Snow cover is declining rapidly and travel conditions are fantastic for anglers who want to get in on the last round of early spring ice fishing. Ice is still in fairly good shape, but with all of the warm weather we had this weekend, it is starting to become wet from the melting snow cover.
Some of the more popular landings are showing signs of stress too. There are several landings with water problems developing. Folks, if you want to travel on the big water, it’s time to start thinking about 4 wheelers. Even though there’s plenty of ice right now, it won’t take long to turn the corner if weather conditions remain stable. Smaller lakes have seen a lot less traffic this winter and there are some great opportunities now that the snow cover is largely gone.
Bluegill fishing is the top pick in my book right now. You don’t have to be a pro at fishing to find Bluegills in Minnesota. Our area is blessed with scores of good Bluegill lakes and most of the smaller lakes that have good size areas of shallow weed cover and some access to deeper weed edges will have Bluegills in fishable numbers.
On an afternoon trip to a new lake (for me) our friends re-assured us that the Bluegills would become active during the last afternoon light. It worked like clockwork. At about 5:30 PM the locators started showing fish and once they got active, the action was as fast as we could handle. In fact, it’s probably the best fishing we’ve had this winter. The fish weren’t particularly large, but they were running about 3 to a pound and plenty good for a family fish fry. This is one example of the kind of reports that are coming in from all over the area.
Bluegill locations are along the weedlines with mixed cover. We’ve been finding most of our fish in Coontail weeds in particular. Water depths of 8 to 12 feet have been reliable, but we’ve found them even shallower if there’s good weed cover. Initially, the fish were located near the bottom and later moved up to about half way between the bottom and the surface. These suspended fish were the most active. Some fish were even caught just a foot or two below the surface of the ice.
Best baits have been the Glow Bug, Doodle Bug and Ants tipped with a fresh wax worm. Unlike past trips, a plain jig head or other horizontal type bait didn’t really get them fired up. Lately, all of the best baits have been vertical type presentations. Wax worms that stay on the hook too long and get waterlogged don’t produce as well. Changing the bait often really made a big difference.
Crappie fishing has also been generally good in the Grand Rapids area with anglers on several lakes reporting good fishing. We fished Crappies on Friday at a lake that’s been heavily fished this year and discovered that waiting for the evening bite was the only way we could get decent action. There had been reports of good daytime fishing, but for one reason or another we had to wait until dark before the fish started moving. In fact, we left at about 8:45PM and there were still some fish biting.
It may have gone on for another hour or maybe longer if we’d stayed. The depth we located fish was different than in past weeks with a clear shift toward shallower, soft bottom areas. OUR SEARCH in water depths of 23 to 30 feet yielded few results. But finally following our friends into shallower water of about 16 feet finally paid off. Best baits were the now familiar blade type baits like the Demon tipped with a minnow hooked in the dorsal fin.
Ice conditions are stable with temperatures remaining below average for this time of year. Driving on the ice is generally good, but you’ll need to pay close attention to snow depths before leaving the plowed roads. Thanks to the snow that fell after our last meltdown, there is some drifting, on certain lakes.
On a Perch fishing trip to Big Winnie on Monday, we discovered (the hard way) that snow is deeper on the North end of the lake than it is to the South. A couple of hours of walking and shoveling got us back on to one of the excellent roads and eventually some fish for a meal. Some of the other area lakes have relatively little snow cover and travel is a snap. For the time being, the landings are in great shape and most of the roads are free of slush or standing water. Afternoon temperatures are predicted to be getting higher this week, so folks who can get the four wheelers ready are going to have an advantage in the very near future.
Perch fishing has been somewhat better recently, but is still far from a sure thing. Our best action resulted from looking for new territory that hasn’t been fished this winter. One un-tapped deeper hole produced lots of fish, but mostly small in size after a couple of hours this area produced enough keepers for a family meal. Areas with heavy pressure appear to offer a couple of hours of decent fishing in the morning followed by a slow bite during the day.
Bluegill action is still good for local anglers working the weeds on smaller lakes. Simple but effective, 1/16 ounce jig head tipped with a wax worm will produce plenty of fish.Green and Black combinations have been a good combination, so has Glow/Green. Start at the weed edges and work into shallower water in the weed beds. Some Bluegills are coming from just a few feet, in heavy cover.
Tulibees are disappointing folks in the area right now, there are some reports of decent catches on off-beat lakes, but the powerhouse spots on Leech and other popular locations are fairly slow. According to the DNR this decline in Tulibee success is a statewide trend at the moment, but why it’s occurring is unclear.
Crappie fishing continues to be good in the area and several of the smaller to medium size lakes are producing good numbers right now. Crappie location is shifting in toward the drop off edges adjacent to the deep holes where they’ve been gathered for the past couple of months.
