Few contrasts are as startling as the tropical orange-yellow-blue-green of multi-hued bluegills against deep snow. When the snow gets deep, it piles up on pine boughs, covers roofs and fences, hides roads, and paints the sides of trees. Gray-white skies complete the colorless chiaroscuro. The world is composed of gradations between blinding white and dark shadow. The bright coloration of a bluegill, pulled from a dark hole, shadowed in a deep tube of snow, becomes an almost shocking denial of the surrounding black-and-white reality. A punctuation mark worth celebrating.
It’s like mining for color. And we found a little color, after trudging out to a series of humps a hundred yards off shore on a huge mesotrophic lake. Our vehicles were left beside the road. The spaces between a series of snow storms have been filled with light snowfall. Dustings on top of each heavy, wet, deep layer cover the ice roads, bending the ice down. Cracks form and water rushes up to create pools and lakes of slush that can bog down any kind of vehicle. While it’s possible to drive out, the end result is more energy lost than walking out, if you select good spots near shore.
Location is modified by the slush. Instead of driving around to multiple spots, we pick one good one close to shore and stay there. Instead of covering every likely spot, we stick to the areas where we can keep our feet dry. And instead of drilling 100 holes on the spot, we drill 30. Then we look around for some activity, pull a Fish Trap over it, and settle in.
Fishing becomes hard work. Not surprisingly, nobody else was around. Just shouldering a rod and carrying a Vexilar 25 feet through heavy, knee-deep snow to the next hole is enough to make you start breathing a little harder. Walk to too many holes and it becomes impossible to roll out of bed the next day.
Luckily, the lack of pressure, and perhaps the lack of a steady food supply, had bluegills up off bottom and biting in 18 feet of water. The deep snow turned off the lights down there, and the lack of sunlight killed the deep weeds we’ve been finding in 12- to 15-foot depths in recent years on this spot. Plankton production slows dramatically. When burrowing insects become harder to find along those hard-to-soft transitions, bluegills attack the first thing they see.
The jig pinned to my classic Thorne Brothers Panfish Sweetheart rod is a TC Tackle Grindle Bug (TC Tackle: 406/683-5485). I’ve written a lot about the Grindle Bug over the past few years for a lot of reasons. It was the answer the other day because of the heavy ice, slush, and snow cover. In the darkness that ensues in those late-ice conditions, the Grindle Bug fishes small at 1/80-ounce (it’s available in several sizes up to to 1/16-ounce), but creates far more displacement than a plain ball head that size. The tail and rubber legs on the Grindle Bug push a little more water, create some vibration, and build a bigger profile that panfish can find a little easier down there in the murk. Tipped with a couple wriggling maggots, the Grindle Bug comes alive from one end to the other.
Most anglers prefer fluorescent shades in dark water. Make mine fluorescent white. After pushing the envelope in stained, muddy, floodwaters for fish like steelhead, crappies, and smallmouth over the decades, I think white is the most visible color in a lot of conditions. Glow, of course, is even more visible, and we always try orange glow in almost every condition. The other day, white worked better. Who knows why? Every attempt to explain it is mere speculation. I like to experiment with color. Almost every day on the water you can find a color that at least seems to be working better than any other.
Looking out the window right now I see another dusting in progress. The Ides of March. Heavy snow and tough sledding. With aching back and cramping legs, my thoughts turn to warmer climes and pre-spawn crappie bites.