If you love hot action fishing, live in a northern state, and want to fish year-round then you need to learn how to ice fish for bluegill.
Ice fishing for bluegill requires a light action and sensitive tip ice rod paired with a reel spooled with braided line and a fluorocarbon leader. First drill a hole into the ice, then jig and pause tungsten jigs and spoons tipped with spikes or wax worms. Bluegill normally eat up towards your bait.
Fishing in cold weather is usually a polar topic. Either you love it, or you hate it. However, if you are cold curious, I strongly encourage you to try ice fishing. Sitting over a pile of bluegills on a mild winter day can be one of the most comfortable and fun limits you will catch all year. If you are lucky enough to have electronics, the fun of watching those buggers come up to your bait and swim around will get you hooked faster than three crankbaits in the same tackle slot.
What are some of the items you need to get started ice fishing for bluegill?
Ice safety equipment
Lifejacket or float suit
Ice cleats (for your boots)
Whistle and rope are not a bad idea either
Small sled to pull your gear (optional but helpful)
Ice auger (4-6” for panfish, 8-10” for gamefish)
5-gallon bucket with a seat cushion lid
Rubber boots (insulated is a bonus)
Panfish (Light or Ultralight action) rod and reel
5 lbs ice braid backing line for the spool
2-3 lbs fluorocarbon fishing line for a leader
Tungsten ice jig size 3mm or 4mm
Spikes and or wax worms
Electronic sonar/fishfinder device (optional, but recommended)
Ice fishing can be some of the hottest action on the water if you end up in the right spot. During the cold months, fish tend to school up in areas that provide some sort of survival element. You really can find spots that yield 90 plus good-sized (7+ inches) bluegills in less than 2 hours. I have done it, and they are still some of the most memorable days fishing of my life. So, what should you be looking for when trying to find a spot for ice fishing?
Where to Ice Fish for Bluegill?
Other anglers. Contrary to the normal idea of getting away from crowds, ice fishing near other people can sometimes be a great starting point.
Shallow (3-10 feet) weedy bays. Shallow weedy bays will hold fish all year long with the right amount of sunlight and oxygen in the water. I end up fishing 90% of the time in a shallow weedy bay through the ice.
Isolated “holes” or deep sections surrounded by shallower flats and contours. Some fish like crappies like to transition through the morning from shallow to deep water and may be anywhere between the two areas at certain points of the day.
Easy access. As a beginner, there is nothing worse than getting into a situation you don’t have a lot of experience in and then needing help in cold or dangerous conditions. At least when you are starting off you will probably want to trade competition with other anglers (a common problem with easy access spots) for the risks of inexperience with more isolated or hard to access spots. Get some experience setting gear up and catching fish, then you can progress to more difficult to access areas. Even better, bring a buddy and learn together for the added bonus of ice safety.
Once you find a spot you want to try, you will begin using your ice auger to drill a hole in the ice. Here is where the rubber boots will pay dividends. When you finish drilling your hole and pull the auger back out of the hole it will pull up a bunch of water that will overflow from the hole and out onto the ice and anything else that is within a foot radius of the hole. This will include your feet almost every time. Wet and cold feet in winter conditions while sitting on a frozen lake is a great way to end your day early. After you are done drilling the hole you will want to use a small scoop to get the free-floating ice chunks out of the hole, so the chunks do not interfere with your fishing line.
How Do You Get a Fish to Bite Ice Fishing?
Getting your first fish to bite through the ice can be extremely painful without electronics or other anglers to give you some indications. If you don’t have electronics, here are some general starting points to hopefully get you that first bite and start building confidence.
Depth – You usually want your jig above the fish so find the bottom and real up a few turns of the reel. Experiment with different distances from the bottom to find where the active fish want to eat in the water column.
Technique – Big, crazy jigging movements will attract fish, but you want to give the rod periods of time where you simply try to vibrate the jig in place in the water column. As you vibrate, slowly start to raise your rod, and I do mean slowly (think dead fly floating to the surface). Fish will usually dart up and hit your bait as you start to raise your rod. Sometimes they will also hit on the fall. When you first drop your bait down and get your depth set, start by carefully vibrating the jig in place just to see if something followed it down. Then you can start into your other sequences.
Ice fishing bites are not always hard tugs like in the summer. You will want a strike indicator, spring bobber, or soft-tip rod to be able to detect light bites.
Don’t be afraid to move spots. Stay mobile if you are struggling to get a bite, but always maintain ice safety awareness even when moving spots by using your spud.
There are many rabbit holes you can jump down to put tons of bells and whistles on your gear and make things very easy, comfortable, and expensive. There are a few upgrades to your set up that will make a giant difference in your learning curve, and the biggest one is a fish finder (or sonar unit). If you can afford even a helix 5 or another brand small unit, it will expedite your ability to put the puzzle pieces together on the ice. Don’t forget that ice fishing is a serious water safety risk. No ice is safe, and you should learn how to use a spud bar and check ice thickness as you walk. Despite the risk, ice fishing is one of the most rewarding and enjoyable chances at a delicious limit all year.