Don’t Be “Late Ice” Late

By Jerry Carlson

The winter was already waning into the late stages when ice fishing friend, Dave Genz, gave me a call. Although we usually fish together a few days each winter, our schedules had been full and finding an open day that we had in common had been a challenge. In this case, our free time meshed quite well and a date was set.

As we arrived at the landing, it was very obvious that the ice was poor. The water around the edge made access with our ice machines a little trickier than normal. Once up and running, we quickly worked our way to a shallow weed flat that Genz had fished a few days earlier.

As we started kicking open old holes and prepared to fish, Genz explained to me how he had caught bluegills in this location in years past. On many lakes, late season gills have a tendency to move up onto weedy flats and start a pretty serious eating campaign.

There were enough weeds on the bottom that it was a bit tricky to read fish by just dropping a transducer into each hole. Instead, we dropped a line down to see what kind of activity we could generate, or we used an underwater camera.

It didn’t take long to locate the roaming gills. Although the fish were not all trophies, we were able to hook a good number of them that were in the nine inch category. Catching nine inch bluegills without having to drive for half a day seemed like a pretty good deal to me.

By the time early afternoon rolled around and we headed back for shore, the warm temperatures were creating more stress on the ice. At the landing, it became obvious that in a day or two, fishing this lake would be strictly a walking affair. It was getting late for even the ‘late ice’ period.

Late ice is an interesting concept in fishing. The whole winter process changes during this period. The lethargic fish that are so hard to catch in the depths of winter suddenly become very hungry and interested in eating once again. According to Genz, this is all about oxygen.

When ice caps a lake, it is like putting a lid on a jar. Fish, plants, and water are sealed in for the winter. If plants continue to receive light, they will make oxygen. Once the ice gets thick or snow covered, the decaying plants consume oxygen. Fish without oxygen become uninterested in eating and fall into a mode of lackluster activity.

The oxygen problem is not much of an issue on big, deep lakes. However, on smaller and shallower lakes, there is less water for fish to work with and oxygen becomes a major factor in determining how fish bite after winter fully sets in.

Once warmer weather comes, melting ice and snow puts a shot of fresh water back into the lakes. This fresh water rejuvenates the fish and causes an increased level of activity. It also sparks the movement of insect larvae and zoo plankton that panfish are interested in eating.

Weed beds that showed little life in the coldest part of the winter will now attract bluegills and crappies. These fish will congregate to take advantage of the new feeding situation.

This scenario, called the ‘late ice period,’ is exactly what Genz and I were fishing. It is a time when shallow can be good. It is a period when remnant weed beds are proven places to catch panfish.

Because of the shallow nature and weedy conditions, underwater cameras can be ideal. Where electronics will read off of the weeds, the camera will allow you to see exactly what is roaming amongst the weeds. In the down viewing mode, you can also use it to sight fish your panfish.

Often times, the late ice period is short lived. Above normal temperatures can chew up the ice in a big hurry. For this reason, when the late ice period arrives, anglers have to be ready to go. Those that hesitate will miss out on some of the best ice fishing of the entire season.

In other words, if you are a little late for the ‘late ice,’ you stand a chance of missing it altogether.

First Published December 28th, 2005

Winter Fishing Systems, Inc 2019