Catching beefy bluegills with consistency entails bringing your A-game to the ice every trip. Top 'gill getters relentlessly push the tactical envelope and refine their approaches accordingly. To help you keep abreast of the ever-changing icescape on the bluegill scene, we tapped three of the game's leading visionaries—Dave Genz, Brian "Bro" Brosdahl, and Tony Boshold—for their take on happening trends and techniques.
"The tungsten craze is one of the hottest things going," says Genz, who's long preached the gospel of using small jigs that fish heavy. Of course he refers to the tidal wave of tungsten heads flooding the ice, fueled by an avalanche of new options from lure makers like Clam, Lindy, and Northland, to name a few.
"Tungsten is roughly 30 percent more dense than lead, so you can use smaller jigs to fish deeper water more effectively," he says. "I think the driving force behind the trend is that people finally got the kinks out of their lines and are catching more fish, now that they can fine-tune jigging cadences and feel lighter bites."
While tungsten has been coming on strong in recent winters, Genz notes that a new twist is manifesting itself in the form of larger hooks on these pint-sized heavyweights. "Tungsten jigs are traditionally characterized by small hooks," he says. While they're easy for sunfish to inhale, tiny hooks hinder the deployment of robust tippings such as broad-shouldered waxworms or bulky softbaits. And upsizing steel to accommodate such trimmings often requires boosting jig weight.
"As a result, anglers have ended up fishing jigs too heavy for the situation and their rods," he says. "This is a main reason Clam added XL sizes to the Drop and Dingle Drop tungsten heads for the upcoming season, which have 1/32- and 1/16-ounce heads matched with #8 and #10 hooks. I fished the prototypes last winter and they work. Now we have a smaller jighead with a hook large enough to protrude through a plastic tipping instead of getting lost in it."
Brosdahl also rides the tungsten train, engineering fast strikes in deep water with baits like Northland's Mooska Tungsten Jigs, which come in 1/57-, 1/28-, and 1/16-ounce sizes. "Small jigs that fall fast and fish heavy are hot right now," he says. "There's no need to fish large-bodied jigs just for the extra weight to reach deep water or penetrate vegetation anymore."
Beyond raw materials, he notes that flashy dressings, fiery paint jobs, and seductive softbaits are also popular on the ice fishing bluegill front. "Micro-tinsels are gaining ground for 'gills, and not just in low-visibility conditions," he says. "A lot of people thought tinsel would spook sunfish in clear water, but it catches fish there, too."
As for finishes, Brosdahl's taken a shine to special coatings designed to reflect and react to the sun's ultraviolet light. "Scientists may debate the connection between UV and catch rates, but anglers who've conducted their own experiments have produced plenty of evidence that it works," he reports. Further, he says that while UV finishes quickly gained acceptance for trout, salmon, and walleyes, such coatings have as many, if not more, applications on the sunfish scene.
For example, In-Fisherman friends Scott Glorvigen and Jason Mitchell find the best results for UV baits for walleyes and yellow perch in low-light conditions such as stained or deep water, or in cloudy weather. But Bro has found optically brightened baits excel for sunfish under sunny skies in clear water as well.
"Bluegills have such amazing vision, they see things we can't even imagine," he says. "I've found that switching from regular colors to UV finishes turns fish that just sniffed my jigs into strikers. And not just when light penetration or visibility were reduced, but in gin-clear water in broad daylight, too."
Cloaked in sparkly and reflective UV GraniteGlitter, Northland's Mooska is also one of Brosdahl's favorite UV-enhanced bluegill baits. He notes that the bait's glow eyeballs further boost visibility, particularly in deep water and during low-light periods.
A key point is that UV and phosphorescence aren't mutually exclusive for 'gills and other panzers. But they do have different characteristics. Glow absorbs and emits light from an external source like a camera flash, making it effective day or night, while UV finishes rely on the sun, so they're best suited to the day shift (unless you're wielding a black light, which is a story for another day).
Power of Plastics
Both Genz and Brosdahl sing the praises of softbaits. "Softbaits are coming on stronger than ever," Genz says. "They've gotten so much better in terms of action, feel, and appearance. They're light-years ahead of old-school plastics."
Maki's lifelike lineup is Genz's go-to, and he notes that the series' varied colors and body styles come in especially handy when you're unable to jump from hole to hole in pursuit of active fish. "Whether you're competing in a tournament or fishing in a buddy's hub- or wheelhouse, there are times when you can't pull up stakes and hole-hop," he says. "When that happens, being able to experiment with shapes, colors, and corresponding cadences is key to getting non-aggressive fish to commit."
In one of bluegill fishing's biggest plot twists, improvements in soft tippings have even encouraged Genz to take up a spring bobber. "Coupled with a small tungsten jig, softbaits produce a natural swimming action—and I have to admit you can make some of them swim better with a spring bobber," he says. "With maggots on a jig, I still like a stiffer rod to get the cadence right. But with plastics, you want to just get the tail bobbing, and spring bobbers are great for imparting that motion."
For Bro's part, scented softbaits like Northland's Impulse-flavored family are major players in his bluegill game plan, for their ability to make finicky fish hang on a split-second longer. Top shapes include the hinged, tail-kicking Scud Bug, but his one of his top 'gill guns is the venerable Bloodworm.
A decorated tournament veteran, Boshold often employs various riggings to trip gills' triggers. One of his favorites of late is a design he fondly calls the ToJo Rig. "My dad used to yell at my brother Joe and me, and get our names mixed up, so he'd end up saying 'ToJo,'" he laughs.
Like the brotherly duo, the rig relies on dual elements to elicit reactions. "I tie a hole-in-the head Fiskas Wolfram jig on 3- to 4-pound-test Sufix Ice Magic monofilament mainline with a snell knot, and add a tiny fly, scud, or spade hook on the tag end about 3 or 4 inches below it," he says.
Another variation entails threading a hole-in-the-head jig on the mainline, then adding a swivel to stop its downward progress. Boshold ties an 18-inch leader below the swivel, capped with a small jigging spoon. Festooned with maggots rigged chandelier fashion, the spoon slays bull 'gills along with supersize crappies. "The jighead slides up the line, then drops back and clacks against the swivel, adding attraction," he says, noting that he sometimes swaps the swivel for a #8 VMC SpinShot hook, tipped with a Little Atom Jumbo Wedgee.
In a similar vein, Boshold recommends ample experimentation with multi-lure rigs of all configurations. "Put a fly above or below the jig, test a spoon, try it all," he says. "I do all sorts of crazy things, and that's how you figure out what the fish want." That's also how the great minds of the bluegill game continually propel the sport into the future.
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