Don’t Float Your Boat Just Yet!

Genz starts by worrying that he will sound like a broken record if he urges people to keep ice fishing until the ice honeycombs and rots away. Then he is reminded that lots of younger ice anglers don’t know what records are, and that he should maybe worry about sounding like a broken iPod.

“Whatever you want to call it,” says Dave. “I’ve been saying this for years, and I can still tell that most people give up on winter too early.”

Genz’s point: through March— into April in many places—there is good ice in the northern reaches of the ice belt. And it’s not like you’re just trying to extend the season for no good reason.
“It’s the best ice fishing of the year,” he says, “and nobody’s out there doing it.”

Finding Late Ice

It’s easy to find places to fish through the ice at this period. Open an atlas and look across the northern reaches of states that border Canada, and gaze up into southern and middle Canada. There are exceptions, but in that band there is much good ice fishing that goes begging for participants as cabin fever causes a rush to the boat ramps on river systems and other places with early ice-out.
“Make a few phone calls, look on the Internet, check the message boards and ice fishing forums,” says Dave. “Local chambers of commerce can get you in touch with local bait shops, and they will tell you what the ice conditions are in their area. It’s not hard to find late-ice bites.”
Traveling to ice-fish is still an unusual concept for many anglers, but is gaining popularity. Mobile ice anglers can quickly pack and roll down the highway to wherever the fish are going. And, once they get there, to search for fish until they find them.

Conditions are Ripe

It’s not just the ice cover that is ripening. Late ice conditions spur the activity level of many species, leading to fish ripe for the picking.
“If you’re a perch fisherman,” says Genz, “this is the time of year when scattered pods of fish turn into big schools, and they move toward the spawning grounds. Look shallower than you do at midwinter. Look in reeds and weed beds. If you’re fishing in an area that’s going through a high-water cycle like they have in the Dakotas right now, check flooded brush.
“Perch string their eggs on something; they don’t lay them on the bottom. They string them across weeds or brush, so those are the areas to fish at this time.”
In regions where walleye season is still open, those fish also school together and move toward spawning grounds. Look for staging areas near rock/rubble shorelines or large midlake reefs, and deeper water near newly flooded grass flats.
(“Staging area” is just a fancy term for nearby waters, often at least slightly deeper than the actual spawning grounds.)
“If you like to chase big northern pike,” says Dave, “this is the time to do it. Where rivers enter big lakes are key areas. I don’t mean right in front of the river. You have to be careful anywhere there is strong current.
“I mean out in front of those rivers. In that bay, or that general area, because the pike will be milling around before they head up the rivers to spawn. The lake itself still has ice on it, but the water flowing in from those rivers and creeks is drawing the fish up in there. It doesn’t have to always be this big river, either; it can be around a small creek, even one that only has water in it during the springtime.”
Panfish, too. We’ve written about that in detail before. Big sunfish and crappies are also invading shallow-water haunts they avoided during midwinter. Even dead weeds that held no fish at midwinter can become panfish central, as they look for places to feed and avoid being eaten.
A key factor at work in iced-over lakes at this time: shallow water is getting re-oxygenated. That draws the cycle of life into the shallows.
“Exactly when this happens depends on where you are,” explains Genz. “You can find these conditions in late February, or March, and it gets to be April in some of the places where I go to fish.
“You can follow these conditions north as spring progresses, and continue to find late-ice opportunities.”
Genz should know. He does it every year. And he typically drives down the highway between spots looking a bit out of place, the lone snowmobile trailer among boaters looking to rush the soft-water season.
Safety reminder: caution is always important on the ice, but especially so at late ice. Ice can be thick but beginning to degrade, so inspect it every day. Always wear a life jacket, and fish with another person.

Note: Dave officially stepped off the ice on April 19 2007 @ 4:39 p.m.

Winter Fishing Systems, Inc 2019