Last stand on the spring ice

Much of my love for ice fishing comes from getting to spend time on the ice this time of year. It’s enjoyable being out on the ice when you don’t have to be bundled up in full winter gear and the fishing can be really good late in the season. Obviously, conditions will deteriorate quickly in many areas so being cautious is important to stay safe out there during this last stand on the ice.

The reason the fishing is better than the rest of the winter is some species of fish can be found in predictable locations where they will spawn shortly after ice out. For other species, they get excited as the snow melts off, allowing more light beneath the ice. Incoming runoff water also rejuvenates oxygen supplies, evidently increasing activity levels.

Late ice is prime time to catch big pike, but be mindful of ice safety while out on the lake.

Walleye and pike spawn shortly after ice-out in shallow bays or creeks so at this point in the ice season many of these specimens, especially the bigger spawning fish, are staging in front of these areas where anglers can have a time with them. On the bigger, deeper lakes like Lake of the Woods or Rainy Lake, I like to concentrate my efforts in ten to 20 feet of water, near the first drop-off where the shallow water drops into this range.

You can try around points or pieces of structure but flats in these areas will hold these fish as well. Fishing in these locations is the highlight of the ice fishing season for me. I love when I can catch big pike and walleye out of the same holes. Since we can use two lines per person on the ice, I like to jig with a Northland Buck-Shot Spoon on one rod and use a tip-up with a quick-strike rig and a frozen cisco or sucker minnow for the second line. The spoon is for walleye and the tip-up is for the pike. It’s a great combo this time of year. You can get the odd pike to bite a lure but you’ll increase your odds significantly if you use a tip-up with a dead bait rigged up beneath it.

On some of the smaller inland lakes, you can find walleye and pike in even shallower water as they get ready for their ice-out activities. It’s all about experimenting and fishing to figure out where the fish are. In this shallower water, electronics are not as effective as they are in deeper water but they will show you when fish come in for a look.

Fishing for lake trout, crappie, perch and whitefish can be really good during this late ice time-frame as well. As I mentioned earlier, I think that the increased light penetration as the snow melts really increases fish activity. They know that another long winter is nearing its end and I think that makes them happy. The run-off water also helps to signal the end of winter as well.

For these species, continue fishing the same locations that have been good throughout the winter. They will usually hang around until the ice is gone before making any big moves.

I mentioned when I started this column, safety on the ice is important, especially this time of year as conditions deteriorate. On many of my favourite pike and walleye spots, we’ll use ATV’s or snowmobiles while we still have significant amounts of ice but once we get less than maybe a foot and a half of ice, it’s time to consider walking out. There are plenty of places to fish late in the season where we can walk out to catch a nice evening on the ice. When the ice starts to get soft, it’s probably time to hang up the auger and call it a season.

Remember, if you put yourself in a precarious position and fall through the ice, then need help, you’re putting others at risk, so when it’s time to pack it in for the year, pack it in. There is no fish worth risking your life for. A reminder that the walleye season closes later this week on April 15 until the third Saturday in May.