Some of the shallowest panfish we catch each winter are caught in March during late ice on many fisheries. Fun sight-fishing patterns often emerge.

Many anglers assume that aquatic vegetation has to be green and vibrant in order to hold fish. While still green weeds do hold fish, dead stands of weeds will also hold fish if the weeds provide cover and there is good oxygen. When the ice begins to rot along the shorelines and water begins to seep into the lake along the shorelines, shallow water can be extremely productive.

One of my absolute favorite locations for looking for shallow water bluegills at late ice is really shallow pencil reeds. Pencil reed beds are common on many lakes and often hold big fish. In many cases…depending on the thickness of the ice, we might only be fishing in two to three feet of water under the ice.

These pencil reed locations can really vary in size and profile. Some dish bowl lakes might simply see pencil reeds lining the rim of the lake where there is the right sand bottom composition. Other locations might be prominent reefs and bars of several acres. My favorite type of location features pencil reeds that are growing out into five or six feet of water with a little bit of a roll to the contour where there is a sharper break running along the outside edge of the reeds.

There are many strategies to fishing these reed beds, but there is one overriding challenge. You have to drill several holes to really figure out the nuances of the location but drilling a lot of holes over these shallow locations seems to push the fish off.

Can’t prove this, but it seems like electric augers and smaller bits seem less intrusive. Six and four inch augers shine for cutting enough holes to really figure out these locations. On the flip side, these smaller holes are terrible for sight fishing. If you are planning on strictly sight fishing, use an eight or ten inch auger to give you a bigger window and let everything settle down after you drill your holes. Another tip is to not drive vehicles over the location or drag anything on the ice. When initially figuring out a location, we typically drill a lot of holes to become familiar with the spot.

You can walk from hole to hole and fish, but what we so often find is that we catch a lot more fish by recognizing the sweet spots and waiting out fish. The sweet spots are often open lanes and cuts, troughs and dips in the bottom that funnel fish movements. Once you recognize and locate these spots, you can sit and let everything settle down. I’ve seen it happen often where you drill your holes and it takes five to ten minutes for fish to come back underneath you. You can definitely fish too aggressively and move too much in this type of situation because the reality is that fish might be scooting 10 to 20 feet away from each step you take. I have also seen situations where fish wouldn’t swim underneath a shelter or sled. As a rule of thumb, you can get away with a lot more noise and presence if you are alone and on the spot first. As angling pressure increases over multiple days however, it seems like fish become more sensitive to everything. The more you fish a location and become familiar with the spot, the less holes you have to drill and the less intrusive you can be.

Big bull bluegills in pencil reeds can be a handful. These fish can wrap up your line and break it. Because this can often be combat fishing, I often opt for heavier line like the Frost Four Pound Mono. This isn’t finesse fishing. Because four pound test can lack sensitivity, I often use tungsten jigs even in this often shallow water just because the added weight of tungsten improves the performance of heavier lines.

These patterns are notorious for producing big bluegills and this is fun fishing. Much like trying to pull a heavy bass from out underneath a dock or laydown, there is an element of drama when fighting big fish in heavy cover. Focus on the troughs, holes and bowls or any sharp outside edge that is in tight proximity to high dense stands of rushes and you will typically find big bluegills at late ice.

About The Author

Jason Mitchell

Over the past decade, Jason Mitchell has earned a legendary status as a professional hunting and fishing guide on North Dakota’s Devils Lake. Jason began his career as a guide at an early age and in the span of a decade, built one of the largest open water guide services in existence (Mitchell’s Guide Service head quartered out of Woodland Resort) and was a key member of Devils Lake’s famed Perch Patrol Guide Service during the winter. Mitchell also spent up to seventy five days each fall as a waterfowl hunting guide before expanding into television. During that time, Mitchell logged thousands of hours on the water and ice, earning a reputation for not only being an extraordinary guide, hunter and angler but also a gifted writer, communicator and promoter. Jason’s credibility is grounded by a combination of extensive time on the water, a reputation for honesty and integrity. During Mitchell’s career as a guide, he worked with a “who’s who” of outdoor writers, television show hosts and celebrities in the fishing and hunting industry. Mitchell had a well earned status of being one of the elite guides making a living from fishing and hunting. The hunting and fishing industry began to realize what Mitchell’s guide customers did long before, several writers and television hosts began to trust Mitchell as a guide they could count on for both strong editorial and video footage. Mitchell’s experience and time on the water or in the field is hard to duplicate. “A step into Jason Mitchell’s boat makes any angler a much better fishermen because Jason is so in tuned to what is happening on the water and is such a masterful teacher,” explains veteran outdoor writer Mark Strand. While Mitchell’s reputation as a guide, hunter and angler may be recognized, what continues to drive his popularity is an uncommon modesty and humbleness that is refreshing to many viewers.