How clear is the Water, Momma?

A revolutionary new system for locating bluegills through the ice... an excerpt from the book "Bluegills!"

By Dave Genz

Water clarity and weeds are everything. Those are the two main factor when it comes to locating bluegills.

Clear or dirty. Weeds or no weeds. Standing, green weeds or dead weeds laying on the bottom.

Those are the lake types when it comes to bluegills.

The most important aspect of catching bluegills through the ice.... finding them.

The goal here is to make you a successful bluegill angler in any region of the ice belt, at all periods of the winter. I feel confident, at least most of the time, about making bluegills bite once I find them. Most days, if we see fish come into our holes when we're sight fishing, or mark them on our Vexilar, they'll bite.

So the finding can be the hard part, and the prospect of striking off on your own can seem daunting. The security blanket of the crowd on the community spot can be hard to break away from. But trust me, the rewards of setting the hook into stubborn resistance when you're the only one on the spot are worth the effort.

Let's prepare you for becoming a fish hunter.

How clear is the water, momma?

At least when it comes to bluegills, the type of system they are found in is not a huge clue as to location. In the ice belt, "gills are found in natural lakes, manmade reservoirs, rivers, ponds and pits. In my experience, bluegills are bluegills, and will tend to be in predictable places, regardless of the water type, based on what is available.

When it comes to finding bluegills, the number one thing in any body of water is water clarity.

When you're looking for 'gills ask yourself about the color of the water. Check a map, ask at the bait shop, drill a hole and see for yourself.

How clear is it? Are there weeds, or not? If there are weeds, how deep do they grow?

Water clarity and weeds are everything. Those are the two main factors.

All bluegill-holding waters can be broken into clear water, dirty water, or somewhere in between water. If the water is dirty, there may be weeds, but only in the shallows because sunlight doesn't penetrate and allow deeper plant growth. If the water is clear, there might be weeds that grow quite deep. In any fishery that has weeds, those weeds might be standing upright, laying on the bottom, or a combination of both.

When it comes to bluegills, those are the lake types.

Lakes, ponds, pits, and backwaters of reservoirs and rivers, all fall into one of these 'categories.' Also, based on the length and severity of winter, any given body of water might change in these important physical features from one period of the winter to another. In other words, there might be an abundance of healthy, standing weeds at early ice, but by midwinter, most of the weeds may be laying on the bottom heavy snow cover and resulting loss of light penetration having robbed the plants of their vitality.

These are the main factors that affect bluegill location.

Water clarity is going to dictate whether the fish are shallow or deep. In real clear water, you can have fish in 15 feet of water living in the weeds. In other systems, 15 feet can be the deepest water, and the water, and the water might be quite discolored, with very little weed growth at any depth. There are various stages between these extremes.

And the type of weeds can make a difference. Cabbage and coontail are two of my favorites. Junk weeds are usually not standing weeds in winter under the ice. An area might be 'weed-choked' in the summer, but a barren flat in the winter because all the weeds are dead and laying down. The weeds have to be up, at least somewhat, for them to offer protection from predators.

In some lakes, where the weeds all fall down later in the winter, if you have clumps of reeds you'll often see them sticking up through the ice bluegills will use them, too.

At seminars, I'm often asked by people who are going to fish a strange lake how they can find the bluegills. I ask them the following questions:

*How Deep do the weeds grow?

*Do the weeds stay green all winter?

*Are the weeds dead or alive?

It's critical to realize that a lake can make a transition in the middle of the winter, say from clear to dirty. Snow cover can cause weeds to die, and that can cloud up the water, and now this is a whole new lake from what it was just a few weeks before! Late in the ice season, melt-water can run back into the lake and dirty it up.

One thing I hear from people is "one year, we caught them over here, but we never caught 'em there again." Well, it has to have something to do with weeds or water clarity. Or both.

Was it a hot or cool summer? How healthy were the weeds in the fall? You get a good, hot summer, that can affect the winter. If a lake turns pea green in the summer (they don't all do this) and all the weeds go down because of lack of light penetration, how healthy do you think those weeds are going to be come winter? Sometimes, fertilizer or other manmade compounds can influence this, too.

The bottom line is: how clear is the water, and are there any weeds?

Like many things in life, it's as simple, and as complex, as that.

Other Considerations

*The size of the fishery is important. In the case of ponds and pits, for example, location can be simple, because they're generally small. It might take just an hour or so to determine where the fish are holding, because you can easily walk around drilling holes in every possible spot. A big lake, or expansive backwaters n reservoirs and river systems, require a more systematic search strategy.

*The relative size of a fishery based on where it is, geographically, is also important. In regions that feature long winters and heavy snowfall, smaller ponds, lakes and river backwaters tend to produce better fishing early and late in the season, and can be difficult to catch fish out of in the middle of the ice-over period. It's probably an oxygen thing. By comparison, a larger lake would probably be a better choice in the middle of the ice season.

*High and low water cycles are important to track. All systems go through periods of relatively lower and higher water levels. During periods of high water, the system tends to have more food per fish, and this seems to allow the bluegills to get bigger than they otherwise would. I love high-water cycles. High water can change fish location, too. For example, let's say a bay normally has about 3 feet of water in it. Bluegills will vacate such a spot before the ice even forms, and won't be there all winter, assuming deeper water is available. But if the bay suddenly has 8 feet of water in it, the 'gills might be able to winter in there.

*You need to know that a given system has good bluegills in it. Don't fish there if there isn't a good bluegill population. Reports created by your local biologists are more available ever, either by contacting their office or searching the internet. And many of today's contour lake maps include test-netting data, noting size and abundance of the fish species found in the body of water.

“Bluegills!” the book was printed in 1999

Winter Fishing Systems, Inc 2016