Bluegill - Big Bluegill

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Why is it that in areas that the lakes freeze over in the winter, fishermen can fish through the ice and do very well, catching lots of Bluegill, and in places like here in southern California, where it does not usually get below freezing and the lakes DO NOT ice over... we have really slow Bluegill fishing, even though we have found a group of fish with the help of electronics?   My question is this. If Bluegill still feed and bite good thru the ice for the northern states fishermen,  how come they almost stop biting completely when the weather and water gets cooler in the warmer southern states?  How does a thick layer of ice make a difference?  Any thoughts or does someone know the actual reason for this occurrence?  I would love to be able to go out in the wintertime to my local lake (that is fantastic in the spring, summer and fall) and catch more than 1 or 2 Bluegill, if even any at all...

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I'll watch closely for these ideas Jeff because you're exactly right on......I grew up in Louisiana fishing in Mississippi as well....I have lived in South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina the last 20 years.....All of these states have great bluegill fishing in all seasons but come to almost a complete stop in the meteorological Winter....I was discussing this with Leo the other night and didn't realize the western states were affected the same way......I don't put my rods up either, I target other species and always think about techniques that might yield some gills. Good topic Jeff!

I've had the same exact experience, Jeff, have even commented on it here in the past.  They just seem to shut down from December through February or so. 

I wonder if it involves technique? I know that when I go ice fishing, I typically downsize my baits, say a size #14 or 16 ice jig, tipped with 2-3 live maggots. Also, when I'm on the ice, my fishable area consists of an 8" hole.... which obviously means that my bait doesn't move much. I find that in the winter, BG will nose up and inspect your bait very closely. If the movement isn't right, forget it.

They also feed so very lightly in the winter, that if it's a windy day, unless I'm in my shelter, I will miss quite a few fish. The wind causes too much movement to detect the bites, even in an 8" hole.

I would think that whether fishing from shore, or a boat, that the wind and wave action may prevent you from seeing the takes.

Try copying what we do in the northern states. Downsize your baits, fish vertically, use the lightest line possible, let your electronics find the fish. Remember too, that when an ice fisherman "anchors" over a spot holding fish, he doesn't have to drop a weighty object right down on top of the fish to hold his position. I will typically drill some holes, then move around till I find some active fish. Very little disturbance below the ice.

Drop a light jig down to right above the fish, then quiver it vertically. See if you have any takers. Again, we're not retrieving horizontally, our action is limited to vertical movements. I like a spring bobber to detect light bites, but some folks just use a light tipped rod. Whatever you use, it better be sensitive.

Although it's possible that technique is a factor, Tony, in this case I think you might be selling us southern guys short.  I know Jeff is a pretty skilled bluegill angler, as Jeffrey obviously is; I personally feel that if there are big bluegill in a body of water and anyone can catch them, I can; and beyond us three, I have also had this same discussion in the past with Bruce, who is probably as good or better bluegill angler than anybody on this site.  I don't think it's technique if several pretty advanced 'gillers are having the same exact experience. 

 

I could be wrong, and it may just be my pride talking; but there seems to be some sort of phenomenon that takes place with southern 'gills in the heart of winter that makes them lock up.  I have caught them as late as mid-November, and many times catch some of my biggest 'gills of the year in February years that we have an early spring; but December and January are the dead zone for 'gills down here.  But if some southerly 'giller posts a bunch of photos of buster 'gills caught on ice jigs, you can bet I'll be the first to order some online (not a lot of Bass Pro Shops down thisaway carry ice fishing stuff).

 

I read a study once that was looking at coppernose reactions to cold water temps.  The study found that when the water temp dropped below a certain level - I believe it was around 40 degrees but could be wrong - the coppernose went to the bottom in the deepest part of the tank and wouldn't eat, just went dormant basically.  I wonder if southern bluegill, since they have a growing season twice as long or more than northern bluegill, just semi-hibernate during the coldest couple months.  Maybe that's a silly hypothesis - just trying to come up with a possible explanation. 

