Relief is Coming

John Rasmussen

With this winter being one of the snowiest on record here in Minnesota, I’m sure most of us have been day dreaming about open water and camo Crocs but let’s not get too far ahead ourselves. Travel is brutal on the lakes right now but in a few short weeks Mother Nature will reopen her gates to the ice once again.

When all the snow has melted into the ice sheet and areas begin to honeycomb I’ve always made it a priority to get out ice fishing. This great thaw is a time of year when fish can become very aggressive as they feed relentlessly from sunup to sundown on newly introduced food sources. There are a few things I look for when this late ice period comes around.

First and foremost I study the ice. I scan for any open water and use maps to locate any creek inlets and outlets. I not only measure the ice regularly but feel for its density with my auger. I’ve actually encountered ice 12″ thick I was able to stomp completely through with just a few good kicks of my boot. That’s the rotten stuff and will be almost black in color as it’s become saturated with lake water. Stick to the white and lighter grey colored ice. Wear either a life jacket or float suit and always have picks ready to use. Ice cleats also come in handy this time of year.

With this safety in mind I try to get as close to one of the creek inlets as possible without venturing onto unstable ice. There may be open water as little as fifty yards away. These inlets are introducing warmer, well oxygenated water that’s full of new micro organisms. These plumes of unseen bacteria and plankton draw in the surrounding minnow life and the minnows draw in crappies and perch. This warm, detritus rich water also triggers a multitude of larval stage insects to awaken from their winter slumber causing bluegills to frenzy. Fish can be found in as little as four feet of water in this kind of situation but will almost always be shallower than 12 feet.

Another thing I look for are shallow bays or flats where larval stage insects are beginning to move around. Look close for any dead standing vegetation you can find. Again, the most active fish will be in less than 12 feet. These shallow areas have the highest light penetration and are therefore the most fertile. Sometimes these areas will be slow fishing by day and become alive with activity just before dusk but when timed right one can catch a good bite all day long.

I will always set up my TUCR Dead Stick with Okuma ABF-20b bait feeder reel on a bucket mounted rod holder. I have this Dead Stick equipped with a Firstrike bite indicator so I can hole hop great distances away from it and still see when a fish is on. I just use a plain #6 Trokar octopus hook made by Eagle Claw and a single bb split shot to keep a crappie rainbow chub pinned in place. The tiny rainbow chub will never stop moving and working for you where a crappie minnow will often take rests until a fish gets close to it. I keep these minnows right in the bucket the rod holder is clipped to and this set up makes for the perfect fish catching station. When I catch fish I want to harvest I put them on the ice in the shaded side of the bucket and collect them later.

My other rods are TUCR Bull Whips which I use for hole hopping around the Dead Stick. I always have one rigged with a tungsten jig and the other rigged with a tiny spoon. I usually use spikes to bait both presentations but will sometimes use plastics in the late ice period depending on the fish’s level of aggression that day. Although plastics have their place and will work some of the time, I’ve rarely seen a fish turn down spikes and have often seen them turn down plastics. I’m just a live bait guy I guess. It might have something to do with the fact I manage a bait shop but in my experience spikes are a sure bet. I like the tiny spoons with their treble hook to eliminate the possibility of those frustrating misses when setting the hook. I like flash and plain gold spoons are my favorite. I always add two tiny gold flipper blades to the top split ring of my spoons for added action when jigging in place. The tungsten jig is for lighter biting fish I may encounter and I always have that rod at the ready. I’d say I use these two rods an equal amount of the time.

Late ice is one of the most fun times of year for me. The air is warm and It’s incredibly relaxing. The days are longer and fishing until 7:30 under an orange-lit sky is a big change from the 4:30 sunset we had just a few months ago. Don’t forget to wear your sunglasses and sunscreen because the late March/ April sun is a powerful one… and don’t forget to get out and enjoy one of the best times of year!