Sweat the Details Sight Fishing
By: Bob Bohland

To some ice anglers the perfect day is spent watching tip-up flags fly in the breeze. To some hard-hitting walleyes on jigging spoons is what it is all about. Some anglers love fishing suspended crappies with soft plastics, but for me, nothing beats sight fishing bluegills. Just the thought of a big bluegill slowly gliding into view at the edge of a hole gets my heart pumping. To me, this is as challenging as fishing gets, going one on one with a bull bluegill that is sitting just a few feet beneath you. Not only is it challenging, but it will you teach you so much about the way fish act in response to different presentations and jigging motions. But it isn't as easy as drilling a hole in shallow water and hoping a big bluegill stumbles into view, it takes some preparation and knowledge.

The first thing an angler needs to think about before going sight fishing is keeping ambient light from going down the hole. Just like when spearing, any light above the hole will not only spook fish, but will also allow the fish to see any movement an angler makes. Even the slightest movement can spook away fish. I prefer to use a flip-over fish house, as this not only allows me to keep light from going down the hole, but also allows me to keep on the move until I find an area where there is active pods of fish. This can be very important on large flats that can take up to a couple hundred holes to dissect.

Another aspect that can help out an angler greatly is having a quality rod, but not just any ice rod will do. An ideal sight fishing rod is between 14 and 18 inches long. Rod builders are finally catching on to the need for specialty rods for different aspects of ice fishing. The best I have found for sight fishing is the Thorne Bros Sweet Pea. It is 16 inches long and is solid graphite, it is light enough for small bluegills but still has the backbone needed to horse in the occasional bass or northern.

One factor most anglers often complain about but seldom do anything about is jig spin. Line twist is an inherent problem with spinning reels. Anglers in Michigan often overcome this by using the most basic of plastic reels that simply hold line. The problem with these reels is that there is no drag for the occasions when a larger fish such as a bass or northern is hooked. A great solution I was shown last year was to use a very small fly reel. With the proper amount of backing a fly reel will have the same amount of line recovery as a spinning reel, it does not make the line twist because the line is just laid flat onto the reel every time. Most fly reels made currently have good disc drags and are comparable in price to spinning reels.

Line choice can also have a huge impact on how many fish you will catch while sight fishing. Obviously, a superline like fireline isn't needed for such a finesse presentation, but fluorocarbon, even with it's great ability to be almost invisible, isn't my first choice either. I find when I am fishing in shallow water, that the stiffness of fluorocarbon does not allow my jig to behave as natural as a limp monofilament. My choice for sight fishing is 2-3lb Berkeley Trilene Ice, though if I am fishing in waters with a lot of bass I will sometimes go up to 4lb.

To me the most important aspect of sight fishing however, is the hardware at the end of the line. By this I mean the jig, plastic/bait, or any other contraption that may be sitting down there for the fish to eat. A jig first and foremost has to be able to do what you want it to do, pretty packaging and colors don't mean much when you are trying to get a jig to shake just the plastic or bait and instead it wants to swim in circles away from the fish. I will generally use a Kodiak Chubby for sight fishing, though I will often tip it with a small plastic as opposed to live bait. The plastics allow me to catch more fish when the action really gets going.

Give sight fishing for bluegills and crappies a try this winter. It is amazing how much you can learn by sitting and watching these fish interact with your lure. Not only is it a ton of fun and a great way to catch big panfish, it will make you a better fisherman.
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Good Fishin,
Matt Johnson
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