Small blade baits like the Frosty or Demons are still catching fish, but plain hooks/minnows did a great job for one group fishing Bowstring on Sunday. Red Lake is a mixed story, while it continues to produce fish for anglers who keep in touch with friends on the lake, folks trying to locate the fish on their first visit are struggling to hit the better schools of fish.
Tips from folks who have done well in the past day or two is about the only way to get an advantage, so if you can leave on short notice, get someone to call when they locate fish. For groups who arrive already knowing where the fish are, it’s been fantastic action. In fact lots of folks are filling their limit in short order. There are just not enough Crappies to find this kind of action everywhere, so research is becoming more important all the time. - Jeff Sundin 218-245-9858 or EMAIL
Special Announcement: Focusing on issues relating to Walleye fishing in Minnesota, a newly formed group that has now been designated by the DNR as the "Walleye Advisory Committee" Will meet for the first time on March 17, 2005.
The group plans to focus specifically on the health of Minnesota’s Walleye fishery and will provide input about policy relating to Walleye management. The list of topics keeps growing, but here are some of the current suggestions; One fish over 20" regulation statewide. "Core Lakes", Ron Payer will explain what the DNR has in mind for designating certain lakes to have " Walleye Stocking Priority".
Examining the reasoning behind establishing wide slot limits especially on stocked lakes or those with a known deep-water bite. Review the "Accelerated Walleye Program". Establishing and publicizing population goals on stocked lakes. Examine Cormorants and their affect on Walleye fisheries. Examine Muskies and their affect on Walleye Fisheries. The first meeting is scheduled for March 17th, 2005.
Here’s the most recent list of folks named to serve on the Walleye Advisory Committee, you can contact anyone on this list to voice your concerns or get an idea added to the agenda. Click here to get additional contacts or give us an idea for the meeting agenda.
Dick Sternberg, Outdoor writer, consultant and avid angler
Ron Payer – MN DNR Fisheries Chief
John Guenther – DNR Fish & Wildlife Director,
Jeff Sundin, Grand Rapids area fishing guide, outdoor writer and tackle consultant
Ron Anlauf, Mille Lacs area writer and tournament angler
Duane Peterson, Co-Owner, Northland Fishing Tackle and avid angler
Mike Underwood, Owner Mule Lake Store (Longville) and avid angler
Dick Gustafson, Employee of Christopherson’s Bait (Alexandria) and avid angler
Mike Gravdahl – Editor, Park Rapids Enterprise and avid angler
Mike Miller – Outdoors talk show host (WDAY Fargo) and avid angler
Tom Neustrom, Grand. Rapids area Deputy Sheriff, fishing guide and speaker
Rick Grates – Litchfield area police officer and avid angler
Ice conditions improved this week when Sunday’s blast of warm sunshine reduced snow cover on most area lakes. We saw certain areas of Leech Lake where snow was reduced to standing water on the ice. Perfect timing for the return to colder weather that blew in on Monday. For the first time in a couple of months, there are folks driving on the ice without needing any plowed roads.
This has opened up huge amounts of new territory that was previously available only to the anglers clever enough to bring their snow machines. On a trip to the Wadena, Minnesota area this past Sunday, we saw lots of snowmobile trails now showing open grass or dirt, so it looks like early spring fishing is creeping our way. We saw vehicle traffic on many smaller lakes that were previously inaccessible.
Spring fever hits when the weather gets this nice. Here's proof that you can never be too early for spring shore fishing.
Bluegills are turning up in the creels of quite a few Northern Minnesota fishermen right now and we’re going to be hearing a lot more buzz about this in the next couple of weeks. The majority of the action is ice fishing of course, but believe it or not, there is already some shore fishing action available.
A case of spring fever and an opportunity to fish in open water for a change inspired us to take a shot at some of the seasons earliest spring Bluegill fishing in an area adjacent to the river where the water opens up early. We had a reasonably good catch of fish ranging from 6 inches up to maybe 9 inches. No real whoppers, but some delicious eating size fish.
One of the keys to keeping your favorite Bluegill lakes healthy is to get in the habit of harvesting some of the smaller fish and releasing larger ones. This can help avoid the over-crowding and stunting of the smaller fish, so we don’t get too concerned about the size anymore.
My, Hero! Matt picked the right color, the right spot and the right bait that set us on the track. Some baits were better than others, so change them around until you hit the right combinations.
Our best baits were regular round jig heads tipped with wax worms. We caught some fish on Euro Larvae after the waxies ran out, but they were not quite as productive. Color combinations of green, green-glow, black and black-green produced well. Other colors we’ve been using for Crappies this winter were a bomb. Reds, pinks and brighter combinations failed to bring in a single Bluegill, so be prepared to switch away from some of the habits that formed earlier this winter. Our fish were holding tightly to patches of coontail weeds in shallow water, start your search in the weeds and don't be afraid to go really shallow.