 

I found a mention of the study I referenced above - but the study seems to me at least partially flawed, as I saw several coppernose feeding on the surface just yesterday in a pond that almost certainly currently has a water temp lower than 54 degrees, the temp at which the CNBG stopped feeding in this study:

 

http://www.louisianasportsman.com/printer_friendly.php?id=2579

Interesting article Walt....this is the kind of data I was hoping to see.....This tells me I may struggle even more because I target Coppernose so often....I have 13 years  experience on my current waters in Coastal North Carolina and extreme Southeastern Virginia and 56 degrees is a milestone in my gill fishing. Late Fall I historically catch nice bluegill creels down to around 60 degree water temperatures with a significant drop off with water below 60 and rarely a bluegill when it falls to 56 degrees and below. Subsequently, I monitor water temperatures starting in March as it rises to 60 and the bite will start to pick up immediately often times in creeks off the main rivers, etc...This date could easily vary depending on the winter patterns...I keep logs and examples given for 2011 I caught my first good numbers on 4/11/2011 and in 2010 with a milder Winter I caught nice gills on 3/29/2010......Like Walt I would love to see a breakthrough but feel that I'm relentless year round and and maybe this "hibernation period" is the catalyst for the Awesome Spring and Summer fishing that many of us experience....With my calendar now on 2012, I'm already excited and counting down to April 1st....LOL

Now Now Walt, don't get your  feathers ruffled:) I'm not implying that the southern contingent doesn't have the skills necessary, only that the lack of a solid surface to walk on hinders their ability to apply the same techniques that we northern anglers use to put fish on the ice.

Rest assured, that whatever your water temps are right now, mine have been there. And yes, I find the transition period between just cold water, and ice cover, to be difficult fishing, where BG are concerned. I attribute that to the lack of ice, which prevents me from utilizing the gear, and the methods, that are designed to catch BG in the winter. I have no doubt that there are many superb, southern anglers here, probably a good deal more skilled than myself. But until you've actually been ice fishing a few times, and experienced it yourself, not just watched it on TV, I'm not sure if it's possible to fully appreciate what's involved in a winter BG bite.

Sure, Coppernose are acclimated to warmer water, that's why we don't see them up here. And I feel that their metabolism must surely slow dramatically in the colder water, and be a factor in shutting off their feeding behaviour. HOWEVER.... you and I both know that northern strain BG are found down to the gulf coast, and out to the west coast.. shouldn't they remain "catchable", for lack of a better word, in the winter? If so, what are we to attribute the lack of success for these fish to? What about those hybrids you've got down there? Why aren't they caught in the winter?

Is it possible that the northern strain, and the HBG you have down there have somehow become genetically predisposed to cease feeding in winter waters, perhaps a "bad habit" picked up from living in close proximity to their Coppernose cousins?

Or, is it simply that the lack of ice cover, and the techniques that go along with it, are hindering your success? Normally, this time of year I have ice. This year, I do not, my water temps are in the high 30's. I can tell you that the fishing is tough right now. However, I have absolutely no doubt that if it were to lock up and let me out on it, that I could catch a quantity of fish.  Casting and retrieving from shore or a boat, won't put as many fish on the bank this time of year as jigging vertically, with the right equipment and techniques, at least not here. I suspect it's the same other places as well.

