Prime time for ice-fishing

Since I returned home to Canada last week after a few weeks of bass fishing in the southern U.S., I wasted little time before getting on the Sunset Country ice to catch some fish.
Before I left on this last trip, I had booked several guide trips for ice-fishing over the last couple weeks of March, so I’ve been fishing almost every day, catching walleye, pike, lake trout, crappie, and perch.
Overall, the fishing has been okay but not awesome yet. There still is more than three feet of ice on area lakes and a good amount of snow on top of the ice, so it seems like the fish have not really turned up their activity levels, which is going to happen in the coming weeks as the snow melt allows more light into the water.
As more light enters the water at this time of year, I think it signals the fish that the long winter is nearing its end and that it’s time to start eating again. For spring spawning fish like walleye and pike, they make predictable moves every year during the late ice period to stage just out from where they will spawn shortly after ice-out.
This presents the best time of the entire year to catch a trophy walleye or pike as these fish are swollen with eggs and they are hungry.
Over the past week, we caught quite a few walleyes on main lake humps in 25-40 feet of water. The numbers were good but we did not catch a lot of big fish like I expect we’ll see in the coming weeks as we start to fish shallower water–closer to where these fish are going to spawn.
While you can catch walleye on any number of lures, I seldom ever use anything other than a quarter-ounce Northland Buck-Shot Spoon. I have caught thousands of walleyes on these spoons over the years and it is, in my opinion, the best ice-fishing lure ever made.
I tip the spoon with a minnow head and it’s ready to go.
I get asked quite often, “Why only use the head,” and the reason is that a whole minnow makes the package too big and the minnow will diminish the fluttering action of the spoon, which triggers the fish to bite.
A head stays on the hook pretty good and adds a little bit of scent that often is needed to get bites.
Lake trout fishing was so-so, as well, but I know it will get better as more light starts hitting the depths in the coming weeks. The traditional white tube jig was the best trout lure for us while a few fish were caught on spoons, as well.
One thing I have noticed this year on Lake of the Woods is I’ve been catching more big perch than I ever have before and it’s been fun. They provide some good action and these big ones-perch more than 10 inches long-are great to eat.
Their thin fillets cook up fast and crispy; they are excellent.
It’s funny because growing up in Kenora, you would never be caught dead with a perch in your bucket of fish. But times have changed and now we have people that actually are going out to fish for perch and they are keeping them to eat.
If you catch a few, give them a try!
My favourite part of the late ice period is that we run into good numbers of monster pike as they stage outside of the shallow, weedy bays where they will spawn following ice-out.
While you will get the odd big pike jigging a lure, my friends and I only use quick-strike rigs, like the Northland Predator Rig, tipped with a dead cisco and set up beneath a tip-up to fish for big pike.
Set the bait about a foot off the bottom and let it sit there. You will be amazed at how well this works and how many giant pike you will catch, trust me! We had some action this past weekend for pike, including one giant fish topping 20 pounds, but it will get better in the coming weeks, as well.
Don’t put the ice-fishing gear away yet as the best part of the season is just around the corner. But be careful out there because the conditions can change and deteriorate quickly at this time of year!