Crappie fishing continues to pay off for anglers as well, the Red Lake bite has continued to pay for folks who really study it, but there’s easier fishing on the smaller local lakes right now. Crappies are still holding in the deeper holes but like the Bluegills, they’ll be moving toward the shallower drop-offs and into the weeds as well.
On the smaller lakes, start looking for the Crappies near the deeper holes and then move toward the shallower breaks. As you search, watch for suspended fish, some spring crappies with be active just a few feet below the ice. Reports from friends are that minnow tipped blade baits continue to be the top choice. Late winter, I expect to catch Crappies on the grubs as well, so from here on out we’ll carry waxies as a backup on every trip.
Perch reports are still coming in mixed with some folks finding fish and others getting shut out. It sounded like the key for those who succeeded this weekend was to move into new territory. There’s been pressure on the deep-water haunts for most of the winter and with the coming warming trends, I’d expect to see better action by heading for the shallows.
Most of the folks who did well over the weekend had moved back toward the shorelines. Although it sounded like the fish were running smaller than the deeper spots, the action was quite a bit better. So the trade off is action for size. - Jeff Sundin 218-245-9858 or EMAIL
Ice conditions remain stable since the last report. There hasn’t been a lot of new snow, so driving conditions are gradually improving. There is a hard crust on the surface now and on our fishing trip yesterday we were able to drive off of the main roads for a short time in the morning while it was still cold. As the sun warmed the surface, the crusty snow softened and made off road travel difficult.
The best news is that this harder surface has really improved the walking conditions. We covered a lot more ground and drilled a lot more holes because it was so much easier to walk while drilling holes. Some folks are talking about extensions for their augers, but this is due to the snow more than the ice thickness. If you shovel first, there’s no need for an extension at this time.
How can you beat this? Great weather and a chance to greet some of these magnums as they come through the hole.
Now that the Walleye season has ended, everyone has focused on panfish, Perch and the final bit of Lake Trout fishing for the season. Crappie fishing seems to be the most improved during the past week. Finding a school of fish is the main focus now and once located, fish are in a biting mood. Almost any time we saw a fish on our depth finders, we were able to get that fish to bite.
The fish have been caught during the day, but we’ve noticed a morning run that tapers off during mid day. It might be better to say that they’re biting during the day but early and late periods are better. Crappie locations are shifting, showing early signs of a movement back toward earlier winter locations and slightly shallower than where they’ve been in recent weeks.
Blade baits with a minnow hooked parallel to the dorsal fin are still producing nicely. Most anglers favor glow colors with Glow Red, Glow Pink and Glow Green colors leading the way.
Locating small groups of fish is okay now, because they are biting aggressively. Even a few of these great fish adds up to a nice meal.
Perch fishing has been spotty for most of the winter and this hasn’t changed yet. There are some groups of anglers doing very well when they locate "NEW" schools of fish. After a day or two of working an area, the aggressive fish are caught and the remnants of the school become spooky and sluggish.
The only really good strategy is to strike out and cover water that isn’t already being fished. There will be lots of holes to drill and plenty of walking, but it’s the only way to really make things happen right now. A movement toward the shallows will be heading our way in the next couple of weeks, so it’s a good time to start taking a look at some of that territory. - Jeff Sundin 218-245-9858 or EMAIL
Ice conditions are quite a bit better now than they were earlier this winter, with something of a meltdown eroding snow depths. It’s still not too easy for most of us to travel in vehicles unless we stay on the plowed roads like the ones available on Big Winnie, Red Lake and some of the other large lakes in the area.
Our fishing this past weekend proved that it’s still too early to try and cut cross-country in the truck, as we’ve seen lots of folks pushing their vehicles out of the snow when they ventured out away from the roads.
The good news is that at the moment, there is a wonderful set of roads out there and most folks can find a spot or two along them where fishing pressure is light enough to make for a reasonable search. Snowmobiles are still the best bet, but 4 wheelers are starting to work out okay also. There’s a crust on top of the snow that supports the 4 wheelers fairly well, particularly on the colder days.
With the poor driving conditions, the H2O handheld GPS is saving me a lot of extra work. I’m using the Navionics map card in mine and since I can see the depth contours while I drive, I can just hop out and punch some holes anytime we drive near an interesting bit of structure. I had this in the boat last summer and it was helpful, but using it in the winter has been a real blessing and saved more than a few steps in the deep snow.
Fishing has been interesting. You could call it spotty. There are some days that the Perch are snapping nicely and others where the fish must be caught one by one. On our most recent trip, we found fish at almost every stop, caught a handful of biters and then were forced to make another move. We never did locate an active school but somehow, we accumulated a nice batch of fish while hardly realizing we’d caught them.
