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Do you love big bluegill?

This may have been discussed before, but hey...its almost that season again!

I had contacted our local Fisheries Biologist about where I might find large redear sunfish in our area. He gave me a couple of lakes where they have sampled 12"-13" redears. One lake I fished probably 27 years ago, and the other lake I have never fished. I've got some learning & exploring to do.
I'm considering hitting these lakes this winter.
Does anybody have any tips for ice-fishing for redears (where in the lake to find them, for example), and what baits/lures might work best. Any stories you can share?
Thanks!
--David

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Here's my advice. Now keep in mind that my ice fishing experience with redears is limited, by I've raised them for years in Nebraska so I know a little bit.

Redear sunfish can tolerate water that's in the 39 degree range for several months given good water quality and reasonable foraging opportunity. Every degree that the water temperature drops below 39, you will see an increase in stress on redears. Once you get down around 35 degrees or below you may see redears go into a very, very deep sleep. That's code for "dead".

39 degree water is heavier than water that is at 32-38 degrees, so it will sit on the bottom of your ice covered pond.

Therefore, you can make the following assumption.

Redear sunfish would vastly prefer to stay near the bottom of any pond or lake during the winter.

Now if the bottom water is anoxic, from either poor water quality, or lack of oxygen producing plants such as single celled algae, then redears are in a world of hurt. That's why the general rule: "Redear sunfish winter over fine in the Northern U.S. provided the water quality is good throughout the water column.

So back to the original question.

My first and primary tip would be to find lakes or ponds with good water quality--that would be good clarity, and modest fertility--and fish deep with a lively, but slowly presented offering.
Excellent advice, Bruce!
I'm taking for granted that since these lakes are known to have decent populations of large redears, water quality must reasonably good through the winter months. I hope I don't get proved wrong on this, but its the assumption I'll have to make.

OK...so fish near the bottom in probably the deepest water of the pond. Good.

Now...what sort of slow, lively offering would you suggest?
I believe your assumption would be correct. If the redear are of decent size, then you should be certain that they have survived consecutive winters.

I would never skimp on bait. I'd want the liveliest waxworms I could find. I'd also string them onto a very sharp high quality hook. I've always had better luck with the barb pinched, because the waxie threads so much easier. Bring your hooks to your dentist and see if he/she will debarb your hooks. It only takes about 1 second for each hook.

I'd try two or even three waxies on a hook, and I' change them frequently.

I'd also periodically do some subtle jigging. Sometimes the motionless bait just won't cut it. That's why the lively bait helps; even if your eating a sandwich, the bait is still moving.
David,Bruce has given you some really good advice.

You could also try maggots.My fav go to bait thru the ice for gills.

Also try using any of the new style jigs that fish heavy for their size(gentz bug,marmooska,bro's bug,gill pill,to name a few).Fish these on the lightest line you can handle on the rod/reel combo you are going to use.

Hope this helps.
Bruce,
Information from our Michigan DNR stocking program and follow up reports, indicates what you have stated regarding water quality, with marl bottom lakes , good populations of pumpkinseed sunfish and native snails, including some interest in the exotic zebra mussels. I have site fished through the ice and find the activity level of the redears not any where near the bluegills that they school with... a 3/4 in piece of worm threaded on a 1/32 oz. jig fished right on the bottom can sometimes turn the trick...Bruce Yinger
Deepest in pond....if not work then move! Maybe in or near edge of weedbed or woods! I rare fish more than 15 minutes per hole and nothing happened then I move! Average 30 to 60 holes per day for me! If you catch redear sunfish in the late fall then good chance that they will be there in early ice fishing! I like waxworm and maggots for bait and I change it often for fresh! Let us know if you do well on redear sunfish on ice!
I've talked to guys that say big bluegills like leeches. This is during the open-water months...usually around late Spring.

Now...I'm wondering if leeches are even available at our local bait shop during the winter, and if so, if leeches are active in cold water? Can a guy use them for ice-fishing??
It seems like a reasonable thought for redears. After all, if you pulled snail from its shell, wouldn't that look sorta like a leech?
Just more ideas floating around in my head...
I didn't get around to ordering leeches this year, but used a batch last year. They will keep all year in the fridge in a milk jug without feeding. Our city water has a terrible taste so we buy jug water. I used this water (chlorine free). I changed water every week or so. Pour into a fine strainer, remove any dead or off color ones and return to fresh jug of water.
Big Bluegill, Red Ear, Bass, and eater Catfish all love these leeches.
I ordered mine somewhere in Minn. They said ice was still on and would ship when it thawed.
Be sure to order SMALL size. These are very hard to get local in most areas. Most places won't ship in hot weather.
Hope this info helps , ole Mike
Leeches....cold water....don't work good for me! It circle around the hook and wouldn't move. Warm water make leech look so good like wiggling and hmm hmm good to big 'gills, walleye, bass, catfish, etc! Leeches is not cheap and I avoid use it in where average size panfish! Deeper water, rock humps, rock walls is good place to use leeches for bigger bluegills plus bonus bass or walleye!
Far southern states then Leeches should be okay during the winter!
OK....good tip. I can cross that idea off my "ice-fishing for redear" list.

What do snails do during the winter? And...if one were to use a snail for redears, would you remove the snail from the shell, or use it shell-and-all?
Snails....good question! I fish over 40 years and almost unheard of snails as bait! What snails do in the winter....I don't know! Maybe sleep under rocks or logs....or just normal ..... I don't know. Would be good to hear from anyone who know a lot about snails!
Maybe you can get some snails from your pond or creek then keep it in the tank, test it during ice fishing and find out!
Waxworm and spikes (maggots) always work great for me and many ice anglers!
I got some nice size bluegills on small minnow while fish for crappie but probably poor for Redear! Strange is that worm is poor bait for me....probably a few green sunfish in the winter!
Snails..........? Interesting!
I am fortunate to have a few lakes in my area that contain RES.....during the winter I have found isolated neutral fish at the basin pivot point.....Gills Crappie and perch were in weeds in 4-6 whereas the crackers were in 19ft over soft bottom.....not fast action, double up on fat fresh waxies.

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