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
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.
By: Nick Simonson