Alright here’s the deal, your early ice is over and those big bluegills you were catching have since moved on. Now what? Where do you go? How do you find those fish again? Even if you are lucky enough to locate them, how do you get them to bite? These are all valid questions, as most anglers tend to get stumped come mid-winter when things get tough. Panfish metabolisms slow down and they become picky about choosing their food and hold tighter to cover. This the time of year when you have to refine your tactics and practice the art of the “slow-dance” and really entice fish to eat. I asked big bluegill expert Garett Svir to breakdown the ins and outs of small presentations, subtleties in jigging, and how to know when slowing down can help to heat up an otherwise cold bite.
Typically as mid-January rolls around, oxygen levels start to fall in most bodies of water. This results in a natural slow down in the metabolisms of the fish that live in them. Bluegills, like any other fish during this time of year, are reluctant to expend mass amounts of energy. They don’t move far and will not chase down a meal. The first place to search for fish when trying to establish a mid-winter pattern is any sort of living vegetation. Cabbage beds and weed edges, or really any type of green weed in the lake will give off oxygen. Fish congregate to these areas because of their high oxygen levels and they will hold there until the vegetation source has completely died off. Finding these areas requires time, effort, and an auger ready to drill a lot of holes. Svir reminisced on a particular day when he and a friend walked an entire shoreline looking for any sign of green weeds. When they stumbled upon a large cabbage bed they immediately circled back and spent more than an hour drilling holes to try and map out the area. Underwater cameras showed big fish held tight to the cabbage and they were reluctant to move off.
These are the situations when you have to experiment with your presentation a little, using your electronics to feel the fish out. Svir credits his Vexilar FL-22 HD for his ability to see what’s going on below him. “What is unique about the FL-22 is that the sonar pulse lengths match the depth setting you have chosen. In shallow water a shorter pulse length is optimal and this unit delivers just that. The ten foot depth settings also offer incredible target separation when fishing stubborn bulls. It also offers a low power mode which is critical when weed fishing.” Additionally, the Vexilar FLX-28 provides a specific weed mode to help you in these situations. Even in the thickest clumps of weeds you can clearly identify fish hiding in-between cabbage stalks.
This time of year, the fish are extremely susceptible to spooking because of their less aggressive state. In order to keep from startling skittish giants, Svir begins to “swim” his jig as soon as it hits the water. In-line style reels like the 13 Fishing Black Betty Spooler are great for controlling drop speed due to the fact that you pull the line out by hand. This technique allows you to specifically control your lures speed of descent as well as drastically reduces the amount of line twist. “Line twist” may sounds like a minor issue, but it is a not-so-small detail that can make or break your outing. The twisting of your line will cause the jig to rapidly spin in circles underwater when it should otherwise be holding completely still. Often times this spin of death can scare off wary ‘gills. Svir emphasized the importance of fishing the entire water column, which is extremely difficult to do when using a spinning reel. Fish may be holding in different areas of the vegetation that you’re fishing; sometimes hanging up above the tips of the weeds, other times they may be hiding in the thickest clumps near the bottom. By covering the entire column you can identify the location of the fish and adjust your plan accordingly.
A good rod can be an anglers best friend when perfecting a specific presentation, whether it’s heavy pounding or the lighter swimming action like talked about previously. Many different companies out there make rods designed to do the job, any job. Thorne Bros Power Noodle, DH Custom Rods Gill Seeker, and a St.Croix Legend Silver 24” UL are Svir’s go-to rods for swimming and pounding jigs in the weeds. He credits a good spring bobber to produce a constant smooth rhythm in his motion that will call even the wariest bulls to your jig. The owner of Slab Seeker Fishing said, “working jigs with the precision of a hard water puppet master calls for control and you need a stiffer spring to maintain control. Light springs leave your presentation erratic and big gills seem to prefer a tight swimming of the jig in place.”
After the right rod comes the right jig, following the drop speed theory a Kenders 3mm tungsten jig is the perfect place to start. The heavy yet compact profile allows you to manage your fall while still getting the most feel out of your jig. The weight of the tungsten responds well to controlled movements and requires a little less finesse work. If the situation calls for something even lighter, and with a slower drop speed, Svir said he will drop down to a lead jig as small as a 1/150 of an ounce for a tantalizing fall with more action. Although once you make the switch to lead you will rely less on feel and more on watching your electronics, your rod tip or spring bobber like a hawk.
In the end, every lake is different and every fish is an individual that should be worked uniquely to the way it reacts to your presentations. Learning how to effectively slow down and pattern fish in mid-season vegetation is a critical skill to catching more of these bluegills, and larger ones at that. Often times, if you feel like you are fishing too fast, you’re probably right. Trust your electronics and take what the fish are telling you. Understanding the way fish react to your bait will tell you everything you need to know. If you don’t take it from me, take it from Garett Svir, who has caught more 10+ inch bluegills than most of us could ever dream about.