How to Ice Fish for Bluegill with Jigs

News & Tips: How to Ice Fish for Bluegill with Jigs...

jiggingblue 2012One of the best ways to catch big gills is through the ice. Bluegills can be caught throughout the entire winter, but with early or late ice, bluegills hang around deep channels or deep water structure waiting to migrate to shallow weedy bays. In this deeper water-zone, bluegills will become very aggressive towards artificial presentations, making these fish easier to catch. Not many things compare to a steady bluegill bite through the ice, especially if taken on light fishing line and tackle.

Ice Fishing Tackle Considerations

Ice Jigs and Small Spoons:

Micro ice jigs (various shapes and weights) and dimpled spoons are the standard lures for catching big blues no matter what the thickness of ice or time of year it is. Marabou jigs (painted lead jigs with a small tuft of soft marabou tied to the hook shank) are also great choices for fishing 'gills. This marabou in the water dances excitedly with even the slightest of movement in the rod, which can entice uninterested fish.

Bass Pro Shops Flashy Times Spoon
Bass Pro Shops Flashy Times Spoon

Phosphorescent paints applied to any standard jig helps to give anglers an edge especially in dark water lakes where fish have a hard time finding dangled baits. The small amount of light given off by the glowing paints makes the angler's presentations much more noticeable to fish. To get the most out of your glowing tackle it is a good idea to regularly give your glowing tackle a quick charge with a the most intense light you have available. Choosing the colors of the jigs and spoons you plan on using should be determined by the body of water you intend on fishing. For every lake or river system, certain colors or color combinations will out-produce all others, so knowing this early can make your days fishing much more interesting. 

If you are going to be fishing a body of water with no knowledge of what works, start out by using two-toned colored jigs like red and purple or yellow and orange and see what is attracting the most attention and work from there. Spoons that are all silver is always a safe bet, with two-tone silver and blue or silver and chartreuse something to try when you are not sure what the fish are hungry for. 


If you ever are lucky enough to locate a congregation of actively feeding bluegills, small plastic baits can provide steady action. Maggots and wax worms are great for fishing 'gills but when it comes to finicky fish and re-baiting hooks in cold weather, plastics are a great alternative. Soft plastics come in almost any shape and size imaginable but small tubes or worm shapes seem to work the best. If all you have is larger sized plastic items, a quick clip with your scissors or a razor can reduce these plastics to a more manageable size for gills. In the water these plastics almost swim by themselves, and coupled with special impregnated scents, big blues have a hard time staying away. 


Bass Pro Shops Micro Lite Elite Spinning Reel
Use a micro spinning reel, like the Bass Pro Shops Micro Lite Elite.

The equipment primarily used for catching panfish is pretty simple. An ultra-light to light jigging pole between 2 and 3 feet coupled to a micro spinning reel with a line holding capacity of 100 feet of 4-pound test will be capable of handling any blue you can get your hook into. The use of light lines is essential in cold water conditions because these light lines will stay limber longer in cold weather conditions, allowing ice jigs and spoons to sink down to the fish's level fast.

Another important consideration to using light line is that more action can be applied to vertically-jigged baits. As the angler lifts the lure away from the bottom and then allows the lure to fall down the water column, the light line will not inhibit the fluttering action created by spoons and jigs. Finally, the lighter the line, the easier it is for anglers to pick up on very light takes from fish. 

Live Bait: 

Bluegills are a fun species of fish to target by ice anglers due to the fact that they take a wide variety of natural or artificially prepared baits. Wax worms, maggots or Angle worms work very well for getting fish to bite, but can be a little frustrating when trying to keep on your hook for more than one bite. Commercially-available artificial baits such as pastes and pellets can also be used while small crappie-sized minnows will produce bites from big, beefy 'gills. 

Fishing Techniques

To catch bluegills, anglers need to have their tackle set up correctly and be able to find a school of actively feeding fish. Having your tackle in order is the easy part, but consistently locating large schools of panfish can be very challenging. First off, line your rod with the lightest fishing line you feel confident in using, and then tie on a small spoon with its treble hook removed. Onto the bottom of the spoon tie a 10- to 12-inch leader of monofilament line and a small curved-shank hook. Onto the hook, spear two to three wax worms or a dorsally-hooked crappie minnow.

Bass Pro Shops 124-Piece Reusable Split Shot Weight Assortment
Use split shots to decide on the depth ou plan on fishing.

The idea here is to have the shine from the spoon attract the bluegill's attention and draw the fish close enough to the bait to get a bite. A second rig that works well for bluegills is to use light line and to attach a micro jig to the end of the line. Twelve to 15 inches up from the jig, tack on one to two split shots depending on the depth you plan on fishing. The split shots will allow the line to sink to the required depth rapidly but since they are not at the bottom of the line it will allow the jig to flutter and dance as the rod tip is lifted and dropped. 

Adding a small bobber to the line at the level of the ice is a good idea for inexperienced anglers because this bobber will alert anglers to any light takes from fish. While you are jigging for gills, most of the strikes will come as bait is falling back towards the bottom with slack line. Sometimes it is very hard to discern a light bite from the fish or the tackle fluttering towards the lake bottom. When you are out on a lake looking for bluegills, you hope that you will be able to come across a group of aggressive panfish because they will bite anything that comes across their path.

Finding fish and getting them to consistently bite can be a challenge — but definitely worth the work.

Unfortunately for anglers, bluegills are not always in this type of feeding frenzy mood. So anglers need to deploy a few different types of jigging.presentations to see what the fish are looking for that day. Electronics are always great to help anglers find fish but are not a necessity. Drill a few holes spaced 10 to 20 feet apart and either use your electronics or spend a few minutes jigging each hole to see what's below the ice. 

If you are going to be using fish-finding electronics and mark fish in one of the holes you drilled, then drop your lure so that it sits just above the level of the panfish. If you do not receive a bite or two within the first few minutes, slowly keep lowering the bait towards the fish while maintaining a slack-free line (raising and lowering the line approximately a foot or so each time). Repeat this process of lifting then lowering the bait to fish. If you do not have electronics, jig each hole (raising and lowering the line approximately a foot again) at a few different depths to check if there are any fish around willing to bite.

Aggressive fish should fall to this searching action and actively come up to take bait. If you do happen to find fish but they are not the exact size you are looking for, relax — in most cases smaller fish will be more aggressive taking baits first while the true slabs need a little coaxing to get to bite. To try and excite bigger fish, this patterned jigging usually will not work. Try changing your presentation into a jigging sequence, where you lift different heights and pauses different lengths in a predictable manner. 

Vertically lift jigs around 12 to 15 inches and pause allowing the fly to drop slowly back to the bottom. While jigging, change up your presentation to make your bait raise, pulse and pump through the water column in irregular, short bursts. If this type of pattern jigging does not draw strikes, try slowly shaking the tip of the rod 2 to 3 inches for short bursts accompanied by intermittent pauses. Keep in mind that when jigging, do not over-emphasize jigging motions. Violent, sharp and vertical movements are associated with dangerous situations in fish, and for all your effort, you will only be scaring fish off rather than drawing them in. 

With all the activities people participate in during the summer months, most do not have the time or the inclination to actively target bluegills. Ice fishing can be the answer for these summertime fishing enthusiasts, and the fact that you do not need a boat to find fish is a definite bonus. Once the ice thickens, search your local lakes. Finding fish and getting them to consistently bite can be a challenge but maybe it is just the type of test you are looking for to keep you busy over the long winter months.