Tuesday, December 2, 2014
Monday, October 20, 2014
Chasing Dogs Riding Bicycles
I woke up in a panic. I’ve had nightmares before but this one was different. You see no one was chasing me, I wasn’t falling from a high place and I wasn’t behind the wheel seeing headlights. I had just knocked off a bluegill at the bottom of the hole that I suspected was an honest two pounds. In a world where most anglers rarely find a one pound bluegill, this was a nightmare of epic proportions. Waking up safe and sound on top of the covers and coming to the realization that I had never hooked this fish was a huge relief. Fish of this caliber, while extremely rare, do exist beyond my unusual dreams. Legendary bluegill hunter, Bruce Condello, and his group of bluegill aficionado friends, had shirts made of dogs riding bicycles because honest three pound bluegills are about as common. Bruce specifically has five bluegills to his credit that went an honest three pounds in his home state of Nebraska. If we were to start a fantasy bluegill fishing league, another of my top draft picks would have to be Clayton Davis of North Dakota. Davis recently captured a 12” two pound specimen late ice this past winter and has many other large fish to his credit. While scarfing down a gas station burrito on the way home from chasing bluegills all day may have led me to strange dreams of massive pie plates, I wanted more. I wanted to know what it really takes to land a personal best this ice season. How do these anglers select lakes that have the capabilities to produce this caliber of bluegill? Does it relate to the genetics of the fish or is it simply a matter of finding over fed obese populations? What voodoo mind tricks are involved in finding dogs riding bicycles?
North Dakota angler, Clayton Davis, has really made a name for himself the past few seasons with his social media bluegill pictures. Living in an area where walleyes and perch reign as king, he has found populations of giant untapped bluegills. Davis has a system of finding lakes that have trophy potential and it starts with looking into state stocking reports. He explained to me that you not only need to check available data on bluegill populations but also try to locate lakes with large pike. Lakes that boast populations of large pike typically have a balanced population of bluegills. Balanced populations have the potential to grow large fish versus lakes that have over abundant populations of fish that will end up stunted. Lakes will only support so many inches of fish so these large predators are needed to keep the population in check and the size good.
After selecting lakes with high caliber potential, Davis begins his search. He notes that pencil reeds are paramount when searching out a new lake and big bluegills are usually in close proximity. He will start shallow and work his way through the mid depth weed flats out into the basin. During late ice, which he considers the best time to chase pie plates, he often finds giants in as shallow as three feet of water. Using the weed fishing mode on his Vexilar FLX-28 allows Davis to see his jig and approaching fish in this heavy cover. He explains that the weed mode drowns out clutter from the weeds and has been instrumental in his success. When he begins to find medium sized fish, he will often drill a large concentration of holes to circle that immediate area. This allows him to dissect the weed beds and find the best vantage points. Places for fish to ambush prey, while also providing cover from large pike, are going to hold the largest gills. He described that a sort of pecking order exists in the world of bluegills and big fish will take these prime locations and push smaller fish out into the fringe areas.
The founding father of modern ice fishing, Mr. Dave Genz, has been chasing high caliber bluegills since childhood. He likes to look for big bluegills in lakes that will sometimes experience a partial winter kill. Yes, you read that correct. This is a theory that has worked well for Genz over the years. It goes back to a lake only being able to support so many inches of fish. A partial winter kill will thin the lake enough for the remaining fish to thrive and grow large. In order for this to happen at least part of the lake has to be shallow limiting oxygen after the weeds die off mid-winter. This is one of the few events that can reverse the effects of lakes that house over abundant stunted populations.
Pursuing pie plate sized bluegills is my passion. I have spent countless hours milling over maps and lake data looking for the next lake that may produce a fish over 11”. I have found a few factors that I like to look for when trying new waters. The first would be current. Lakes that are connected by rivers and have some current running through them for whatever reason are always top producers. While I have not completely figured out the correlation, give this trick a try and I promise you won’t be disappointed. The second thing I like to look for is the presence of shrimp. Amphipods or shrimp are high calorie meals for bluegills and can bulk up fish faster than other invertebrates. If obese gills are on the docket this winter, find the lakes with shrimp and current.
