Prime time for ice fishing in the northwest

After a few weeks of fishing in my boat, it was actually nice to get back on the ice over the past week since I returned home from my first couple of bass tournaments of the 2023 season. We’ve finally hit that point in the winter where we can see the end. The days are getting longer and the sun is starting to kick out a lot more heat than it has over the past few months. For the ice angler, the best fishing of the season is coming up.

Over the years, I have spent a lot of time on the ice in March both fun fishing and guiding. It’s the best opportunity of the year to hook up with a personal best pike or walleye. Both of these species spawn shortly after ice out so they show up in predictable locations and they are as heavy as they are all year. They have to eat to build energy for the spawning process which is why the fishing can be so good.

I’m of the belief that as the snow starts to melt off the ice, the incoming water boosts oxygen and increases light penetration, making all species more active. I’ve had excellent days in March fishing for lake trout, whitefish and crappie after the melt starts. You just get a feeling out there that everything is getting revitalized, that even the fish know that another long winter will soon be over.

While we had an amazing weekend of weather, we haven’t had the big melt yet. Conditions on the ice are actually pretty good considering how much snow we got earlier in the winter. I have been out for a few trips on the ice and haven’t encountered any slush but there is still a fair amount of snow out there.

Perch and walleye are some of the finest eating fish in fresh water. Catching and eating them fresh is always a real treat after being away.

After a few weeks away, I always look forward to eating some fresh fish – perch and walleye being my favourites. My trips have involved heading out late on a few of the nice afternoons and catching the prime time bite, those last couple of hours before dark. While we weren’t catching many big fish, the numbers of perch and walleye have been good and there have been a couple of great fish dinners.

The walleyes move a little bit shallower late in the day where they are seemingly looking for food. I have been fishing on top of humps in 25-28 feet of water. You likely would have to fish a little bit deeper earlier in the day but during the prime time bite, you can get on top of the structure in a bit shallower water. My bait of choice remains the same as always, a 3/8 ounce Northland Buck-Shot Spoon tipped with a minnow head.

As we get later into March, obviously it goes without saying, but always think safety first. Eventually the ice will get to a point where it is no longer safe so when things really warm up, keep an eye on the conditions. Between now and then, there is some great fishing to be had.
For pike and walleye, they will start to stage near the first drop off in front of areas where they’ll spawn after ice out. Crappies remain in the deep holes where they spend the winter until the end of the season, while lake trout and whitefish continue to patrol main lake structure through the rest of the ice season.

It’s a great time to be on the ice. The nicer days just kind of make you feel good and the fresh air will give you the best sleep you can get. You just might catch your biggest fish of the year.