such map exists. One cold day they’ll be mixed in with their cousins, another day they’ll be off by themselves with no other fish anywhere near.
And then, on another – and often the majority of outings – you can’t find a pumpkinseed to save your life, though you know the lake you’re ice fishing is full of them.
Yes, I’ve had a few days in very special places where catching pumpkinseeds was like finding poppy seeds on a bagel, but mainly you get a few here and there and I’m thankful for that.
In most Pennsylvania lakes, bluegills outnumber pumpkinseeds by a wide margin. In New England, I find some pumpkinseed-heavy waters, but that’s New England.
Consider those Keystone waters where the ratio is narrower, as rare treasures. Yet with the odds stacked against me, I keep targeting pumpkinseeds for two reasons: they are a prize, colorful as a high-voltage rainbow, and their fillets are noticeable thicker. Yum, yum.
So what the heck have I learned about catching seeds? First off, they really favor bright lures, bright jigs and bright soft plastic, and they love waxworms as opposed to any other larva bait.
I do a lot of my bluegill fishing, particularly in the clearest winter lakes, with black jigs and black soft-plastics. But black doesn’t seem to appeal to many winter pumpkinseeds. I don’t know why because it shouldn’t be true. But it is.
Instead, pumpkinseeds seem to respond to the brightest orange and chartreuse jigs and the same color plastics. When it comes to feeding them waxworms I have faith hanging the bait on a bright chain spoon – a gold blade with either chartreuse or red markings, or both.
And there’s something else I think I’ve learned about winter pumpkinseeds: they tend not to suspend like winter bluegills. Don’t know why because it shouldn’t be true either, but it is.
When I see piles of bluegills on my flasher screen, t stretched up in the water column from a foot to 3 or 4 feet off the bottom, those fewer sonar marks tightest to the bottom are often pumpkinseeds. Sometimes they’re not, but many times they are.
For this reason – if I care enough to be going after the fewer ‘seeds as opposed to the multitudinous bluegills, I’ll actually tap the lake floor with the jig, repeatedly, or keep the hook on the chain spoon within a few centimeters of the absolute bottom.
Yes, bluegills will come down and visit the bottom but some of those fish I bring up from the basement are prize pumpkinseeds.
Another thing I think holds true with winter pumpkinseeds is that they come from deeper water.
Bluegills I can catch in as little as 5 feet with so many swimming in from 5 to 12 feet, give or take some inches, but pumpkinseeds like it deeper, at least 10 and certainly in the 15-18 foot range, again give or take some inches.
For this reason, I’ll cut some holes I think will give me a look at deeper holding pumpkinseeds and work these hard.
The right equipment is important for all fish and I have some notions about what to use for the lightening-fast pumpkinseed.
A real necessity is a rod with super-fast tip. No matter if it’s a short 24-inch rod or the longer 44-inch models, I’ve lately become enamored with, the rod has to be able to respond to a whisper.
While many small ice reels are well-built, make sure the models you’re using have a firm bail and no play in the crankcase. The line you put on the reel is paramount.
I use a braided ice line 4-pound test and a 2- to 3-foot leader of 3-pound fluorocarbon or yellow-tinted ice mono. I really like the latter.
I also like a braid color I can see, particularly a light blue, then I can “read” the placement of the lure and bait with the change between the yellow mono and blue braid.
The color contrast doesn’t matter so much when presenting bait in deeper water but it sure helps a bunch when bringing up the fish. Notably you can tell how far the seed is away from the hole by the color change.
I try to work a fish into the center of the hole to avoid bumping its nose on the ice and bouncing away. It happens often enough anyway so this color warning helps avoid it.
So, why go to all this bother just to add a few pumpkinseeds to the winter’s catch? Simple, I guess, because they are really beautiful, the closest thing we’ve got to a tropical-colored fish, and heck the fillets are as thick as waffles.