Last chance for ice fishing

When I think about March, ice fishing is the first thing that comes to mind. Since the early 2000’s I have spent more days on the ice through this month than doing anything else, taking advantage of the weather and the excellent fishing opportunities. Many of my biggest walleye, pike, lake trout, crappie, whitefish and even burbot were all caught during the nicest month of the winter.

Over the years I have hosted friends from all over North America to experience ice fishing in Sunset Country. There have been TV shows filmed, photo shoots, lure and equipment testing, even outdoor writer’s events. I’ve always been proud to share my knowledge of my home area with people who never get to experience ice fishing adventures like we do. It’s simply a great time to be outdoors as the days are getting longer and the fishing is so good.

When it comes to making the most of your March fishing trips, you should understand that many species are starting to move so the best fishing locations for some species are different than they were earlier in the winter.

Spring spawning fish like walleye and pike make predictable movements towards shallow bays where they will do their thing shortly after ice out. The biggest specimens of both of these species will stage in the last deep water heading into these shallow areas for the last month of the ice season. If you have a map of the waterbody that you are fishing, I would look for water in the 10-20 foot range before the shallow flats begin. If you’re fishing a remote lake without mapping availability, it just takes some experimentation to find these staging areas.

Tip-ups with large, dead ciscos or sucker minnows, rigged on a quick-strike rig, remain the number one way to make contact with monster pike. It’s the way that I have caught the top ten biggest pike I have ever had my hands on. Look for walleyes to set up around structure in these areas if it exists, or expect walleyes to cruise these flats much like the pike and expect the best bites to happen in that last hour before dark. Traditional baits still work best, like a jig and live minnow or a Buck-Shot Spoon tipped with a minnow head but fish activity levels are high so it’s a good time to explore trying new baits as well.

I mentioned burbot earlier because while I understand they are still considered a nuisance fish by many in this area, we have some incredible burbot fisheries, including Lake of the Woods. On the U.S. side of the lake, the Minnesota state record has been broken several times in recent years with fish from Lake of the Woods. They actually spawn under the ice, typically in late February and into March, on rock structure in 20-35 feet of water in my experience. Typical main lake humps where we target walleyes are often prime spawning areas for burbot which helps explain why we run into them so often this time of year while we are walleye fishing. They are a great fighting fish, they are aggressive and often bite your offering so they provide good action and they are good eating if you give them a chance. Their flesh has a lobster-like texture. The best bait for me has been a larger spoon with a couple of minnows gobbed on to the hook.

March is a great time to be on the ice to catch all species of fish. The fish are moving, so get out for the last few days on the ice. -submitted photo

Lake trout and crappies can be targeted on the same locations that they show up on throughout the winter but their activity levels often increase as the snow melts and more light starts to get through the ice. Knowing that these fish are more active, moving around until you find the fish can be beneficial to having those really memorable days. If the fish are there, they will probably bite.

It’s an amazing time of year to be outside! Sadly, I’m missing my favourite month on the ice this year as I am back on the road this week, headed for Alabama to continue the Bassmaster Elite Series season next week at Pickwick Lake. Pickwick is the lake where I caught my biggest bass ever so I’m excited to get back out there next week. The tournament season is steady for the next couple of months so I will not likely return until after all the ice is gone. Stay safe out there everybody and have some fun!