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Punching Bluegills

By Jason Mitchell - February 1, 2013
If there is a general rule of thumb, water with decent to excellent visibility often has good weed growth that can remain through the course of a winter. Granted, snow cover can eliminate light penetration which in turn can knock down vegetation but if there are weeds, typically there are bluegills.

Most lakes have a variety of weed types and we have found bluegills around just about anything that resembles cover especially at first and late ice. Some weeds like the cabbage variety typically die and break down fast during the winter but at times will still hold fish. Other plants like Chara or even bulrushes can hold fish. My favorite winter weed however is coontail. Coontail grows to deeper depths and will often remain green much longer through the ice. Any type of weed is better than no weed providing that the fish are holding in the depth of the weed but green weeds are almost always best if they are available.

An underwater camera like the Vexilar Scout can be invaluable for weed recon work. The crisp picture and lack of refraction can give you great information on what condition, what species and what color the weeds are.

Light penetration and predators probably influence how bluegills position and move around weeds more than anything else. Typically on a lot of water, lower light penetration creates windows where fish cruise and drift from the cover. What this means is that you can sit over a good trough, break or gap in the weeds and the spot will recharge with fish. This often occurs at sunrise and sunset.

High sun or predators like northern pike can push bluegills into the weeds. When fish hunker into weeds, the angler often has to fish more through more holes to contact fish. When fish stop moving, you have to move to be successful. The other key to being successful when targeting panfish buried in weeds is to use tackle and equipment that will punch through the weeds to reach the fish. Think like a bass angler using a heavy jig to punch through pads or slop to get down to fish.

"My favorite winter weed however is coontail. Coontail grows to deeper depths and will often remain green much longer through the ice..."
While a camera can give you a tremendous education, hole-hopping through salad is where the Vexilar FL-22 shines. We live in a world where almost everything has moved to the digital age but when it comes to ice fishing, the information you get from the raw analog signal on a Vexilar is a game changer. Why does the analog signal give you an edge? When fishing weeds, you have to turn down your power so that you can barely see any signal indicating the vegetation. The analog signal picks up movement better than anything so it becomes easier to see the jig working within the weeds and also easier to see fish moving through the weeds as they approach. The next step is to adjust the cone angle by either using the Tri-Beam or Pro View transducer so you can tune out even more weed clutter to clean up the screen. For shallow weeds less than fifteen feet, the ten foot scale on the FL-22 really blows the picture up, making everything easier to see.

When trying to reach bluegills that are buried in the weeds, use presentations or jigs that drop hard enough to fall through the leaves and stalks. This usually isn't a finesse game because to light or too slow of falling jigs get hung up near the top of the canopy. The weight of tungsten is ideal. Jigs like the Northland Tackle Mooska punch through the weeds and reach the fish.

Another really good option that is often overlooked is to take a small Buckshot Rattle Spoon or Forage Minnow and attach a short chain dropper. We recently filmed and aired a television program where we discussed this presentation. The advantage of this combination is that the weight of the spoon cuts through the weeds but the chain on the bottom is very flexible giving the hook a very delicate action and the chain is easy for fish to suck in.

On fisheries with good weed growth, extracting bluegills from the jungle is part of the game at some point each winter. By approaching the weeds with the right mentality and the right tools, this extraction process is made much more effective.

Author Jason Mitchell

Jason Mitchell
The author Jason Mitchell is credited with pioneering many modern ice tactics for walleyes and earned a reputation as a renowned ice fishing guide on Devils Lake, North Dakota with the Perch Patrol Guide Service before a career in outdoor television. Jason Mitchell Outdoors Television can be viewed on FSN North at 9:30 Sunday mornings and FSN Midwest at 8:30 am Saturday mornings. Show schedule can be found at
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