The other piece of the puzzle is genetics. Male bluegills pass on genetics to their offspring. Just as my children will never be as tall as Shaqueille O’Neil’s children, 7” male gills do not have the proper genetics to produce 11” bulls. Bruce Condello, owner of the website bigbluegill.com, has his own strain of bluegill called Condello gills. He has created this strain on a private pond that he manages by netting the pond every year in October. By taking out all bluegills except the largest 1/10 of 1 %, he has created a sort of super strain that can grow to 10” in sixteen months. One thing this tells us is that when anglers sort to keep the largest bluegills as table fare, we are genetically making our bluegill populations smaller. It is important that the bluegill aficionado recognizes this and opts to release big bulls and instead harvest more abundant smaller fish.
When hunting down giant Nebraska bluegills on public water, Bruce likes to look for lakes that house large concentrations of juvenile largemouth bass. It goes back to the theory of lakes only being able to support so many inches of fish. According to Condello, largemouth bass in the 11” range are eating machines and keep populations balanced. This allows remaining bluegills enough food to pack on pounds. He also looks for lakes that have, what he describes as, high water quality. Lakes that have submergent vegetation, clear water and low nutrient loads are his top choices. Clear lakes have better sunlight penetration for weed growth. These lakes with rooted vegetation produce oxygen from the bottom up so fish don’t get stressed and can continue to feed even throughout difficult periods of the year. Lakes that are highly nutrient laden lack the sunlight penetration to grow deep rooted vegetation so oxygen comes from algae and can dip to low levels. He also noted the importance of appropriate sized invertebrates for the fish to feed on in the early stages. If another species strips out the 1 mm sized invertebrates, young bluegills must become risk takers, leaving the protection of the weeds in search of an open water food source. This often leads to them being eaten by bass. He believes that having enough of the correct sized invertebrates is more important than the amount of available spawning habitat in a particular lake. Avoiding lakes with small stunted populations is paramount. Lakes with an overabundance of weeds will foster small fish and stunted populations. Ideal waters are comprised of less than 10% weeds. Heavily weeded lakes will protect more bluegills from predation than the food source can support and the population will stunt. Condello’s best advice for an angler looking to ice a personal best this winter is to first, find lakes that have big bluegills and second, sort through a lot of fish. Visualize the items that a large bluegill may eat that a medium sized bluegill cannot. Big bluegills have bigger mouths than their medium sized counter parts so bigger baits are often necessary. Pay attention to the depth that the bigger fish are using. Don’t be afraid to leave medium sized fish to search out giants.
The ice season is finally upon us and with it brings an opportunity to spend time with friends and family on the hard water again. Whether you or I ice a personal best or not this season, the charm is what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope (John Buchan). I guess I just love chasing dogs riding bicycles.
The author Garett Svir is the owner of Slab Seeker Guide Service http://www.slabseekerfishing.com and specializes in chasing big central Minnesota bluegills.
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Thursday, July 24, 2014
Tuesday, January 7, 2014
By: Garett Svir
Photos: Kim Svir
Fall is a time of plenty for the outdoor enthusiast. While many pass the days in tree stands waiting for a wily buck to slip up, others wait in fields for fall migrants to pass overhead. Serious walleye anglers are experiencing their best big fish bite of the year over sharp breaks and deep water. Days are devoted to spending quality time with family over a warm bowl of chili while cheering on a favorite team. Families make pilgrimages north to view fall colors or hunt grouse. The fall wish list can get pretty long but for serious panfish aficionados, the fall signals a time of large concentrations of hungry panfish in predictable patterns. Fall brings an opportunity to target some of the largest specimens in a particular body of water. You’ll find that locating and catching bluegills in the fall is not much different than at first ice.
