Staying mobile key to catching fish

Weather-wise, things sure change from year to year.
My friends and I always look forward to a big run of ice-fishing over the last few weeks of the season. We leave open a bunch of free time because, generally speaking, it is when we experience some of the best walleye, crappie, pike, and lake trout fishing of the entire season.
Add that to the fact that the weather usually is a little more pleasurable than earlier in the year and you have good reason to hit the ice.
Last year, we walked on the ice for the last time on March 30 and I think we all got wet feet coming off that night. This year, we’re likely looking at a late April ice-out.
The fishing has been interesting, to say the least, over the past week. I’ve had several guide trips and have been spending much of my time fishing new spots and areas.
I’m not sure if it was all the east wind we had last week, the cold front that blew in, or that crazy “super-moon” that lit up the skies but the fishing was really marginal from what we usually experience at this time of year.
On most outings, we’ll fish for three or four different species in a day when we go out. Last week, for instance, we would spend the morning fishing for pike and get denied. Move on to crappies in the afternoon and do okay, and then catch a few walleyes in the evening.
The next day, we would catch a few pike, then the crappies and walleyes would be tough. Lake trout were the same way—catch a few one day, slow the next.
I do a lot of fishing and it was like everything was just in a really negative mode, which is unusual for this time of year. Then again, that’s fishing. Just when you think you have it figured out, you get humbled in a hurry.
I’m not saying the overall fishing experiences were bad over the past week, but we just had to work hard and keep moving to stay on top of catching fish.
The key to staying on top of hot bites is to constantly look for new water. More often than not we strike out, but when we do land on a hot spot, we find fish that may not have ever even seen a lure before and the fishing can be fantastic.
We spend a lot more time during this part of the season exploring these new locations because it is so much easier to get around than earlier in the winter when deeper snow and slush can hinder travel.
When it comes to actually catching fish, there are a few trends we’ve noticed over the past week. My buddy, Jamie Bruce, found a new crappie spot recently on a body of water where he had caught them during the open-water period.
He returned a couple of times and caught fish really good. Then the last day that he went back, the fish were gone. But knowing there was a large school of fish on this specific flat, he started drilling holes until he found them.
What he found was that the fish had begun to move shallow from the deep basin where they spent the winter. Crappies spawn in the spring and move shallow shortly after ice-out, and they had started their migration.
So instead of finding them in 28 feet of water, the fish had moved shallower into 17-20 feet of water, at the edge of a shallow, weedy bay.
Late ice is prime time for big pike because they make predictable moves into shallow water, as well. After getting denied any catches in the typical 15- to 20-foot range a few days ago, we moved shallower and set our tip-ups in eight-10 feet and scored within minutes on a 20-pound plus pike.
I’m not saying that every big pike in our waters are in shallow water already. But regardless of the water you fish, you will be able to find some pike shallow right now and the bite should get better in the coming week.
Walleye fishing, meanwhile, has been spotty over the past week and likely a function of them starting to move towards spawning country. We have had some good catches on main lake humps, catching fish in deeper 28-30 feet during the day.
It has been during the evening, those last couple of hours before dark, that we have been having the best luck for big fish—on top of these same humps in 10-15 feet of water on the big lakes.
Big walleyes are feeding up to prepare for the rigours of the spawn and they are shallower than most anglers realize.
On the smaller, backwater lakes, there will be a really good bite until the ice becomes unsafe in shallow bays where they are piling in to spawn.
No matter which species of fish you target under the ice, if you want to catch big fish and big numbers, you must stay mobile until you make contact with fish.
Because the ice is so thick, power augers are a necessity. Keep an open mind and try those inconspicuous spots that others overlook.
The ice will begin to deteriorate relatively quickly in the next week as temperatures continue to rise, so be careful and start walking out if you are not confident of the conditions.
Travel with friends and always let someone know where you are going.

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