Wednesday, February 1st, 2023
Wednesday, February 1st, 2023

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

Don’t fret, keep searching for winter bluegills

I hadn’t fished in almost a month. Between the time of my last open-water excursion and the formation of fishable ice, my mood had gotten ugly.

When finally the ice was on the thicker side of 4 inches, I packed a minimum of equipment, a drill, two rods, a tray of tackle, the sled and a sonar, and headed out for something that bites. I figured my best bet would be bluegills.

When it comes to ice fishing, bluegills are like bananas in a grocery store. You know they’re there, you just have to find the right aisle. But that aisle can be tricky to locate.

In late fall, before ice began to form, the piscatorial inhabitants of most lakes retreated to deeper water. On Beltzville Lake, on the north side of the Blue Mountain, I last found ‘gills in over 12 feet of water in the 947-acre impoundment.

But when I returned with 4 inches of ice the fish had moved back to semi-shallower water, between 7 and 9 feet. Also in late fall, the ‘gills had fled from a long, predominantly shallow arm and moved into the main body of the lake.

Now, with a little ice, they were back in that arm, though not along shoreline structure.

That scenario seems to fly against all reason. Why would ‘gills move shallow with ice over their heads? But when you examine the factors that caused the return to shallower water – although temporary – it makes sense. And these lessons can be applied to so many lakes across the commonwealth.

As the ice began to cover Beltzville, the more intense light penetration was in shallower water. And with light penetration the macro- invertebrates that ‘gills thrive on were more active.

I drilled my initial holes in 10 feet of water, and that’s where I caught my first couple of ‘gills of the new ice season.

It’s a good strategy to both start the day and approach first ice. You don’t want to go too shallow, though I’ve nabbed first-ice bluegills in as little as 5 and 6 feet, but you also don’t want to start searching “nowhere” water of 15 or more feet.

An important sign to look for in the shallow water is a good supply of green weeds. Even on the simplest of sonars these will show up as colored bands or an elevated outline above the absolute bottom.

I don’t want to be too specific with the exact color band or how it will appear on a graph sonar because there are different manufacturers and each has its own way of displaying the world below.

If you don’t have a sonar, do like I once did. Drop a -ounce sinker with an unbaited treble hook and swish it around the bottom. If I felt weeds or brought some grass to the surface, that’s where I’d fish.

Oh, for the good old days.

This first outing gradually turned sunny and bright.

Perhaps
it was that condition, or the fact the area I was working got as busy
as a 12-items-or-less checkout line, but the fish I was on disappeared.

Also,
I could feel the thumping of passing feet and the sizzle of a speedy
figure skater didn’t make it easier. I picked up my stuff and sledded to
what I knew was a deeper spot in 15 feet of water, more in the center
of this arm.

There were no weeds here but after I drilled two quick holes and let the place settle down, the bananas came around in bunches.

I
doubted that sunlight was penetrating to this depth and the bugs
weren’t so active, so I switched to a glow jig and added a thin-body
soft plastic.

My plan
was to work the jig with a harder movement and get more action from the
bait, but not too much. Soon, my sonar dial was lighting up with
approaching, curious fish.

When
you see fish coming in on your sonar, don’t suddenly change your
jigging action. Whatever you were doing before their appearance was
enough to interest the ‘gills, so don’t stop or speed up your jig to get
a strike.

I used to
punch up the action when I saw fish approach, thinking that bolder
activity would trigger a strike, but it rarely did. Then one day, a
friend told me he had stopped “popping the cork” when a fish appeared
and this got him a lot more solid strikes.

I took up that thinking, and it has worked ever since.

Just
so you know what I mean, if you’ve been wiggling and twitching the jig
so that it bounces less than a foot or so, don’t suddenly raise and
lower the bait a couple of feet at a time. That’s not good.

However, it’s fine to make the bait look nervous by jiggling it, in place, a little faster, like shaking a bowl of Jello.

In the coming frozen weeks, with changes in ice
thickness and variable weather, the ‘gills will move in and out. Don’t
fret, just keep searching, and hopefully one day you’ll hear the call,
“Clean up on aisle nine.”

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