Bluegill - Big Bluegill

Do you love big bluegill?

Dave Genz is the father of modern ice fishing. He invented the flip-style ice shack and his tireless efforts, which still continue, have made ice fishing the highly effective, technical, active pursuit that it is today.

When I interviewed him for the Recycled Fish "12 Questions" series a year ago, he said, "Not over-harvesting panfish is important...Some say, “they’re only panfish,” but we’ve disrupted the natural balance of so many lakes, that we don’t get many large panfish any more. Most of our waters are managed for the larger predators – especially the walleye and musky up here in Minnesota. Everybody up here wants to say they’re a walleye or a musky fisherman, but at heart, we’re all pan fishermen."

I know what he's talking about. In my first outing on hard water this year, I had the good pleasure of hitting a private pond with my friends Chad and Bo Abresch from Nebraska Fish & Game Association.

The body of water we were fishing was chock full of spunky largemouth bass in the 13" - 15" range. I don't care who you are, a bent rod with a leaping bass is fun. When you jig them up with a vertical spoon through a hole in the ice, it's just as exciting.

But better yet, those densely populated bass make for some bruiser sunfish, and we found out that day. The bluegills were biting light - almost undetectably so - but when one would inhale a teardrop and waxworm, the fight was on.

These fish weren't the 10" specimens of lore, but once a 'gill breaks the 8" mark it starts to get respectable, and these 9" class fish certainly had our respect. They all went back into the lake after a brief photo - none were out of the water for more than a minute, most less than that.
A friend of mine from Illinois is just getting in to ice fishing. He's struggling out there because he's chasing walleye, pike and bass. My advice: the bluegill is DESIGNED for ice fishing. In the winter, what we're after is action and bluegill provide it.

Because of the cold, clean winter water and the fact that fish are on ice as soon as they come out of it, their meat is firm and clean tasting. It's hard to beat a few ice-caught bluegill in the pan.

But the 'few' does require mentioning. While selective harvest is an important management tool and keeping a few to eat is an important part of the legacy of our sport, keeping the 'selective' in 'selective harvest' makes sense too.

That's why I love this website - it seems to have struck the perfect balance in stewardship of these amazing fish. This post says it best, in my mind.

We've got a couple months left of 'hard water' depending upon where we live in the Ice Belt, plenty of opportunity to meet some big bluegill yet this year.


Teeg Stouffer
Recycled Fish
Anglers living a lifestyle of stewardship both on and off the water, because our lifestyle runs downstream

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What a great discussion post!

Dave Genz is a true legend in his field. I think I've read everything he's ever written. I'd like to meet him someday.
Thing about Genz is that he's so approachable. At the St. Paul Ice Show, every year he's sitting there in the Clam Booth, he's got his own, personal Trap in the booth all tricked out exactly how he likes it, and he just talks fishing with people all day.

The pros in fishing are more approachable than nearly any other professional sport, but even at the Bassmaster Classic you're going to wait in a long, long line to get an autograph from Bill Dance, and your interaction is going to be, "Hey, Bill, I've been watching you since I was a kid," and Bill will say, "Doggone, I sure appreciate that, what's your name?" And you'll say, and he'll sign an autograph for you using your name, and then the next guy in line steps up.

Genz is sitting there talking tactics with people, answering questions from the beginner to the complex, and he's at these events from open to close. Pretty cool, if you ask me.

All those Ice Team guys are like that though, could go on and on about 'em.
Those are some extraordinary specimens Teeg, beautiful fish indeed. Selective harvest IS absolutely key.
Great post Teeg. Those some great looking gills. You will have to teach me some of your tricks.
Good stuff, Teeg! I need to get the number of your outdoor photographer. Clearly, he can make anyone look good! :)
Hahaha. Let it be known that the photo credit on those goes to none other than Chad A, a truly adept master at the digital camera, equally skilled with rod, gun and pen.
Very well done article Teeg. Selective harvest is the well proven answer to improving the overall size of the Bluegill population.
The state of Iowa just imposed a 25 fish limit on Bluegill. I was very much against this regulation in fear the lakes my grandsons and I have enjoyed will be ruined due to overpopulation. I would have been very much in favor of not allowing the lager bluegill to be harvested.
The regulation is in place so I can only pray that I am wrong in my thinking.
I have already got my license. Just too much camera fodder out there to turn my back on. lol Mike
Bluegills are my favorite for many reasons! Selective harvest, conservation, and taking care of our waters, both while on the lake and off the lake, will produce bigger and better fish, all species. Great fish Teeg!
Teeg,
You touched on some key bluegill management points! Most ponds and lakes are geared and managed completely for the local predators. However If some serious bluegill fishing is the goal, you want to be overcrowded with feisty 14" bass. A rule of thumb is that LMB will eat BG up to 1/3 their length. In my ice fishing ponds, I dont want any 21" LMB eating my 7" BG! I would rather catch and eat them!
Thanks for the kind words, and I suppose it comes as no surprise among a bunch of bluegill enthusiasts that we love managing for big ones.

So...how do we catch 'em? This little post was about ice fishing, do you guys target them through the ice?

I watched Ice Team Powersticks Don Cox and Dave Fehlhafer do an amazing job on some big bluegills at first ice this year using plastics. Conventional wisdom in my world is that nothing beats the teardrop and waxworm, but here are two of the best ice fishermen in the country who choose plastic over the waxie.

I have tried plastics now a few times and in my hands, they drastically underperform the waxworm. However, sight fishing on Lake Okoboji - where I could watch the bluegills reacting and I could adapt my presentation accordingly - I finally managed to get 'em that way. You?

I've also become sold on the horizontal jig. I used to use a lot of vertical jigs and I'm sure they still have their place, but for big 'gills, the horizontal presentation is pretty sweet if you ask me.

Finally, in some conditions, you just can't beat a little 'ice flea,' which is a fly I tie specifically for ice fishing, which is designed to be tipped with a spike, waxie or plastic.

How 'bout you guys?
Good to hear from you, Teeg!
I ice-fish for bluegills here in central Iowa. In the past I preferred the horizontal ice-jig like you mentioned, but I actually haven't even tied one of those on yet this year. Almost all my fish this season have been taken on a vertical-style ice jig. I've also been tipping with a couple of red maggots, and this seems to work MUCH better than a waxworm. I can't explain why, but it may have something to do with size, color, and a scent that these fish don't often smell (95% of folks around here use waxies, simply because they are more readily available from the bait shops).

This year has been an odd one. In nearly all the places I've fished, I've been getting most of the fish within 6' of the surface, even when over 15'-22' of water. I see some fish near the bottom, and they'll look at the bait if I drop it down near them, but they rarely strike. These shallower, suspended fish are usually fairly aggressive...and a flasher unit is a necessity to know where these fish are.
For bluegills I always start out with a variety of small jigs tipped with a waxworm. If they are aggressively biting, I will upsize to a jigging spoon or even jigging rapala. If fish are present, but not biting, I will typically downsize.

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