As the first inklings of spring emerge in Northern Michigan, and lakes begin to ice out, stalk the shorelines to reel in famished bluegills.

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The days of late winter and early spring often boast brooding gray skies and a sparse landscape not yet sparked to life. Despite the bleak vistas, the lake shallows exposed by receding ice are often teeming with activity. Set out for smaller bodies that will be among the first to shed their winter ice sheet. Lakes like Arbutus and Cedar (just minutes from downtown Traverse City) are viable options for fishing the spring thaw.

As your boots submerge in the lake-bottom ooze, watch for the water surface to pop and gurgle as bluegills in the reeds retreat in haste. Thankfully, the fish are a forgetful breed. Stand still, and soon the school will ease back to reeds they fled.

While a canoe or kayak may be suitable once open water appears, wading the shallows is the most efficient means for early spring efforts. Hike up your waders and head for the north shore. This time of year, the northern lip of the lake is exposed to more sunlight and winds that push in warm top water. This fringe of rising temps will corral cold-blooded bluegill seeking pleasant climes.

Like all methods of panfishing the pleasure lies in its simplicity. Pack in a 6.5- to 8-foot medium-light or ultra-light rod for hucking your presentation over the pike reeds. A slim float (fixed or slip bobber), one to two small split shot and a number 8 Aberdeen hook are all that’s required. Depths are likely to range only two to four feet with ’gills cruising the upper portion, so set your hook to dangle 12 to 18 inches below bobber. Waxworms are a reliable initial bet with trout worms on backup. The smaller presentation is more akin to grubs and larvae that drop from the limbs of overhanging trees.

Select an appealing piece of real estate, settle in and other than casting, be still. Excessive movement will startle fish that are sidling up to the shallows. Cast your line a good distance—space between yourself and your bait diminishes incidental disturbance. Aim for where weeds meet open water, reel up slack, and let it drift. Patience is your best ally as prespawn bluegill tend to be peckish. Watch as the float is slowly submerged or slyly pulled sideways, and then set the hook! Keep rod tip up to water-ski the fish over weeds and obstructions.

The consistent action of ice-out bluegill fishing is a great way to jumpstart your spring angling aspirations. Rather than waiting on open water, don the waders and hone in on a mess of early season bluegills.

Equipment Recommendation:

For those with a preference for slip bobbers over spring locked, consider the Slip Lock Bobber from Clearly Outdoors. Easily slip the line into a groove cut into the side of the float and then secure the two snaps. Bypass retying the hook or the thread-the-needle tedium of traditional slip bobbers and spend more time preying on panfish.

Andrew VanDrie writes from Traverse City.

Fishing in Northern Michigan

Photo(s) by Andrew VanDrie