Bluegills exhibit exotic and varied color schemes. Never ceases to amaze me how many different patterns can be seen in the course of a day spent panfishing — especially when you're catching them all day long.
Yesterday was one of those days, but we were quickly running low on bait. The local convenience store was almost out of waxworms and nobody carries maggots around here during "limbo," which is a segment of that period of ice time remaining after the walleye season closes. For a few weeks, store managers carry maggots, but in the final week or two of the ice season — every year — they stop ordering what some still call Euro-larvae. Faintly reminiscent of the fashion world, which insists on putting swimwear on display before all the snow has melted from the woods around here. A more utilitarian approach might actually be to sell what people can actually use at the moment, but what do I know? I'm just a word bender.
"A small piece of nightcrawler isn't working as well as the waxies," Shoggie said (guide David Shogren, 218/765-3197). One waxworm, threaded onto the hook of a TC Tackle Girdle Bug (TC Tackle: 406/683-5485) or the smallest Lindy Fat Boy was working really well, but we were down to our final baits.
"Never fear. We shouldn't need bait for a bite like this," I said, threading on a white Gulp! Fish Fry, a mousie-style panfish bait with a thin, pointed tail. It worked fine, but after 20 minutes or so I noticed I wasn't catching any more of those porkers like Ricky Hammer's holding up in the adjacent photo.
Then Hammer popped the biggest brute of the day, and announced he was using an Original Fish Formula ScrewTail Worm, which is shaped a lot like the Fish Fry. It's a cylindrical worm with a smaller diameter cylindrical tail. The nervous energy in a thin tail is the key to catching panfish with plastics — especially when fishing vertically through the ice.
Jig it abruptly just under the surface a few times. If it keeps quivering on the pause, you've probably found a winner. That's what livebait does. It's why ice-fishing guru and hall-of-fame angler Dave Genz insists on replacing those maggots every few minutes. "If it's not wriggling a little on the pause, it's no longer doing it's job and you need to get some fresh bait on there," he says. Thin, tapering plastic tails, like the ones found on Custom Jigs & Spins Wedgies and Northland's Slug Bugs, keep quivering on the pause. I think panfish see it as something alive.
I began playing with different styles from different companies, but kept coming back to those mousie shapes with the little rattails. White or pink seemed to be the most popular with the Lepomis macrochirus crowd the other day. Soft plastics in the 1- to 2-inch range generally work best for gills, but I was cutting mine back to about 3/4-inch or even shorter. The "mousie shape," like the Slug Bug, surprisingly, acts like a sail on a flat-sided jig like the Fat Boy. Using 4-pound Seaguar Tatsu Fluorocarbon, I could get the combo to spiral on the drop — something I couldn't achieve using only livebait. The spiral had a 7-inch diameter, providing a unique look that I'm sure had a lot to do with some of the vicious strikes I was getting. Bluegills were winding up and trying to kill these things — sometimes swallowing the jig on the strike.
I was playing with various kinds of rods, too, in preparation for next year's Ice Guide. Maybe we'll discuss those next time. Or maybe the topic will be bluegill behavior and seasonal movements this time of year. Maybe I'll go steelheading tomorrow. Could look for crappies before the ice rots. Depends on how the mood strikes me.