Jason from Perham, MN asks:
We have alot of lakes in our area that have bluegills, but how do you narrow down good late-ice panfish lakes? What spots would you start looking for them and when?
Thanks Jason - it's funny but one of things I look for in a great late-ice panfish bite is the presence/abundance of large bass in the system. I can think of a number of late-ice filming trips where we found the bass first, and eventually some great standing weedbeds (coontail or cabbage), then the great gills that go with them. Healthy largemouth populations seem to go hand in hand with great bluegill lakes, and while the gills can be tough to find, the bass usually aren't. Often, they're the tip-off you're looking for to keep the hunt on.
This weekend, we punched a pile of holes all over a small lake known to have some good gills, but never came across any.....until dark and after. Underwater camera work, gobs of hole-drilling, and some meticulous jig-work within weed beds only yielded small panfish or bait-perch. After dark, those bigger gills drifted out of the weeds they were buried in and were more than willing to eat.
Inside turns coming out of deep water with a strong, standing weed-growth at the top could be the strongest location I've fished for late-ice gills, regardless of lake size, depth, or location. As for when, the later the better, as daytime melting washes terrestrials into the system, and night-time lows lock things back up again. Latest ice is best, but be careful, it's also the most dangerous. Fish fast and aggressive, and don't be afraid to fish the 3rd shift should you encounter nothing but quality bass during the day.