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Bluegills in the Winter?

As a hard water angler, one of the questions I am most often asked is, “Do you ever actually catch any fish?” The answer is a resounding, “Yes! Lots of fish.” The second question is usually, “What kind of fish do you catch?” My answer is, “All kinds of fish, but I most often target

As a hard water angler, one of the questions I am most often asked is, “Do you ever actually catch any fish?” The answer is a resounding, “Yes! Lots of fish.” The second question is usually, “What kind of fish do you catch?” My answer is, “All kinds of fish, but I most often target panfish like crappies, perch, and bluegills.” The response is often one of surprise, “Bluegills are a summertime fish; they don’t eat anything when the lakes and ponds are frozen over.”

When I was just getting into fishing many years ago, I too thought that bluegills could only be taken on those warm summer days. After all, that’s how many of us started fishing as kids — at a pond with a worm and bobber on a warm, sunny summer afternoon. Fact is, that’s an excellent time to catch bluegills, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I still on occasion pursue bluegills on a pleasant summer afternoon albeit my techniques have changed in the pursuit of “gills”. These days, I thoroughly enjoy taking bluegills on a light flyrod with tiny poppers fished on the surface. This kind of presentation can result in some hard strikes with several bluegills all racing for the popper at the same time. Even subsurface presentations can result in hard, easy to detect strikes, but come winter that scenario is often quite different.

It’s not that bluegills stop feeding beneath the frozen surface — not so. Bluegills can, in fact, be ferocious feeders even with a foot of ice covering their home waters. Bluegills will often feed all winter long especially in the early ice period. It’s not that they don’t eat, but rather “how” they feed or take an angler’s presentation. Sure, sometimes their bite is just as obvious in the frigid winter waters as it is in the summertime, but more often than not, their take of a baited hook is much more subtle, barely detectable and often totally overlooked by the fisherman.

About a week or so ago, my ice fishing buddies and I moved out into a cove to shallower water in search of some of those early winter bluegills — we weren’t disappointed. As hoped, the gills were there in good numbers in the 10-15 foot depth range; schools would move through off and on all day long. Most of the time, when a school showed up on our fish locators, bluegills started populating the surface of the ice — but not everybody had success. Some of the guys new to ice fishing were having trouble knowing when a fish was taking their presentation — a very typical situation when ice fishing for bluegills.

One of the things I like to point out, especially to beginner ice fishermen, is that a strike might be nothing more than the line moving very slightly across the hole in the ice. To take advantage of this situation keep a tight line on your jigging rod; if you feel a tap or strike — set the hook, but very often a strike is nothing more than that slight line movement in the ice hole.

Another way to help pick up these very light, almost imperceptible, hits is to rig your jigging rod with one of those extended springs that fit onto the tip of your rod; the very light spring or wire reacts to even the slightest take. If you are using a bobber use a small one to help detect the lightest hits; sometimes it’s nothing more than a slight wiggle of the bobber that signals one of those hard to catch bluegills.

The bottom line is, bluegills do feed readily during the winter months — the trick is learning to detect or pick up those super light takes. Master that and you will have some great fish dinners as a reward.

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