Twist-Free Bluegills (On Ice)

Twist-Free Bluegills (On Ice)

Fishing vertically with light line and light jigs  creates line twist. Right? You reel in, the jig spins. You drop the jig, it spirals. But the joker in the deck is that spinning reel on your rod handle.

The rod in the photo is one of the new Tony Roach Signature Series panfish rods fromWright & McGill. The center-pin-style reel, also new from Wright & McGill, has no bail, no line-gathering device, no "passes,"and no twist. Fishing all winter with this unit spooled with 4-pound Seaguar Tatsu Fluorocarbon. Tatsu is more manageable than  most fluorocarbons, but all are stiffer than a good, limp mono. But fluorocarbon doesn't twist on this new fly-reel style equipment coming out in 2014. These reels have a quality star drag and multiplying gears, but it's the direct retrieve that makes fishing with fluorocarbon in cold weather trouble free.

Not that the weather was cold the other day. As mentioned in the previous post, it was over 70°F. The 25-mph winds were the only reason we weren't stripped down to t-shirts. I got my first really painful sunburn of the year.

My first experience with fly-reel style ice reels was provided by the Thorne Brothers 13 Fishing Series rods and reels. The rods have plenty of play, but performed admirably when setting hooks and fighting bull gills away from wood cover and remaining stands of green cabbage. Fighting big gills is plenty of fun with this kind of setup, especially with the longer units with big bends.

Wright & McGill will be releasing a variety of panfish rods next season. The one in the photo above is almost a deadstick-style rod, with a whippy tip that replaces spring bobbers. Bluegills and light-biting crappies can bend the last 8 inches of this stick straight down before they feel anything at all. Actually works better than a spring bobber because, once they bend it that far, the blank blends quickly into a section with plenty of backbone for setting hooks and moving fish.

As mentioned in that previous post, we were finding bluegills all through the water column. I began catching them 3 feet under the first hole I walked up to, which was drilled over 14 feet of water. When you only have 5 feet of line out, the forgiving tip on that rod becomes a huge advantage. Suicidal, kamikaze bluegills weighing  a pound or more can snap fluorocarbon pretty quick with so little shock absorption being provided by such a short line.

But why were  these bruiser bluegills spread throughout the entire water column?

If you trace our steps back to early winter, when Shoggie and I were fishing this same lake for bluegills while setting tip-ups for big pike, you'll remember we could only catch bluegills up to a point several minutes before a flag popped up — and only within 5 feet or so of a big pile of sunken timber. Underwater cameras revealed that, the moment a big toothy appeared, bluegills ducked back into the wood.

This time of year, the big toothies are focused on sex. They're either running up incoming creeks or filtering into shallow bays and connecting wetlands to spawn. So, not only will bluegills and crappies come out to play — they take over. In the same lake, bluegills were hundreds of yards from the nearest cover, scattered throughout the water column, and the only pike we caught were hammer handles in the 20- to 24-inch range.

But we did expect to catch more bass. Shoggie's lake is full of big largies. Where were they? Just like bluegills (which are pretty close relatives to largemouths), bass become increasingly active during warming trends in spring. (And they bite the same things, triggering far better on tiny baits than the sizes that trip them up most consistently from late spring through early winter.) When air temperatures above the ice are warm, those bands of 34°F water below the ice contract toward the surface. Whether you're fishing for panfish, bass, walleyes, or pike — there's something magic about that 36°F temperature band. Look for more on that topic in next year's Winter Issue of In-Fisherman magazine.

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