Bluegills in the Shallows
Shortly after the yearly ritual of Wisconsin’s white-tail deer season is complete, the next “season” is upon us. That “season” is the first ice for ice fishing. As a rule, the first ice is the most productive time to catch the fish in the shallows. My favorite quarry is the feisty bluegill. In most lakes, they will be in the shallow weeds, likely 4-8 feet of water. The shallow water has everything a bluegill requires; food and cover from its predators. The best shallow weeds will have pockets in them with hard bottom, such as sand or stone. I like the pockets in the weeds because it sets up ambush points for the actively feeding bluegills. When I get to a prime area I intend to fish, I will drill anywhere from ten to fifteen holes to move to and from. This is called “hole hopping”.
Being first ice, the thickness of the ice doesn’t warrant using a power auger so I will use a 4 or 5 inch hand auger. In the lakes where I fish in Southeastern Wisconsin there are a lot of people fishing to I won’t spread the holes too far apart. I tend to fish a hole 3-5 minutes, if nothing happens, I move to the next hole. It seems that fish will bite consistently the first time the bait goes down the hole if they are present. While fishing those holes for the first time around, I will carry my Vexilar FL-12 to check out what the hole is like under the ice. By doing this, I can eliminate holes that are unfishable due to weeds extending to the surface. Shallower waters will freeze first so choose lakes with a lot of shallow water. My favorite bluegill hot spot in Southeastern Wisconsin is Monona Bay in Madison, WI or Delavan Lake, WI.
I like to use a long pole about 42 to 48 inches. The beauty of the longer pole is that you never have to bend down or sit while fishing. This makes moving from hole to hole easier. The poles are spooled with ½ pound to 1 pound tests. The lightest line you can get away with, the better. When using light line, use caution while lifting the fish out of the water, you don’t want to break your line on a nice one. I use a quality spring bobber on the tip of the pole for the bite indicator. The resistance of a bobber going under when a fish is biting will reduce the hooking success rate. Bluegills will feel the slight resistance and let go of the bait. They are notorious light biters you need to watch your line; any movement could be a strike. My preferred bait is a small number 12 or 14 tear drop ice jig or the Lindy Toad the preferred color is chartreuse. I will tip the jig with one waxworm or two spikes. I believe you have better success with smaller profile bait. Fish can be positioned throughout the water column; I will start three or four inches off the bottom and work it upwards to at least 2 feet from the bottom.
The most important factor on fishing first ice is safety. Always be aware of the thickness of the ice and never venture out alone. When in doubt, stay off the ice.