March 16, 2012
By Matt Straw
Sandhill cranes seemed to be everywhere. Swans, geese, and ducks were winging north as I made my way east, toward Wisconsin. Two eagles locked talons and fell spriraling toward a field north of the road.
Everything is happening earlier than anyone can remember, including last ice. The fish don't seem to know how to behave.
Chris Beeksma, John Paulson, and I caught some nice crappies this week in north-central Wisconsin, but the big bluegills that generally inhabit the flats we were fishing were nowhere to be found with my little Aqua-Vu Micro. Generally, the 'gills are there through ice-out. Obviously, we couldn't drive around hunting for them, so we tried some other lakes where we could walk out to good spots.
Back on foot patrol. Seems like last week we were fishing first ice, walking out for panfish. At least the warm weather — should say extremely warm — pushed those bands of 38°F water higher in the column. Crappies were biting within 7 feet of the ice in 16 feet of water.
Last week I wrote about using nail polish with TC Tackle jigs (406/683-5485) for steelhead. I do the same thing with panfish jigs. This is a selection of 1/64-ouncers with size #10-hooks, arranged in the same style of fly box from Plano. I use these jigs year 'round. I have boxes of 1/80-ounce heads with size #12 and #14 hooks for maggots and small plastics — like the one pinned to the blank of my Thorne Brothers Quiverstick. One box sports 1/32-ounce heads with size #6 and size #4 hooks for minnows. The box at right, however, is the one I use most for bluegills spring through winter.
Several years ago at ice-out, the bluegills we were catching all had bright, metallic-green mush in their throats. Hmm. Looking around, I saw water beetles with backs the same color. Back home, I hunted through my selection of nail polish until I found a bottle in the same metallic green hue as those beetles. Jigs polished in that shade have been the most effective I've used in that fishery ever since.
Bluegills and crappies can't compare with steelhead when it comes to being selective about things. They often accept any shade of the right color. But, find the precise color and the difference can be amazing, and generally worth a lot more bites than those around you are getting. Even when they're biting every color in the box, there always seems to be one color that excites fish more than any other.
That was the case this week, too. Color and jig style were interesting subjects. More on that tomorrow.