Very good perspective Tony in several areas....My water as of Saturday was between 46 and 48 degrees. I'm willing to try new techniques and I'm always looking for little tidbits that will allow me success on the water....The best I can do down here to simulate "ice fishing" is to four corner anchor my boat or tie up solid to some sort of structure and fish down vertically like you're recommending...I have employed similar techniques in all the southern states I mentioned in an earlier reply. Specifically on Toledo Bend Reservoir on the Louisiana/Texas border, we would start fishing Crappie vertically in deep water starting in December and going through March. We normally fished total water depths of 20 to 50 feet and water temperatures normally bottomed out in the 40s every season.  Being a Bluegill first guy I would always put out a couple small rigs  hoping for the mammoth gills that live in this 188000 acre reservoir. Despite catching thousands of Crappie, scores of Largemouth Bass, plenty hybrid Stripers (land locked) and some nice catfish, I can never recall catching a bluegill during these Winter trips that went on for 16 years....I mention Toledo Bend because my catches of the Northern Strain Bluegill rivaled my Coppernose catches on this lake, catching coolers full of gills during the Spring spawn and shifting back to deep slopes (greater than 20 feet) during the dog days of Summer (90 degree surface temps) to catch all the bull gills you wanted....Not sure what it all means but you can bet I'll always try because first and foremost I'm a fisherman. Thanks for your postings guys and good luck on the water...Until we figure it out, I need the ice fishermen to post their catches to help me get through!

Good stuff....so how's the ice coming this year....seems like many folks are behind schedule 2lb....The camera is an interesting tool........

No ice in this part of Indiana. I hear the same from the more northern part of the state as well.

I think this must be what you more southern anglers feel every year! The BG are slow due to the cold water temps, but it's not cold enough to put my ice fishing methods to work.

I'm catching a few, drifting a jig below a small float, but it's nothing like it would be if I could present my bait properly.

Cmon' freeze already!

I hate the cold but I'll quit working against you...LOL.... After all, I enjoy checking out the ice fishing photos when you guys post them....it helps to pass this transition time. Good Luck Tony! I hope everyone is safe out there..it seems the potential for problems exists with the slow ice over....That's just a guess on my part though....

From what little I know (and it is little), metabolic adaptation is the culprit here.

Southern and warmer water fishes have a longer period of time to feed and grow, lets say 10 months, give or take. So a shut down period - a restful hibernation, if you will - makes sense. Water temperature drives this, as Jeffrey A. has noted. Most charts I have seen pivot around the mid 50's. Below that range of temps, the sunfish start to dramatically slow down and change their habits.

But we already know this, right? What I suspect is that Northern fish have another scenario forced upon them, one based on seasonal duration:

They have TWO distinct seasons, of near EQUAL length, in which to do the same two things all fishes must:

Season 1. Feed, breed, feed and grow...

Season 2. Maintain body function, waiting, until Season 1 rolls back around.

Obviously, Season 1 is the all important "Warm Water Time." Breeding turns on after the high 60's and the food chain they thrive on follows. But their Warm Water Time is shorter than in southern waters. So they go full tilt during this time. I've noticed this with other Northern creatures, including the humans that live there.

But - and this is significant - they also have to wait out a much longer Cold Period, i.e., Season 2. Being cold blooded, they are forced to follow the water temps... but they must also survive, even with their slowed metabolisms and food sources in dramatic decline.

All this combines to make them eat less and not be as driven by sheer metabolic hunger. At the same time they must eat something, if they are to last until the Warming comes. So there is a definite Winter Bite that occurs, one that is lacking in the warmer latitudes.

In this they differ from their Southern cousins who can afford the luxury of a Cold Season "nap," so to speak. 

It's also a safe bet in my mind that ice-fishing techniques DO matter, although not in the way we want it to. Ice fishing is a highly specialized practice that probably just does not translate well to anglers - or fish - in the warmer climes. The techniques should work, in theory.

But southern anglers don't really "get it." This is not a slight to them, but I don't think they can. They simply lack the full gamut of winter's effects. All of the tools and methods for ice fishing have evolved for a reason. Meanwhile, the fish in the South are essentially asleep and so the fisherman finds himself stymied trying to adapt to these things.

Having fished the ice in Minnesota myself, I kinda get this. And I don't think I'm unique - other southern folks have lived in the North and are familiar with ice-fishing tactics. In the end, it seems they soon discover that ice tactics don't work well, and so go after something else or wait until next season.

Personally, I think that is wisest. Don't fight against a particular fish, in other words, but find the ones that are willing.

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