Bluegill are one of the most commonly-targeted freshwater fish in the United States. They’re one of the smaller species in the panfish family, but they are known for their feisty attitude and distinct coloration. Most anglers know that bluegill can be caught with relative ease throughout the summer months, but these fish can also prove to be a very popular target of ice anglers as well.
Their behavior throughout the winter is somewhat similar to the summer months, but it can be tricky to figure out what kind of pattern bluegill will have when the water freezes over. In this article, we will lay out some of the most useful information related to ice fishing for bluegill and help shed some light on one of America’s favorite freshwater fish species.
Table of Contents
Ice Fishing for Bluegill Overview
Bluegill tend to gather in large schools during the winter months as there is often safety in numbers and protection from larger predators that will usually hunt them throughout this season. You can usually find bluegill near structure or cover of some kind, but their behavior seems to change and can differ greatly from one lake to the next. One thing is sure, once you’ve found a spot where you can catch bluegill, you can bet that there will be a considerable number of them in the near vicinity.
It’s common knowledge that bluegill can always be found in the shallows during the warm portions of the year, but they will begin to move out toward deeper areas when the water temperature starts to drop below about 50 degrees. Once the water begins to cool off significantly, bluegill will move further away from the shoreline and will often suspend in water that’s at or very close to some type of structure.
Here are some of the best ice fishing for bluegill tips we’ve found for catching these fish during the frigid winter months.
1. Seek Out Cover
When it comes to the habits of bluegill throughout the winter months, there are many changes that take place in relation to water temperature, depth, and the type of food sources that these fish are known to target during the warm weather months. There are virtually no insects available once the lake freezes over, so bluegill will vacate their summer homes near the shoreline and venture far out into the middle of lakes where they look for some type of structure or cover to hold close to.
The best type of structure that will usually hold schools of bluegill are brush piles and trees that are submerged at a depth of at least 15 feet. Bluegill will also hold near standing timber and large rocks that might provide them with a bit of cover and protection from predators.
2. Look Along the Weedline
Many northern lakes have weeds that extend inward from the shoreline and will grow out to a certain depth along the bottom. Where these weeds stop growing is known as the ‘weedline’ and you can usually bet that bluegill will find some type of cover very close to this line to stick to. Bluegill will mostly stay down in the weeds where they are hidden from the view of predatory fish that might be prowling through the water in search of a meal.
When fishing an area that has weeds, be sure that you don’t let your lure sink too far down until it’s in the weeds, but rather keep it just a few feet above the weeds. Finding bluegill is one of the most challenging parts of ice fishing for bluegill during the winter. This is harder to do in larger lakes, but once you locate a spot where you’ve caught one ‘gill, you can be sure that there are more somewhere nearby.
3. Fluorocarbon Line is Essential
Whether you’re using it as a leader, or as your main line, it’s crucial that you are using fluorocarbon line in the cold-weather months when the ice is frozen solid on the surface. The reason for this is because fish like bluegill have very keen eyesight and can usually see monofilament or especially braided line when it’s down in the water. What makes these types of lines stand out more during icy months out of the year is because fish can see them more easily due to the water being mostly still and more clear than any other time of the year.
4. Fish Higher Near the Surface
Most bluegill will be suspended down at a depth of at least 10 or 15 feet during the winter months. There might be times when they venture up toward the frozen surface, but for the most part, they will stick close to cover or weeds where they can be camouflaged from predators. You’ll need to fish your lure or bait above their position in order to have the best chance of bluegill actually seeing it.
If you fish too deep, you run the risk of your lure being below the level where the fish are at. You can usually eliminate a lot of the guesswork by using a fish finder in these instances, but remember to fish from the top down when you first start dropping down on a hole, not from the bottom up.
5. Less is More
Sometimes, ice anglers can get antsy and feel like their lure doesn’t have enough action or isn’t moving enough to attract nearby fish. More often than not, fish will take notice of a lure that’s moving in a way that’s more in line with the normal behavior of bait fish during the frigid months when the lake is frozen.
Most lures will require you to jig them up and down or in an erratic pattern. Bluegill can easily be spooked away from a lure that’s moving unnaturally quick and darting around too fast. Remember, you’re trying to match the slow, sluggish movements and motions that fish have when they are in ice-cold water conditions.
If you’re not sure just how fast you should be jigging your lure or bait around, pay close attention to some of the more accomplished ice anglers near you or around the lake. There are also countless videos you can find online that show the proper amount of action you typically want a lure to have when ice fishing. If you develop your skills based on what works for them, you can usually have a bit more success.