Big Ice-Out Gills

One of my favorite things to do in early Spring is get into some super-tasty open water panfish, and often while there is still some ice on the lake. Let’s target big bluegills. The first key to success is to know where to look for them. The key to early success is finding warmer water, and it may only be a couple degrees than the main lake water. North shores are almost always a good place to start because they warm up faster due to the angle of the Spring sun. Ever notice how one side of the road will have more snow than the other side? You can bet the side with less snow is the north side. Other key spots to check are protected channels, especially those T or L shaped, mouths of feeders, harbors, or shallow soft-bottomed flats protected from the wind. Many of these areas have soft dark bottom which warms up quicker than other types of bottom, and holds heat longer. These same areas are usually where the first insect hatches will take place and where schools of minnows will come.

Even when you find the big gills, and you can often see them under sunnier conditions, there is no guarantee you will catch a bunch. Specific finesse presentations will maximize your results. Just about every good panfish angler owns a 9-foot rod. You can cast farther with one, the bend will allow you to use lighter line with less chance of break-off, a long sweeping hook-set will remove a lot of slack, you can mend or control your presentation better and they are fun to fish with. I have used a lot of different types of long rods but my favorite by far is Grandt’s 9-ft. 2-piece All American Series rated for 2-6 lb. test. It has the perfect flex for long casts and to absorb the fight of a fish with its parabolic bend. I match it up with a slightly smaller than standard size spinning reel. Ultra-light reels don’t hold enough line to allow you to make those extra long casts if needed. I usually spool up with a soft in such as 4-pound test Trilene XL (extra limp).

An important key in clear cold water is to use a 2-pound test fluorocarbon leader. The leader length depends how deep you are fishing under a float. Your float should be attached to the 4-lb. test not the weaker 2 pound test leader. Dark-colored jigs are usually more productive for bluegills, while crappies usually favor white, chartreuse, and other bright colors. My favorite type jig is a Rat Finke size 12 hook in black or brown of something similar. I was losing about one-third of my hooked fish until I bent the point of the hook outward a few degrees. This slight adjustment made a huge difference.

Floats sizes and styles can make a big difference. Use the smallest float possible that you can cast the required distance. If there is little water movement and you want some drift. a very small round float might be your best choice. Sometimes a TINY split shot can be put right under the float to give you a little extra casting distance, and to cut down on the floats buoyancy. To minimize drift speed a vertical sitting float would be recommended. Some floats are slightly weighted on the bottom and that may be an option to consider.

Jigs are usually baited with wax worms or spikes for bluegills. Crappies usually are fished with plastics or very small minnows at this time. Putting a few spikes on the hook works, but I think a larger wax worm hooked through the head and allow to flutter behind catches you slightly bigger gills and gives you a better shot at a bonus crappie.

Don’t sit around waiting for those warm April days that draws anglers out in droves. Beat the crowds and get into them now!