It certainly doesn’t feel like we’re near the end of the winter yet but the days are getting longer, the temperatures are improving and the best ice fishing of the year is coming. For me, ice fishing is not the same as fishing in a boat but I still love it. The late ice period in late March and early April is my favourite time to be out there because of the above mentioned weather-related reasons and because the fishing is typically really good, especially for big fish.
Part of the reason the fishing is so good is many of the fish species that we chase can be found in predictable locations. Pike and walleye spawn shortly after ice out so the biggest specimens of each species are starting to move towards the areas where they will spawn. Crappies are grouped up in deep water holes close to where they will move up to spawn later in the spring. Burbot are congregated on main lake humps where they are spawning under the ice and lake trout are just active everywhere as more light starts to get through the ice.
Of all the fish that we have available to chase, nothing gets me more excited than the opportunity at catching giant northern pike. Throughout the summer, most bass anglers get annoyed by pike because they are constantly stealing our lures and tearing up our stuff, but now is the time to catch the big ones. I’ve mentioned it in this column in the past, but using a tip-up with a large dead cisco or sucker minnow beneath it on a quick-strike rig is undeniably the best way to catch your biggest pike. Other than a lucky one or two in open water, the ten biggest pike I have ever had my hands on were in late March or early April, fishing around the first drop-offs coming out of the shallow, weedy bays where they will spawn within a couple weeks of the ice departing. I like to set up in ten to fifteen feet of water and set the baits about a foot off the bottom. As you get later in the season, you can move shallower.
The same scenario plays out with walleyes to some degree as they begin to congregate outside of their spawning areas. As the ice season progresses and especially during the evening prime time period, walleyes can be found shallower than they are all winter. On bigger water like Lake of the Woods or Rainy Lake, I like to focus on fishing structure around the mouth of spawning bays. On smaller, inland lakes, try fishing on safe ice out in front of inflowing creeks. As always, that last hour or two in the evening is prime time to be out there.
It’s a great time to be on the ice. Remember to use caution as temperatures start to rise and ice conditions deteriorate. Try to always go fishing with a friend or two and avoid taking chances once the ice starts to get sketchy. Other than that, enjoy the nice weather and catch some big fish!