Paul Nelson: Cold extends ice fishing season but accesses are deteriorating
A return to colder weather this past week temporarily extended the ice fishing season. The ice on most lakes is becoming suspect and anglers really need to be careful and make good decisions for the rest of the ice fishing season.
The ice is starting to pull away from shoreline as the water levels rise in the lakes. Anglers typically will find strong ice further from shore but accessing the ice is usually the greatest challenge.
Most of the problems anglers are having with the ice are happening close to shore around the accesses. Anglers need to take it one access at a time and check things out before they try to get onto the ice.
ATVs or snowmobiles can still get on the lakes in some areas but vehicle travel on the ice might already be done. Some areas can only be accessed by walking or by using an amphibious vehicle.
There are vehicles on the market that are designed for ice fishing on thin ice early in the season or on suspect ice late in the season.
The amphibious vehicles look like a flat-bottomed boat with traction tires. There was one such vehicle ice fishing on Cass Lake the day after the walleye opener last year.
Anglers also have the option of walking onto the lakes to extend the ice fishing season. Anglers familiar with the topography of the lakes can select areas to fish that are close to an available access point.
Anglers fishing for perch can find fish late in the season on shallow sand flats that are covered with chara, or what some anglers call “sand-grass”.
Chara has a rigid stem structure that hooks together like tumbleweeds and collects in mats on the bottom of the lakes.
Chara does not have roots, so the mats can move around when pushed by waves. The rigid structure also makes it like an egg crate, protecting any eggs that fish lay on it when they spawn.
Chara also has anti-fungal properties and helps the fish eggs stay aerated and also helps the eggs avoid getting buried in the sand during heavy winds.
Chara acts as cover for crayfish, minnows and many species of insects, so it is a fertile place for schools of perch to search for food.
Perch feeding in shallow water can use the top of the ice to help corner schools of minnows or smaller perch. The schools of perch can also dig around in the chara to find insects and crayfish.
Anglers are able to sight fish on the shallow flats by using a shorter rod and standing over the hole and watching their lure. Anglers can drill a series of holes, let the area quiet down and quietly move among the holes to keep on the fish.
Perch are usually very aggressive in shallow water so a small jigging spoon or jigs rigged with scented plastics are often the best choices for bait.
Anglers should fish closer to the top of the ice instead of right by the bottom to give the fish a better chance to see the bait from a longer distance.
Crappies are notorious for suspending right under the ice late in the season. They often suspend under the ice over the last deep water leading into areas they want to access once the ice is off the lakes.
If anglers know where the crappies like to be early in the season they should be able to find them holding nearby on late-ice.
Good lake maps can help anglers locate potential areas for crappies. Fishermen can also find the fish the old fashion way, drilling many holes and moving from hole to hole with sonar to follow the fish once they locate a school.
Fast presentations that don’t need to use bait are usually best for late-season ice fishing. The fish are aggressive, so getting the lure back down the hole before the fish can spook is often the most critical factor.
Sunfish like standing weeds and mud bottom on late-ice. Anglers should check the shallow weed flats with standing cabbage or coontail weeds or the edges of wild rice beds.