Ice Fishing For Bluegill – A How To Guide

There is no better way to burn off your cabin fever than by hitting the ice in the winter to catch bluegill. Ice fishing for bluegill is very easy and you only need a few inexpensive items to pull it off. You won’t need any fancy drag systems or expensive fish finders to find a decent amount of bluegills under the ice.

Ice fishing for bluegill - a large fish caught on a waxworm

A large bluegill caught through the ice.

Getting Started

The main ingredient you will need to get into winter ice fishing excitement is a lake with a supply of bluegill. This should be an easy step, because most ponds and lakes in the US seem to have a decent population of these fish.

Supplies you need

  • An Ice Fishing Rod: You can get a cheap rod without a reel or with a simple spool reel (see the item to the left) for just a few dollars at any decent tackle shop.
  • Line: The best line for ice fishing for bluegill is typically 2-4 pound test. If you go any heavier you will have trouble using the small lures you will need effectively.
  • Jigs or Lures: You should be able to buy an assortment of bluegill jigs for less than 1$ each. Hook sizes in the 8-14 size are the most common. For finicky bluegill you should opt for the smaller hook sizes in 12-14 range. You should have no trouble finding a bluegill or panfish jig combo kit at any decent sporting goods store or online shopping site. If this is a spur of the moment trip and you want to go fishing right now you could always use trout flies and a small split shot for weight.
  • Bait: Waxworms and mealworms are a great bait for bluegill through the ice. They are easy to maintain and can be found at any outdoor sports shop in the winter months.
  • An Auger or Ice Spud: You will need a way to make a hole in the ice. If you are planning to fish in an area where there are a lot of fisherman, you could always find a hole that was previously drilled by another fisherman. If it is very cold and you suspect is would have formed over any holes left over from previous days, you could bring along a hatchet to clear any recently formed ice.
  • A Bucket: This is a great way to transport your catch if you plan to keep any, but it also makes a great way to transport all of your gear and a perfect seat.
  • Warm Clothing: This gear goes without saying, ice fishing can get very cold. I recommend a waterproof pair of heavy mittens to keep you warm and toasty.

Optional Items

  • Power Auger: A gas powered auger will cut through a lot of ice fast. They can be a pain to transport, but they are nice to have if the ice is thick.
  • Shanty or Ice Shelter: These are very cozy to fish in and will help shield you from the wind. Ice shelters can actually allow you to see below the ice, because they block out the light and glare. It can be very exciting watching the fish swim in an admire your bait.
  • Heater: This needs no explanation. The warmer you are the more you will enjoy your ice fishing for bluegill experience.

Finding the Fish

In my experience, the prime areas to locate bluegill in the early ice fishing season is in small bays and cuts. Fish tend to be easy to find on the main parts of a lake in shallow weedy flats. If you know of a great area to catch these fish in the summer, chances are that might be a great spot for ice fishing for bluegill.

A surefire way to find a great spot is to watch where the other fisherman are setting up. Many of them will be familiar with the lake and have caught fish previously in the recent days. If you see an old timer on the ice, picking their brain a bit can also be a great way to get tips.


The most common way to entice bluegill to strike is by jigging your bait to attract their attention. Often times small shakes of your rod will be the key to getting the strikes. On many days however, it seems the best tactic is to not move your bait at all. Sitting back and watching your rod tip for the exciting twitch of a strike is all you will need to do. The perfect presentation depends on the day, so if you find you aren’t getting hits by jigging hard; try to mix it up.

Once you have successfully completed a day of ice fishing for bluegill, you can learn how to fillet them here.

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