THE ICE IS ROTTEN…
BUT THE FISHING’S NOT
By: Kyle Sorensen
Let’s face it, this winter has been a fierce one. Many days well below zero, various weather advisories, maybe a [few] back-breaking hours on the lake digging out your vehicle? It hasn’t been an easy one but I know one thing, we sure were given ice and a lot of it. Before you start the ever daunting task of first, finding all of your hard water equipment (Isn’t it amazing where some of it turns up?) and second, cleaning and storing it away for the season; WAIT!
As we pass into March, the bittersweet transformation to the late ice period begins. Bitter, because I know the ice fishing season will soon come to an end but sweet, because the best fishing I have yet to have all ice season is about to start. The ice might be getting rotten but the fishin’s sure not!
In this article, we are going to go into some reasons why I truly love this time of year and what factors go into my reasoning. Some of these factors can be said for various bodies of water but most will address my home waters of the Lake Winnebago System.
Late ice offers up a higher chance of those 35+ degree, calm, sunny days while there is still plenty of ice. It makes the trip more enjoyable and less of a hassle. It allows us not to have to hunker down in the portable shelter but rather sit on the side of a four wheeler, snowmobile or bucket, focusing on lure presentation and not about how our eyelashes have icicles.
It is no secret, when it’s warm out, we tend to be more active outside. We think more clearly and in turn we can operate more effectively and efficiently. This is good news for our mobility efforts from spot-to-spot, lure presentation and the overall eagerness to work for our prize catches. If we are comfortable, we can concentrate and in turn, catch more fish.
The weather plays an important role not only for us but also for the system as the warming weather begins the system “reboot”. The rivers open, melting water and rain purges oxygen into the main bodies of water and rays of sunlight begin to penetrate deeper into the water column. This in turn, gives the ecosystem the boost it needs to ready up for a busy summer.
During other winter periods, we do not know where different species will be located, nor where they are heading, without some work. Sure, we can come up with an educated guess from the previous years’ experience but it’s not always a definitive answer. We all know it usually takes a lot of time to locate and pattern the fish movements throughout the winter months, however, we are given a heightened advantage during the late ice period.
Our location selection patterns should change during the transition from mid-winter ice to late ice. By now, we have an idea where our targeted species have been locating themselves throughout the past months. Taking this into account, we look to where they will be heading. If we are strictly chasing big gills, we might start looking to the shallower water depths as the ecosystem shock has sparked some life into the lifeless weeds. If we are on the hunt for ol’ marble eyes, we know they will be starting their classic spawning run so we might begin to look closer to the river areas.
On the Lake Winnebago System, various species begin to “stage” at, in and around the rivers for their annual spawning runs. When I say “stage,” I don’t mean they just sit around for a few days. It’s best to think of it as an area in which the schools bottle-neck and all the travel routes merge together. As these first schools begin to congregate in these areas, it is not uncommon to find fish under the first hole you drill. Does it always happen this easy? No, but if you can find safe ice around a staging area, and time it correctly, there will be large numbers of fish to be had.
A fair number of these fish will be active as they will be building up on the energy for their grueling journey. With the high numbers of fish in these confined areas, the forage base becomes very limited within a short period of time. This means our presentations could show an amplified success rate with a more aggressive approach.
A key point to note is this. Fish will travel from all corners in each lake to get to their spawning grounds. If you can locate and stay on these movements, which will obviously end in the river areas (for some species), you will catch the fish and for a longer period of time.
I can’t stress it enough. Whether it is early ice, mid-winter ice or late ice, mobility is, and always has been the key. The great part about fishing late ice is that we know where the fish will end up and by adjusting our movements (through trial and error) we will be able to track the targeted species all the way to their final winter location.
I stay very mobile and as I discussed in a previous area, the weather allows us to be more active outside. A warm day allows me to sit on the side of my snowmobile and offer a presentation that I would normally comfortably offer while within the warmth of a shack. Granted I must dress a little warmer but by limiting the amount of set-up and take-down time, I spend more time fishing and ultimately finding and catching fish more fish.
Whether it is the first or last spot for the day, my routine is as follows: Drilling one hole, taking just enough slush out of the hole to get my bait down, dropping the transducer down and jigging for 10-15 minutes (some might say this is too long). If I do not produce the results I am after, the transducer comes back up and I’m off after noting the details of my strike-out in the GPS. It’s that simple. Having my auger mounted on the back of my sled and traveling light allows me to spend less time messing around with other equipment I might need in other conditions.
Late ice, in a nutshell, is a blast. The most important thought I would like you to take out of this article is safety. With warming temperatures, melting ice and maybe some rain mixed in, ice conditions can deteriorate quickly. Once the safety issue has been taken into account, I will say this. Use the edge Mother Nature has given us. We know the fish will be moving and where they will be moving to. Through the use of mobility and trial and error, track and pattern these movements so you are able to take full advantage of everything late ice has to offer. Before you know it, it will have come and gone.
Until the hard water hits again next season, Tight Lines. Stay Dry.