By Nick Simonson
With a bump and a full pull of my spring bobber signaling a none-too-subtle bite, I set the hook on a whirling fish that took my line around the ice hole in a 720-degree spin, clicking and pulling off the slightly uneven edge of the cylinder. With sunlight still filtering through the trees, I didn’t expect that kind of weight on the end of my line for at least another hour or so. As the fish battled its way to the surface, my jaw dropped when the eight-inch hole became eclipsed by a bluegill so big its tail was partially folded. It was a king royal bull, one of the biggest bluegills I’d pulled through the ice in recent memory. Complete with Frankenstein brow and the telltale hump of a true monster panfish, this bluegill marked the beginning of a new fishing challenge.
Hustling the fish over to my ice shack a few holes down the line I had been working, I set the bluegill’s amber and purple body against the white of my stick-on tape measure. With no tail-squeezing required, the fish nearly hit ten inches. After sorting through a couple seven-inch crappies, another big bluegill followed suit. The iridescent violet panfish surfaced; a cookie-cutter outline of the previous one. Laying it to the tape, and with tail just slightly compressed, the blunt-faced fish nipped at nine inches. The monsters set out a start to a great evening of fishing, and served as solid reminders of what it takes to land the biggest panfish in winter.
First, go small in your presentation. If you’ve ever examined a bluegill’s mouth up close, you’ll find that only the biggest ones have a maw made for minnows. Generally, they dine on tiny daphnia, nymphs and other small life forms. Jigs as small as 1/80 of an ounce are not uncommon. The tiniest jigs available for ice fishing pay big dividends when in pursuit of bluegill. For the most effective presentation, use the lightest line possible; one- and two-pound test are a good bet.
Second, for the fish I was catching, the bait had to hang horizontal, bluegills can be extremely picky and having what they want is important. Jigs like Lindy’s Fat Boy and Genz Worm were ideal for presenting imitation maggots and the real things in a fashion that triggered bites. Make sure the knot where the line ties to the jig eye rests at the twelve-o’clock position for a perfect horizontal presentation. If you miss a strike, check your knot position when you don’t receive a second strike shortly thereafter to make sure whatever bait they’re biting on is riding right.
Third, when it comes to those strikes, they happen fast, and often are imperceptible on conventional rods, making a spring bobber a wise investment for panfishing. While I’ve preached the virtues of spring bobbers in the past, bluegill fishing is where they truly shine. The slightest twitch can signal a strike and even when I thought I imagined the spring bobber moving, I set the hook, just to be safe. Many times, it resulted in a fish on the line.
Finally, eliminating line twist and lure spin resulted in more consistent bites. When hooked, bluegills will travel up to the hole in a circular fashion, putting a great deal of torque on the line, resulting in twist that causes lures to spin in a circle upon re-entry into the water. Here, you have two options to stop this phenomenon – cut and remove the bottom few feet of line and retie every-so-often or employ the smallest swivel available to prevent this line twist. Your jig will sit still in the water, and fish will not have to sit, wait and inspect your bait, giving them time to decide not to bite.
Hopefully these hints will work for the rest of the ice season and connect you with the big ones when the bite is on.