Bluegills and Crappies on the Clock

By Todd Reed

As the sun has yet to show itself, with a warm cup of coffee and a donut on the console, a much needed trip to the ice has started. Getting to the lake early to meet up with friends is a great way to start the day, but was it necessary to get up that early? Why not stay in bed awhile, have a hot breakfast and hit the ice around 9am? These are questions that travel through my mind each time I head out early to conquer the ice. Most of the time, yes, it was worth it, sometimes it wasn’t, why? These are a few questions that weigh on an ice anglers mind throughout the wintery months.

The Early Bite
There is no doubt that most of time it is well worth getting up early to get on the ice while the sun is still peeking over the trees for the first time of the day. This is the daily alarm clock for the fish to start their day of roaming and eating under the dark snow and ice. The scientific reason for this is the movement of microorganisms in the water column doing the same thing. As the sun comes up, these tiny creatures start to move about and that jump starts the food chain in the lake each day. During these early few hours of sunlight crappies and bluegills are known to actively feed and chase down baits like no other time of the day. I always like to start the day with a small spoon and search out those fish. Often times, the fish will see/hear the spoon and suddenly appear on the Vexilar screen and take the bait without hesitation. I typically start each morning with plastic baits on my spoons also. This allows me to move the spoon very erratically without the problem of live bait coming off. Crappies especially love this technique. Some days, when the weather pattern isn’t cooperative the fish may seem interested in the spoon, but will not bite. This alerts me to put the spoon away for the morning and get a jig out. I will once again tip it with plastics to begin the day as the fish are normally more apt to hit the plastic under the lower light conditions. As for locations to fish, I typically like to stay a bit deeper in the morning hours, this allows me to catch any crappies in the area. Channel swings, deeper brush piles and long main lake points are key areas to target first thing in the morning.

Mid-day Bite
If we split our day into three time periods, this is by far the times of the day when fish are least active. The time frame from 10am to 2pm is still a great time to ice fish…any time is for me! However, generally speaking this is the time when fish become a little less likely to chase down baits. This is the best time of day to get some exercise though. Drilling a lot of holes will help you hone in on some active fish. Whether you walk or use a quad or snow machine to get around the ice, this is the time to stay active. Shed that coat and keep the auger drilling. My favorite structure to fish in the mid-day period is brush. It doesn’t have to deep, any brush could hold that magical school of fish. This time of day can be the best for hopping around to catch bluegills. Bluegills and crappies both love to hide in brush, and even more during these times of the day. If the sun is out and shining bright, get right on top of the thickest cover you can find. Bluegills will be hiding in the brush attacking those microorganisms to get their mid-day snack. This is the time of day when using and understanding your Vexilar will be most beneficial. Fine tuning your flasher will help you distinguish the brush from the fish and be able to slip your favorite jig to them in a finesse presentation. During this part of the day I always turn to eurolarve or waxworms on a small jig. Fish are less aggressive and will be drawn in by the natural scents of the live bait. Keep your bait fresh during this time of the day too. If you are seeing fish on your flasher and they won’t bite, put fresh bait on. Another technique I use during the mid-day time period is “pounding the bottom”. Dropping your jig to the lake floor and causing a disturbance can often trigger those shy gills in the middle of the day. If those ideas don’t work, it is time to change your jig color or size to find that perfect combination that the fussy midday bluegills can’t resist.

Late-Day Bite
Ever thought this before, “The fish haven’t been biting, might as well go home early”. We have all probably thought or said this before, but the last few hours of daylight can be one of the best stretches of time to catch numerous fish. Bluegills and crappies will once again become more active in the last few hours of the day. The food chain ramps up once again before the dark night hours, which in turn gets the panfish in a feeding mode. There are so many variables in ice fishing and each lake has its own tendencies, but once you unlock the lake you have been fishing, certain areas will out produce others day in and day out during this time of the day. It could be a certain depth, brush piles, or a massive flat that give the fish large areas to roam and feed up. Needless to say, I don’t have the magic password, but trying these areas over and over will help you fine tune your late day approach. This time period can be a repeat of the morning hours, spoons, artificial and going after those active feeders. Typically Mother Nature is most kind the last couple of hours of the day, which makes this a very popular time to ice fish. If you are targeting flats during this time, be sure to use the largest cone angle your flasher allows. This will allow you to see a greater area on your Vexilar screen and get your bait to the anxious fish below. Trial and error can be your best friend during this time period, keep moving until you find active fish. The next hole you drill might be the one you have waited for all day.

Unlocking the code to bluegills and crappies all day long is rarely an easy one. If you start to think of a winter day as four different fishing opportunities: Early, Mid-day, Late-day and Darkness you will start to put the pieces together. The three most common times to ice fish illustrated here are all very different, and ice anglers must approach them differently if they want to stay on the ice and keep catching fish. Be safe out there, and enjoy the water while it’s frozen.