Sometimes you need to get “Zoo Small”

Understanding what the fish are feeding on can help you decide what to present the fish.  I've noticed many times when the panfish bite seemed to be "off", it really turned out that the bite was on...the zooplankton bite that is.  Bluegill will eat a moderate sized water bug very differently than they will zooplankton.  Sometimes we mistakenly think they aren't biting.  Panfish eat zooplankton by slowly sucking the target in in an effort to filter it out of the water.  They don't suck the target in very hard, or the water would just move out of their gills and not into their mouths.  They are very slow and deliberate with this type of feeding.  It is very often mistaken for a negative fish.  The fish's actions can give you clues as to their mood.  If the fish move to your bait and then just stare at it, chances are they are on a zooplankton bite and you aren't showing them what they want.  The next time that happens, have a "Zoo Small" set up ready.  I always keep a rod with 1 or 2 pound test line and a small jig that mimics zooplankton.  Micro-plastics are also a good option when the bite gets small.

zooplankton style jigs

zooplankton style jigs

Shallow water ice bluegill in and outs

Most ice anglers know that bluegill fishing can be really good early ice by finding good green weeds in shallow water.  That will usually hold true until the weeds die or the oxygen depletes as the winter goes on and the weeds begin to die off.  There is a situation that I have run into with lakes that have an inlet and outlet.  I am finding these lakes dotted all over the Northern part of Wisconsin and they are producing great bluegill fishing all winter long.

Brian Gaber with nice shallow weed gill

Brian Gaber with nice shallow weed gill

To find these locations, find a lake that has an inlet and outlet.  Find the outlet.  Fish in an area just about the outlet.  Always make sure that there is good ice, as any moving water can make the ice unpredictable.  I have found that most of the inlet/outlet lakes near my location to be very slow moving water and the midwinter ice is very good.  I typically find that camera fishing works best.  I drill a two holes, one for the camera and one to fish.

Bluegill are notoriously picky, so a horizontal presentation is key.  Your jig must be horizontal and the plastic or bait must be presented in a horizontal fashion or they fish won't even look at it.  This winter, the bites have been tough and a complete dead stick still presentation is critical when the fish get on the jig.  Watching the bite happen on the camera screen greatly increases the hook up ratio.  You cannot believe how lightly bluegill can bite until you watch it for several hours.

For me, the Acme Tackle Pro Tungsten jig (da shiz) has been a gill getter this year (3mm)

Acme Pro Tungsten Da Shiz color

Acme Pro Tungsten
Da Shiz color

Crappie in the Column

Fishing today, I noticed some marks flickering in on the flasher between 3 and 7 feet off the bottom
in 16 feet of water.  They were here, then gone.  I left my jig at the 10 foot level and just slowly jedi
jigged.  Nothing!  They all vacated.  I watched for a while, and then I had to try something different.
I snapped my jig up 3 feet and let it free fall quickly back to the 10 foot position.  I did this two or three
times in a row, and whala!  Back in they were.  The commotion that I created snapping the jig around
brought the fish back in and they were curious enough to nose up to the jig.  Once I got them moving
up towards the jig, I began to jedi jig again, but taking it away from them.  That was all it took to get
them to commit.

The bite was tough today, with a Northeast wind and an unfavorable barometer.  Sometimes an
aggressive move is what it takes to fire up their natural hunter/prey instincts.  Try this the next time
there are crappie around, but not readily swimming around and hitting your presentations.  You just
may coax them in.

Glen Delorme Jr. with some Devils Lake giants

Glen Delorme Jr. with some Devils Lake ND giants

How do I plan ideal times to fish?

I have been using the meteorological information available from to  predict the best time to go fishing.  It has been accurate more times than not this year.  Here is what I do:

  • Navigate to weblink
  • Type in your zip in the upper right
  • Choose Hourly Forecast under "Weather Report"
  • Choose "Graph" - you can choose "Daily" or "Hourly"
Weather info to help you decide when to fish

Weather info to help you decide when to fish










Notice from the graph that the barometer (black line) starts trending downward with a change in wind direction from the West to the South, starting around 7am Monday morning? The steepness of the drop starts around 10am and continues until around midnight.  I would plan on fishing on Monday afternoon.  When I don't have some vacation planned and only have a little time to go, I always fish the steep drops.  The flat periods associated with stable weather and a West wind can be good too, but nothing beats the dive.  If you are fishing over the course of several days, look for the little drops to open bite windows for the fish.  You can check the forecast, note when those predicted times are, and make sure you are in a good spot paying attention during those periods.