Warm temperatures bring early end to ice fishing season
Unseasonably warm temperatures have March acting more like a lamb than a lion, which is threatening to put an early end to the ice fishing season.
Many resorts on the larger lakes have closed their accesses to vehicle traffic, largely because the amount of traffic through the resorts have broken up the accesses and made it unsafe to get onto the ice.
Some resorts spread straw on the ice close to shore to slow the melting process and also to absorb some of the water on the ice.
Resort owners also have concerns with insurance liabilities, so the safety of their clients has to enter into the thought process when they decide when to open or close an access to anglers.
Anyone with a fish house still on the lake should remove it as soon as possible, before it is too late. Anglers legally have until midnight on March 19 to get their houses off the ice but the ice conditions have to take precedence at some point.
The ice on most lakes is still thick enough to hold anglers further from shore but along the shoreline the ice is breaking up quickly from melting snow running off the lakes.
Many anglers have given up on ice fishing for the season, while other anglers want to fish as long as possible. They are willing to walk or use an ATV as long as they are able to find a way to get onto the ice.
The angle of the sun causes accesses on the north and west sides of lakes to receive more direct sunlight and break up faster than accesses on the east and south sides of lakes. Anglers may find some areas of access stay tight to the shore longer than others.
Some anglers are willing to get wet to continue ice fishing as long as they can because of how good the fishing can be.
Large schools of perch will move into the shallows to feed late in the season because they spawn as soon as the ice is off the lakes.
Cover is at a minimum under the ice by this time of year so minnows, crayfish and insects will seek cover wherever they can find it.
Perch often use the bottom of the ice to funnel minnows into a confined area where they are easier to catch.
Reeds and wild rice that are stuck into the bottom of the ice will offer some cover to minnows, as will broken cabbage weeds, rocks and mats of chara on the bottom.
Chara has a rigid stem but no roots, so it sticks together like tumbleweed and moves around the bottom when pushed by wind or currents.
If anglers broke apart a big handful of chara they would find all kinds of wiggly things living in the weeds. Perch like to dig through the chara and eat whatever they find.
It takes a large amount of forage to feed a big school of perch so they will move through the shallows like marauders, pillaging whatever they can find and then moving on.
Crappies and sunfish often like standing reeds or wild rice, especially in areas with deeper water. When the fish aren't feeding in the weeds, they can be suspended somewhere nearby in deeper water.
Fish don't necessarily have to feed towards the bottom late in the season and may be feeding right under the ice, looking for food washing into the lakes as the melting snow flows through the ice.
Anglers should watch out for areas with a lot of standing water. Large whirlpools can form on the ice as the water flows down old fishing holes or other cracks in the ice.
When anglers hang up the ice auger and call it an ice fishing season, they can get their boats ready for open water. The season is already open on the Rainy River, with smaller boats able to access the river. Larger boats should be able to get into the water very soon if the extended weather forecast is correct.
PAUL A. NELSON runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org