Most fish navigate toward cover in one form or another, and winter bluegills are no different then most fish. Bluegill prefer the protection and concealment of various types of cover provided beneath the ice. They also congregate close to cover because that’s where they find most of the food they eat.
The type of lake, man-made or natural, dictates the best approach to finding these winter bluegill hide outs. Man-made reservoirs and or lakes are most often located where a stream was dammed to flood a valley or series of ravines. This valley and ravine topography results in a body of water with some steep shoreline and banks that drop abruptly. Bluegills prefer the protection of this type of vertical structure. By hugging against it, they eliminate 180 degrees from which a predator can strike.
Once you have a general idea where drop-offs are located, it will be time to find the precise structure or cover that holds the bluegill. At this point an electronic fish locator such as a Vexilar Sonar comes in handy.
Lake maps can aid in narrowing down potential bluegill hotspots. Just look for areas where the contour lines run close together or touch. These are your drop-offs. Sometimes the sharper the drop-off the better.
If the first spot doesn’t produce, drill another only a few feet away and give it a try. It’s not uncommon to have to drill at least half-dozen holes or more in close proximity to each other before you get into a school of fish.
Natural lakes require a different type of plan. Most lack the steep topography that man-made lakes offer and instead resemble bowls with shallow slopes from the shore line to the deep holes. Finding bluegills in natural lakes also comes down to locating the cover .
The first thing to do when ice fishing a man-made lake for bluegills is to look for trees and branches that have fallen into the water. Food is often concentrated near these dead- falls, which in turn attracts bluegills. If you can find this type of cover in 6 to 12 feet of water, you will find bluegills.
The key to finding these areas is to, scout for deadfalls before the ice is on. Find out how far they extend into the water, where the branches are, and how deep the surrounding water is. Bluegills often hang out in the same places during summer that they do during winter.
A hole should produce within 15 minutes. Bluegills almost always hit right away. When it comes time to try another spot, don’t walk 100 yards down the shore line. Drill the second hole within 2-6 feet of the first. If you’ve located cover in 6-12 feet of water, you already know you’re in the right area, you just have to find the exact location. A foot or two can make a difference when ice fishing for bluegill.
A simple teardrop jig tipped with a wax worm is about the deadliest combination for bluegills under ice. Once you find a productive spot, be sure to mark it on a map or if you have a GPS mark it on that. Chances are, it will be good during your next ice-fishing trip. Soon, you’ll have your own network of under-ice hotspots for bluegills.
As always practice selective harvest when ice fishing, keep only what you will eat, and always take a kid fishing.