Cabbage, milfoil, coontail, chara — every kind of weed dies back in fall. But on most weedlines, a few hardy green plants remain through first-ice. The milder the winter, the thinner the ice and snow, the more weeds remain, some lasting until spring. Every year, the last green weeds remaining on key weedlines become important to a variety of fish, including bass, walleyes, pike, muskies, and panfish. During warm, mild winters, such as during the past few years, green weeds can hold bass and winter panfish all season.
Most panfishermen realize that bull bluegills eventually inhabit shallow basins in winter, areas that bottom out between 20 and 30 feet in most cases. But the past few seasons served as perfect reminders that bluegills don’t necessarily inhabit those basins to the same degree every winter. In fact, if enough weeds remain green and lush in the 8- to 15-foot range, a majority of bluegills can find enough oxygen and forage to remain shallow all winter. And even during the harshest winters, green weeds are key to early-season and late-season panfish success through the ice.
10 TIPS FOR FINDING WINTER BULLS
1. The shallower basin of this late mesotrophic lake probably holds the most bluegills in this case. Bluegills prefer basins in the 18- to 30-foot category in winter, as opposed to flats that drop into even deeper basins.
2. Most years, the neck of this lake should attract winter bluegills from first-ice through midwinter, mostly near the deepest water.
3. The deeper basin holds fewer bluegills all year, with certain exceptions:
4. Such as deep depressions on main-lake flats. Bluegills may use weeds anywhere around the rim of these depressions, making them harder to find until the weeds die back, which concentrates them in the depression itself.
5. During late fall and early winter, points are less important for big bluegills than inside turns or cups adjacent to points because weeds tend to die back quicker. Check points, however.
6 & 7. Before ice-up, inside turns, surrounded by warmer, shallower flats tend to have better weeds than points. These spots are on a slow-tapering flat that gradually recedes to deeper water, another key to finding green weeds late. The weedline is 12 to 14 feet deep, which means fairly clear water — another positive for finding weed bulls through the ice. Areas 6 & 7 should be your focal point for bluegills on this lake at first-ice most years, and through midwinter, even until late-ice during mild years.
8. When weeds die back completely, shallow flats quickly lose oxygen. Bluegills evacuate for deeper water, preferably a basin — an area that bottoms out between 18 and 30 feet in most cases. Bluegills may not always be in the deepest water in a basin during the ice-fishing season.
9. Necks between basins draw bluegills from adjacent weedlines and may hold them all winter.
10. Ironically, one of the first keys to look for is last on the list: Prime shallow habitat bulls prefer in summer. Huge flats hold more life than small ones, attracting more panfish. Areas where numerous types of shallow vegetation come together (cane, coontail, pads and reeds, for instance) draw big bluegills during the warmer months.
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