As late summer rolls around and water temperatures get high, big bluegills often evacuate shallow water leaving behind their smaller counterparts. These fish typically stay suspended on the thermocline until fall turnover. Once the water turns over, some of these large fish will return to the weeds while others stay suspended over deep water. Here they generally stay together in small schools of 10-20 fish. These sight feeders are always moving and grazing on anything that catches their eye. Bluegill’s food sources include such things as algae, aquatic vegetation, zooplankton, insect larvae, insects, fish eggs and occasionally minnows. In the fall, packing on pounds for leaner times becomes a priority. Some studies show fish eating up to 35% of their body weight weekly. As water temperatures begin to drop, fish tend to stay more active during daytime hours, not limiting anglers to first and last light.
I recently had the opportunity to spend some time on one of my favorite big bluegill haunts, by none other than legendary angler Dave Genz. When I picked him up at the dock, he was armed with his trusted Vexilar FLX-28, a pocket full of euro larvae and an assortment of his favorite ice jigs. As we made our way out into the basin, familiar lines began to show up on our flashers, reminiscent of being on the ice. Dave knew how to interpret these lines very well as it only took moments before he was tussling with his first bluegill.
Genz suggested anchoring in both the front and back of the boat to keep presentations vertical and visible on electronics. Too much boat sway would bring jigs outside the view of our electronics and leave us fishing blind. He showed me a new tungsten jig that will be available later this fall, called the Dropper. The heavy tungsten allowed him to use a small profile jig that stayed vertical and dropped quickly to feeding fish.
HSM Pro Staffer, Mike Raetz, also professes to catch his largest bluegills during fall, suspended over deep water. Mike often uses his ice rods to jig vertically over the side of the boat. He likes how shorter rods keep his jig inside the cone angle and visible on his Vexilar. “One big split shot, about a foot above my jig, is all I need to maintain depth control,” says Raetz. Mike employs a single anchor off the front of the boat once fish are located. This keeps him swaying and working different fish, picking off the most aggressive ones before moving to his next location.
Fall is a busy time indeed with hunting and family but if you do find some spare time don’t forget the often overshadowed bluegills. Finding large concentrations of big bluegills in predictable locations is a great reason to enjoy some of the last open water fishing of the year. Trust me when I say… you’ll be glad you did.
HSM Outdoors is a group of anglers from around the
States dedicated to
making you more successful in the field and on the water. For more information
on fall bluegills visit http://www.hsmoutdoors.com. Canada
Scratching the Panfish Itch
By: Garett Svir
Photography: Kim Svir
It’s finally my favorite time of year, early ice. My auger is tuned up and ready. My new Clam shelter is assembled, and my Vexilar battery is charged. My thoughts have started to drift to what skills I would like to hone this season. The addicting part of ice fishing for me is putting together the puzzle and unlocking the mysteries of the world below the frozen surface. That equals finding fish where others seldom look. According to a recent survey on my Facebook page, an overwhelming amount of anglers say the greatest skill an ice angler can improve on is the art of finding fish. This was seen as a greater skill than jigging style and bite detection. Then why do some anglers congregate over community hot spots, so accepting that the fish are simply not biting? These anglers have yet to be stricken with what we refer to, in my group of friends, as the fish itch.
The fish itch is extremely contagious and usually comes on shortly after having success off the beaten path. Far out of sight, anglers with the fish itch, strike out confidently over fresh untapped ice. Symptoms begin as a feeling of persistence that drives you to keep searching until you have located fish. As symptoms eventually progress, you will begin to find larger concentrations of willing biters. Rumor has it that some anglers, who have had the itch for years, will eventually be able to pursue some of the largest specimens in a given lake, known as slabs and bulls. You will begin to recognize anglers with the itch this winter as they move quickly between holes, Vexilar in hand. If you have been stricken, here are some ways that you can scratch the fish itch this season.
