Outdoors column: chasing big bluegills

I think back to the years where I was introduced to the sport of ice angling and from day one it was walleyes-walleyes-walleyes.

Big bluegills are a real treat. Be flexible and be ready to adjust your bait offerings according to their moods. Photo submitted
Big bluegills are a real treat. Be flexible and be ready to adjust your bait offerings according to their moods. Photo submitted

Now, as I mature, the feisty bluegill has been on my mind and continues to be my number one target during the winter months.

They are similar to walleyes in that they are sometimes fickle, sometimes aggressive as can be and often almost impossible to find through the ice.

Here are some thoughts on these fickle characters as we head into February which is by far the best month of the year for finding and catching these fish through the ice.


It seems you can put the locational factor into two distinct catetgories…. very shallow or very deep.

It seems I never find them in between these depths but rather one extraordinary depth or the other.

So far this season I have found nice ‘gills in seven feet and also on lakes as deep as 32 feet.

Again, there never seems to be a middle ground for location.

Food Sources

During the month of February and March, the food sources for bluegills change and now their diet consists of bugs, invertabrae’s, insect larvae and bloodworms. These items are high on their list of protein and they will seek them out and root them out of the muddy bottoms.

These food sources can be found very shallow near green weedgrowth (such is the shallow explanation) or deep over muddy bottoms (thus the deep explanation). Once you find the food sources you will also find many other species using the area as well. I always check the stomach contents of every bluegill caught and confirm that I am on the right spot. If you are, the stomachs will be bursting with food evidence. That’s when you know you hit paydirt !

Bluegill Size

This fish has been overharvested and fished heavily through the decades and the odds of finding nice sized bluegills are slim.

Most bluegills in the central part of Minnesota have been exploited to the point where most now are stunted and very small.

As you get farther into the north country and even far northwestern Minnesota there are still lakes out there that hold good populations of large fish. Of course there lakes are held close to the vest and are hush hush among the locals but the lakes do exist.

It takes time and effort to glean these lakes from the average ones but the reward is worth the effort. Don’t expect the local baitshop to give you any viable information on lakes with big bluegills.

This information needs to come from the local anglers especially the older dudes that have been around a while. Think about joining a local fishing club and many times you’ll get good and reliable bluegill information from the insiders.

Baits and Lures

My last bluegill trip around the Leech Lake area recently yielded some nice fish but my party really had to work at it. We started with large jigging spoons and minnow heads and found the fish so neutral we ended up being more successful by switching to plain hooks with one waxworm.

I always start with large baits just to get a feel for their attitude and then readily switch to smaller and smaller baits until they start reacting favorably.

When bluegills are on the bite they will smash most walleye sized lures but when they are inactive it takes something itty bitty to get a reaction. The smart modern day bluegill fisherperson has multiple rods rigged with many baits from large to small and then makes instant adjustments according to the fish mood.

Steve Carney is a contributing writer to the Outdoors page.

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