'Plop and hover': Technique helps in catching winter bluegills
Locating a population of bluegills is seldom a problem on virtually any southern Wisconsin lake.
Ice fishers are not shy about grinding holes dinner table close to another angler if they think this proximity will help them put some panfish on the ice.
Ice fishers are like duck decoys. Two or three astride buckets on an acre of ice my not draw attention. But a dozen hunkered down on a tennis-court-sized parcel of ice will. Soon 12 become 20.
If those who arrived first had any kind of active bite going on before the troops arrived, you can bet aggressive feeding will come to a screeching halt once the tap dancing overhead begins.
Winter bluegills often locate over flats. You can find them in openings where there are green weeds. But for much of the winter some will spend most of the day hugging a faceless bottom beyond the deep weed line, waiting for a small low-light window to start feeding.
Presentation is key in catching fish when they don't want to bite. Success is a study in extreme finesse. Mastering a technique some call “plop and hover” will certainly put more bluegills on the ice for you this winter.
Triggering fish that don't want to bite in extremely cold water is easy for folks who made their fortune selling pocket combs to the hair impaired. If you put that hook in the target's face and just hold it there, eventually even a bluegill in virtual metabolic shutdown will take a little nip.
Electronics are a great tool in determining the fish activity level. I use a Vexilar FL-18 that allows target separation of less than one inch. Even if the electronics indicate a barren bottom, it doesn't hurt to drop a jig down there, let it plop to the bottom and raise it six inches to hover momentarily before moving on.
If you're looking where fish have been holding lately, watch the bottom echo on the screen closely. The slightest quivering quaver on the dial indicates dinner is waiting directly beneath the hole.
Bluegills are prey species. They are easily intimidated by almost any invading presence, especially if the interloper is bouncing around aggressively. A large percentage of a bluegill's diet is invertebrates. With slowed metabolism, bluegills don't even desire large invertebrates. This is why small jigs usually produce more fish larger ones.
In recent years tungsten jigs have gained popularity with serious winter bluegill anglers. Tungsten is denser in lead, allowing a more compact bait profile and faster drop than baits with a lead body of the same dimensions.
Tungsten is also much more expensive. Why would anybody want to pay $4 for a tungsten lure when identical bait right next to it on the shelf is less than a buck? Because smaller baits catch more fish!
The best tungsten baits on the market are Northland Tackle's Mooksa and Custom Jigs & Spins Chekai. A plastic tail will often catch more fish than live bait on the tiny size 10-14 hooks.
Bluegills find the B-Y tails almost irresistible, wiggling on the jigs with even your best attempt at a “deadstick” presentation.
Because the tie-eye on these lures is so small, cleaning paint out of the eye with a needle and tying up before leaving the house is a good idea.
The final component in consistently icing unwilling bluegills is the strike indicator. St. Croix has the most sensitive spring bobber on the market as an integral feature of their Legend Series ice rods.
Simply plop the jig on the bottom, raise it slowly up in the water column just four inches and do your best to hold the rod perfectly still. If the Chekai or Mooksa is hovering anywhere close to a sleepy bluegill, the spring bobber at the end of your rod will soon bend slowly—but undeniably—toward the bottom of the lake.
Set the hook!
Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.