Lessons from the Past
Taking lessons from the past is a huge part of finding fish on your own and gaining confidence away from the community hot spot. When going to a new body of water, try to find areas that have the same characteristics as the areas where you have caught fish in the past. Panfish tend to relate to similar areas on most bodies of water. Learning to identify fish holding characteristics and translating them to different bodies of water will lead to future success. One of my favorite crappie spots is a 20’ depression in the middle of a small shallow bay. When I study a lake map of a new body of water, I always highlight areas that mimic my favorite spot back home. One tip can be to visualize a contour map in 3D. Looking for fish holding areas on a piece of paper can be difficult. When you begin to see maps in 3D, you will get a feel for how fish relate to a particular spot. You will begin to understand how they find cover from predators, and how they find food.
Drive thru Panfish
Drive through the community hot spot. It is always worth seeing what type of areas the locals are fishing. Let’s say many of the permanent houses are spread out over a 30’ hole, surrounded by a shallow weed flat. I will begin to search the lake map for other areas with similar traits. Chances are if you can find a similar spot with less fishing pressure, you may hit the jackpot. It can be a huge advantage to work in a team with one angler walking ahead drilling, while the other follows with the Vexilar. Quickly driving up to each hole on the snowmobile and swinging the transducer in different directions will let you know if fish are present. If fish are seen when swinging the transducer, it will alert you to which direction to drill next. Once located, we drill holes closer together until we are right on top of the bio mass. Missing a school of fish by ten feet is like missing by a mile. The new Pro View Transducer from Vexilar has been a real game changer the past few seasons. It allows an angler to control the cone angle with the gain knob. The ability to search a larger area with fewer holes is a huge advantage and allows for more time scratching the itch.
Searching shallower than everyone else will often produce the largest panfish in a given water system. Panfish grow large because they are able to avoid predators, including anglers. Noise from anglers can push large panfish out of deep water and into heavy cover. Once in the weeds they will find the oxygen, food, and cover they need to thrive. The two factors that seem to draw fish are green healthy weeds and proximity to deep water. Coontail and curly leaf pondweed specifically will often stay green, even through the harshest fall weather. Hungry panfish will roam through the weed stocks, like a pack of lions, looking for that next easy meal. While pre-fishing for a tournament last winter, my wife and I stumbled on an interesting pattern. While most anglers drilled out deep basins looking for plankton feeders, we found huge bluegills gorging on Amphipods or freshwater shrimp on a large weed flat. Watching these fish with our underwater camera uncovered larger bluegills than we had ever encountered on this lake. We watched in fascination as these fish made their way through the weeds with ease, sucking shrimp off the stocks. Shallow water is where fishing fast really shines. Because fish aren’t as visible in shallow water on electronics, we briefly fish each hole we drill. By drilling a large amount of holes we are assured to find the open patches, pathways and edges, which hold the largest numbers of fish.
It’s a Slippery Slope
Steep drop off’s surrounding main lake structure can also hold large concentrations of fish. These areas hold food such as mayfly larva and dragonfly larva. While these food sources can be present in many different areas, the base of a steeply dropping slope will provide some of the highest concentrations. For years, panfish guru Dave Genz has talked about these sticky bottom areas. These areas house the correct type of substrate to allow larva to burrow.
It takes a certain type of angler to strike out away from the pack to uncover that next hot pattern, an angler with the fish itch. Once you get the itch, you may acquire a renewed passion for the hardwater season. It just may leave you dreaming for a late spring.
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
I had an opportunity to chase some back country bluegills with the crew from HSM this past weekend. The morning started off slow as we worked through a large coontail flat that had produced some nice fish for me on Friday. After striking out and what seemed like a million holes later, we made our way into the 9' depression in the middle of the bay. Small perch begin to light up our Vexilar's as they raced up to steal our euro larva. Must have been a large bug hatch going on from the amount of fish located over the mud basin. Every once and awhile a larger fish would come through high in the water column and these were bluegills. While we didn't capture any true backwoods monsters on this trip, our average fish was around 9" with the largest specimens going 9.75". The hot bait of the day was the Half Ant from Clam and seemed to produce fish with whatever we happened to tip it with. All fish were released to pass on those good genetics. I hope this snow coming doesn't goof things up for us. Tight Lines!