Cold-Front Bluegill Wrangle
December 16, 2011
I want the fish that tried to eat this 10-inch bluegill. She bit on a cold-front day. Rather severe. More like an ice front, accompanied by 30 mph winds and horizontal snow. We all caught some nice fish, but not in the numbers we were hoping for. Catching one or two bulls for a day's effort is certainly better than a kick in the groin, but not a great day.
Catching nothing might be more like a kick in the groin. And it can happen. When cold fronts pass in winter, the dense, cold air super chills everything, including the ice and the upper layers of the water column. It may not sound plausible, but it's easily proven with a down-temp gauge. Check and see for yourself. You'll find the warmest water under the ice is very seldom higher than 38°F. Water is most dense at that temperature — more dense and heavy than it is at 39°F or 37°F (a fact that still boggles the minds of physicists). So that warmest layer will be found near bottom, and during unseasonably warm weather that 38°F band of water will be larger than it is during extremely cold weather. In other words, colder water presses downward. Layers of water above measuring 33°F to 37°F expand downward.
Fish feel that pressing and expanding cold. For some fish, like lake trout, it's no more than a minor inconvenience. For bluegills and crappies, it might be quite a bit more uncomfortable. We gather that from their response. Typically, they slow down. They move around less, chase lures less, and become timid.
So we sat and worked fish longer today. That's what you need to do when you've planned a trip for bluegills that can't be rearranged and it ends up coinciding with a massive cold front. Hunker down with the fish. When you see bluegills with cameras or depth finders, stay put, downsize to smaller jigs and hooks, shorten your jigging strokes, and inject longer pauses.
Ice-front days seldom produce the best fishing experiences of your life. But stay on the fish you find, which will generally be on bottom or closer to it than usual. You'll catch a few. Mostly smaller fish, but patience rewards you with a few like the one in this photo we took in the morning. By afternoon, after working in heavy wind all day, we felt like we'd been kicked by something, but not in the groin, at least.