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Bustin’ Bluegills on Ice
By Nick Simonson
1/5/2018 12:00:00 AM

Running’s has all the rods, reels, line and jigs to get you set up to catch the biggest bluegills in your waters.

Bluegills are the smallest of species pursued through the ice, but oftentimes provide the greatest challenge and most excitement each winter. As their food sources are tiny, they can be very picky and observant, and the way they inhale small offerings can make takes almost undetectable. Their growing popularity under the ice – especially for those bulls eclipsing 10 inches in length – has not only spawned an entire niche market of panfishing rods, lines and lures, but also helped many ice anglers become better fishermen for all species through the increased attention to detail necessary to catch big ‘gills. This winter season, the search is on for quality panfishing, and Running’s has everything you need to take on the challenge.

Hot Rods

The key connector for the very best bluegill fishing is finding the right rod. The perfect panfish rod is one that is light and sensitive and employs a spring bobber to detect even the smallest pecks from bluegills. All-graphite blanks with small, well-connected eyes help transfer not only a hit from below, but all the action imparted to tiny jigs by the angler above. The slightest bite will cause the spring to bounce or bend, and any moderate bite will be easily felt on a good rod blank. Set the hook on the slightest twitch of the spring, as bluegill bites are short and quick.

The addition of a compact reel which can be held in “pencil grip” style helps new panfish anglers get a feel for the precision required to impart action to a small lure below. Whether it’s a standard spinning reel, or a round, straight line reel to eliminate line twist, it should be spooled with monofilament no heavier than two pound-test and in many cases one-pound test, depending on water clarity and fussiness of the fish. Without loosening their grip, anglers should be able to tap the handle of the rod with their index finger to give life to a jig below through the blank and the spring bobber.

Sweat the Small Stuff

Bluegills feed on the tiniest organisms from nearly invisible daphnia and midge larvae to scuds and various insect nymphs no bigger than a pinky nail. Bluegill lures should match these natural offerings, even if they’re not exactly the same shape, size or color. A wide variety of panfish lures are now available for those seriously pursuing bluegill. Utilizing small jigs requires light line to prevent unnecessary resistance in the water, and using tungsten-based jigs will help get offerings down the column faster, as the material is about 75 percent heavier than lead. This means that the same weight jig in tungsten is much smaller than its lead equivalent, providing a more natural presentation under the ice that still gets down there in the same amount of time. Buy a handful of tungsten jigs and watch the success rate for these finicky fish soar. Tipping these offerings with maggots or waxworms from the Running’s bait counter, or utilizing a number of plastics or Berkley Gulp! offerings will help seal the deal.

Bluegill taking the bait

Small offerings like the 1/64 ounce Fat Boy jig tipped with a Berkley Gulp! Maggot are a good place to start when targeting bluegills.

As hinted at earlier, line twist under the ice is of serious concern to bluegill anglers. When hooked, these panfish are well-known for their circular fight, leveraging their body shape to battle the angler above. With that tell-tale spin comes inevitable line twist, and managing this stressor will help keep fish coming to the surface. This can be done by adding a small swivel a few feet up the line, or by examining the lure in the ice hole prior to sending it down.

If the lure turns around the line, it should be cut and retied, allowing the line to straighten out and work out any of the kinks put into it by the last few bluegills that were landed. It is a good idea to check a lure for unwanted spin before dropping it back into the target area, as this unnatural movement can turn fish off and make a hot spot go cold.

An Eye Below

Finally, good underwater vision is key in locating great bluegill haunts. Just like in summer, big ‘gills will relate to structure, but in winter that element is much sparser, as stands of weeds will begin to die off, mat down and disappear. Locating good stands at early season, with pockets and open areas around them, will provide a starting point to finding quality bluegills. Utilize a highly portable underwater camera like the MarCum Recon 5 or Aqua-Vu AV Micro 5 to move quickly from hole to hole over an expanse and find areas of still-green weeds in winter which will help harbor fishable populations of nice bluegills.

using sonar to land bluegills

Using a sonar device with good target separation, like the Vexilar FLX-28, will help keep tabs on bluegills as they approach a bait.

In addition, a quality sonar device such as the Vexilar FLX-28 or MarCum LX-7 will help track fish under the ice and determine their mood as they move up to take a closer look at a lure. Having good target separation on a sonar unit – typically down to 3/4-of-an-inch – will help determine where a fish (or multiple fish) are in relation to the offering. Zoom is also a good feature to have on a sonar unit, as bluegills may relate to a certain stretch of a water column, as influenced by rising food sources or in connection to nearby structure or still-standing weeds which might reach several feet off the bottom. Use the expanded on-ice technology options available at Running’s to key in on these preferences and connect with fish.

By honing skills necessary to convince sometimes fickle bluegills to bite, anglers gain a greater appreciation for doing the small things correctly. This transfers over to other popular pursuits on the ice, including crappies, walleyes, lake trout and even pike. Running’s has everything necessary to start a foray into a fun on-ice experience for these pint-sized pursuits. Now that winter has settled over the region, stop in today and get all the gear needed to ice more bluegills this season!

Tags: ice, fishing
Categories: Know How


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