Conventional thinking and common sayings: You can always catch bluegills. Bluegills are easy because they’re so aggressive. With bluegills, it’s not fishing—it’s catching. You want reality? You can’t handle reality.
On a recent trip to a lake that’s produced many bluegill photos for the Ice Guide and other publications than, perhaps, any other over the past decade or so—we spent a day chasing bluegills. Only one was caught. It’s in the hands of Dan Quinn, field promotions coordinator for Rapala, in the photo there. That’s his father, In-Fisherman Senior Editor Steve Quinn, seen over his shoulder. Mary and I were also happy to be in the company of Tony Roach, Gary Roach, and guide David “Shoggie” Shogren (218/765-3197). Pretty talented assortment of ice anglers. Seven, in all. One bluegill.
We were victims of circumstances. But what would the circumstances be, that could turn something so “easy” into something so difficult?
We searched high. We searched low. Big ol’ bluegills. Where did you go?
Factor #1: We were faced with dark, stained water on a cloudy day. Our underwater cameras could see nothing down there. “I hope it’s sunny,” Shoggie said, when we planned ahead. It wasn’t. But, why did the crappies and toothies bite so well? And why did the one bluegill we caught bite at 3:30 p.m., on the dark outside edge of the usual daily window for good bites? Hmmm.
Factor #2: Weather was warming. Bluegills generally bite better during warming trends in winter. Hmmm.
Factor #3: What was the key depth. We drilled holes from the 5-foot contour out to the deepest water in the lake (22 feet). In 8 to 10 feet of water, we all had multiple experiences with fish that would slowly move through, never really following or staying on our jigs. But the only bluegill caught came out of 21 feet of water, 4 feet off bottom. Hmmm.
Factor #4: Size matters. I tried everything from 1/500-ounce teardrops with size #16 hooks to small 1/32-ounce spoons. The one bluegill we caught bit one of those spoons.
Factor #5: Bait. Dan is a devout believer in plastics. “I never use bait,” he said. He stayed with some prototypes of new TriggerX baits that will hit the market next year. Most of us used maggots, waxworms, or both.
Bluegills continued to evade everyone, but crappies bit all day. And flags were popping. Maybe that’s why the bluegills had lockjaw. They were on the lamb. “We watched bluegills on a brush pile with our underwater cameras one day,” Tony said. “Most of the time they were a couple feet away from the wood. But, when a pike cruised by, they ducked back into the wood pile.”
You can see Tony pull the rest of that pike out of the hole tomorrow.