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.
Anglers living a lifestyle of stewardship both on and off the water, because our lifestyle runs downstream