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.
Continued -- click on page link below.
NIT PICKY BLUEGILL LOCATION IN WEEDS
Bluegills using weeds under the ice find the densest concentrations of green, healthy growth. They position in weeds according to light penetration, weather, and time of day. Bluegills are most likely found outside the deep edge of the weeds during stable mild weather and during low-light periods (dawn and dusk). As the sun climbs the sky on bright, cloudless days, bluegills might move deeper (and shallower) into cover. During and after the passing of a cold front, bluegills also bury deep in the cover. Those positioned outside the weeds tend to be on soft-bottom areas or on transitions between soft and semisoft areas, such as a change from silt to sand. Rock and gravel areas rarely hold true bulls (12 ounces to over a pound) this time of year.
Living weeds produce oxygen, but dead weeds produce carbon dioxide and other gases that bluegills find noxious. Even before all the green weeds die during a harsh or normal winter (depending upon how far north), most bluegills may evacuate the weedlines within a few weeks of ice-up. But during mild winters up north and normal winters farther south, bluegills use deep weededge areas all winter.
Picture the same area with a deep weedline at five feet, on a lake with much lower visibility. Big bluegills seldom use weeds in cloudy water during ice-up. The clearer the lake, the more pronounced the weed bite becomes at first-ice.
1 Clear Lake, California
The largest lake in California (43,000 acres near Lakeport) is known for lunker largemouths, but houses overlooked giant 'gills, yielding the 3¾-pound state record last year, along with others over 3. The bite by docks and at the edge of tules is strong from mid-April into September. Nearby Collins Lake, renowned for trophy trout, also produces massive sunnies — 2 to 3 pounds. The best bite starts in April and lasts into the spawn in May and early June. Contact: Clear Lake Information, lakecounty.com; Clear Lake State Park, 800/444-7275, parks.ca.gov
; Collins Lake, collinslake.com
6 Deep Creek Lake, Maryland
This impoundment in the northwestern corner of Maryland yielded the state record 3-pound 7-ounce 'gill, giving evidence of its productivity. With a deep basin, the Prespawn and Spawn periods are protracted, with prime action from mid-April into early June. Contact: Fish Deep Creek, 240/460-8839, fishdeepcreek.com
; Guide Ken Penrod, 301/937-0010,
7 Coastal Impoundments, Virginia
Four reservoirs near Norfolk and Suffolk, Virginia, are regular producers of big bluegills and shellcrackers. Fertile lakes Cahoon, Western Branch, Prince, and Burnt Mills have a history of trophy fish production. Western Branch (1,265 acres) reopened to public fishing in 2010 and is known for outsize redear, with certified specimens approaching 3 pounds. Boating permits required. Contact: Burnt Mills Reservoir Manager, 757/441-5678; Chesapeake Bay Office, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, 757/465-6812, dgif.virginia.gov
5 Kentucky & Barkley Lakes, Kentucky-Tennessee
These massive impoundments — Kentucky Lake on the Tennessee River and Barkley on the Cumberland — are joined by a canal and offer outstanding fishing for big redear sunfish, as well as bass and crappies. Contact: Jack Canady, Woods and Water Guide Service, 270/227-2443, woodsandwaterguideservice.com
2 Lake Havasu, Arizona-California
Lake Havasu, impounding about 45 miles of the Colorado River, has become redear central after producing the all-tackle record 5-pound 7-ounce fish, along with many others over 2 pounds. The record was 16¾ inches long and boasted a 19-inch girth. Best action runs from April through June, when fish gather in coves to spawn. Locals fish livebait but small spinners and cranks catch some monsters. Contact: John Galbraith, basstacklemaster.com; Captain Jerry's Guide Service, 760/447-5846, havasufishingguide.com
; Havasu Fishing, havasufishing.com
3 Pelican Lake, Nebraska
Nestled in the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge in the Sandhills region of Nebraska, Pelican Lake consistently produces the biggest 'gills in the region, many over a pound and occasional 2-pounders. Blessed with abundant and diverse large invertebrates, growth is fast in this shallow waterway. Abundant vegetation provides habitat for bugs and a sanctuary for big sunfish. Most giants are caught through the ice or in early spring. Contact: Valentine National Wildlife Refuge, http://www.fws.gov/valentine/
4 Reelfoot Lake, Tennessee
Labeled 'Earthquake Lake, ' a mighty tremor of the New Madrid Fault in 1811 diverted the Mississippi River, backing up this highly productive 11,000-acre waterway in northwestern Tennessee. Big bluegills and shellcrackers roam the shallow lake's cypress forests and lily pad fields, yielding prime pole-fishing opportunities all spring and summer. Contact: Bluebank Resort, 877/258-3226, bluebankresort.com
; Eagle Nest Resort, 731/538-2143, eaglenestresort.com
9 Richmond Mill Lake, North Carolina
Located near Laurel Hill, North Carolina, Richmond Mill likely offers the best shot at a 2-pound bluegill, truly a rare animal. This pay-to-play waterway, owned by the Kingfisher Society, is managed to ensure balance between bluegills and largemouth bass and habitat quality. After refilling in 2000, it's approaching prime productivity. Giants sometimes require finesse presentations, such as tiny jigs tipped with a bit of 'crawler. Contact: Kingfisher Society, 910/462-2324, kingfishersociety.com
10 Santee-Cooper, South Carolina
This lowland jewel produced the former world record shellcracker and continues to yield amazing numbers of platter-sized bluegills as well as redears, not to mention big catfish, bass, and crappies. Spring comes early and a fine bedding bite starts in late March, lasting into May, but recurring on a monthly basis until September. Anglers also take jumbos in the Diversion Canal between the paired impoundments in fall and winter. Contact: Santee-Cooper Country, 803/854-2131, santeecoopercountry.org
8 Tidal Rivers, North Carolina
Flowing into Arbemarle Sound in the northeastern part of the state are a series of blackwater rivers that represent the northernmost range of the coppernose bluegill, the southern subspecies known to attain large size. Panfish expert Jim Gronaw picks the Pasquotank, Yeopim, Perqimens, and Chowan rivers, with loads of 9- to 11-inch fish and some over 1½ pounds. Local expert Jeffrey Abney scores with hair jigs tied in a grass shrimp pattern. Contact: bigbluegill.com
; Pembroke Fishing Center, 252/482-5343; Bethel Fishing Center, 252/426-5155.