By Bob Jensen
It seems like winter just started and it’s already time to be planning a late season ice fishing trip. Late season ice, February or March depending on where you live, is my favorite ice fishing season. The days are getting longer, the weather isn’t as cold, and the fish are hungry. Here’s how you can catch’em.
First, be safe. Ice conditions can change quickly as the season winds down. Ice that was safe Friday afternoon might not be safe Sunday morning. It’s not unusual to have the ice deteriorate during the day. Keep close tabs on ice conditions.
Be aware of fishing regulations. Some states close walleye season in February, some states let you fish walleyes year ‘round. The regulations are even different within some states. Some areas of the state will allow walleye fishing all year while other areas of the state close the season for a while. Know the rules where you’re fishing.
The start of the day and the end of the day is often when the fish bite best. There can be flurries throughout the day, and weather conditions might create good fishing at mid-day, but much of the time the first couple of hours and the last couple of hours of daylight will be the best. I was fishing with some friends in South Dakota a few March’s ago and they very accurately predicted when the bite would intensify. The pattern for the last several days had been when the sun got just above the horizon at the end of the day, the perch turned on. It happened like clock-work. Take advantage of that end-of-the-day bite if you can.
Some fishing patterns aren’t so solid this time of the year, just like at most times of the year. One of my very successful ice fishing friends says that in the late season there are lots of bugs and worms hatching on the bottom of the lake, and that we should use baits that mimic those food sources. We do and we catch fish.
Another very successful ice fishing friend confirms that bug-life and such is hatching on the lake bottom, and the fish see so much of that bug-life that they prefer to eat something that looks different. When I fish with that friend, we use baits that look nothing like what the fish are eating, and we catch fish. It’s important to remember that we need to show the fish what they want to eat, not what we want them to eat. For fishing success, whether it be under the ice or in open water, we need to keep experimenting with different presentations until we find what the fish want to eat on that day. Their preference will change by the day and by the hour.
Much of the time we’ll be after perch or crappies in the late ice season, and we’ll probably have a Drop Jig tipped with a Maki Mino or Jamei plastic. The tungsten jig enables us to use smaller baits in deeper water, and the Maki plastic is durable and has a subtle, lifelike action.
The months of February and March signal the end of another ice fishing season. They also signal the start of some of the best ice action of the year. If the ice is safe, find out for yourself how good ice fishing can be in the next few weeks.