There are huge schools of young Perch right now and the fish appear to be well fed. Nearly all of the fish we’ve caught have been eating these small Perch and this might explain the slight shift in their location. We’ve noticed that getting on the deepest edges of sunken humps or bars has been best. Unlike the deep-water pattern earlier this winter where we’d look for the fish further out on the deep flats.
Find the top of the hump and drill out toward deeper water until you lose track of the structure and then fish your way back toward the top. 28 feet of water has been a magic number this week and that’s just a bit shallower than where we found the fish earlier. Just before dark, we move back up on top of the humps in about 20-22 feet and catch the half-hour Walleye run. It’s been reliable, but short.
With this being the final weekend for Walleye and Pike fishing, it’s worth your time to stay out for the late show at least one more time before the season ends.
Crappie fishing has been steady and folks continue to make the run up to Red Lake. The timing and location are critical though and the results are varied. Some folks are literally filling their limits while others nearby get less than a handful.
The best advice for a trip up there is to stay on the move and drill as many new holes as you can handle. There appears to be smaller schools of fish that are roaming the open water and when you can get over them, they’ll bite. - Jeff Sundin 218-245-9858 or EMAIL
I can remember when one of my best friends used to put about 5000 miles on his snowmobile every winter. It'’ been a long time since that was possible, but he'’ doing it again now. With a couple of feet of standing snow in a lot of areas, we’ve had to think twice about which lakes we can get to these days and folks with the snow machines are ruling the roost on a lot of the smaller lakes. Folks who like to drive a pickup to their fishing holes are finding good plowed access roads on Big Winnie by going out of Highbanks, Beckers or Nodaks Resorts. Red Lake has been another popular destination. With a network of roads that interconnect, travel has been fairly easy up there.
I’ll start off my report this week by telling you that I’m getting most of my information second hand right now. We'’ve been hustling like mad trying to polish off the articles for our up-coming spring issue of the UPNORTH Fishing Publication, so while I’m pounding away at the computer, I’ve had to let my friends do most of the fishing this past week. We’re almost ready to go to press now, so I’ll be catching up on the fishing in a couple of days.
Fishing reports are best from the folks who can branch out and try some of these smaller area lakes. With a lot less traffic than usual, a lot of these lakes are producing good catches right now. Crappie Fishing and Northern Pike Fishing are providing anglers with the best action. But there are also a few of these smaller lakes producing some bonus Walleyes. Best locations continue to be steeper breaks near shore that lead into the deep holes. You want to find areas that have deep water, near shallow flats. Working the drop off edges set tip-ups first. While you watch your tip-up, drill some new holes in the deeper water and check these for signs of Crappie. You can literally "troll" along the drop-off while you check for fish. Once you locate some fish, it’s a good idea to also drill a few holes in the shallow water "on top" of the structure.
The Walleyes are coming from these shallower holes toward evening. You want to really stay in shape? A friend of mine has been using snowshoes to walk into small lakes in "Non Motorized Areas" where no one else is fishing. He’s been having a field day on Crappies and Bluegills with literally no competition. If you want to try this, I suggest using a 4 or 5 inch hand auger with newly sharpened blades. You’ll still need to drill quite a few holes before you’ll find the fish and the smaller holes will drill a lot easier than the larger ones.
Larger Crappies are still coming in up on Red Lake and anglers there are catching & releasing lots of Walleyes during the search. Most folks are getting enough Crappies for a meal and every so often, there’s a limit caught. If you cover some ground, you can expect to catch at least enough to keep it interesting. Perch fishing is "on and off" over at Big Winnie, mobility is limiting everyone’s ability to branch out and try new areas, but the best bet is to locate deeper water near underwater humps and bars.
One reliable pattern has been to locate the edge of a hump let’s say 20 feet deep or so, then work out deeper until you reach the deep flat in 30 feet or even a bit deeper. Watch your locator close and you’ll notice that every so often a school of minnows will move through. The Perch are following these large schools of baitfish and continued searching in these areas will help you locate them as they roam. Winnie is loaded with bait right now, so persistence is the secret.
If the current predictions of a January Thaw come true, we’ll have some new areas opening up again this week and I’d bet on a good bit of new information coming our way for next weekend. - Jeff Sundin 218-245-9858 or EMAIL
Reminds me of the good old days. Snow, then cold, then warm, then snow and you know the rest. We’ve had most of the gifts that winter has to offer and in just a few short weeks. Thanks to the sub zero temperatures we’ve enjoyed, ice conditions are improving and while they’re far from perfect, there are enough opportunities to keep it interesting.
Anglers like me who have to choose between walking to our fishing holes or driving trucks, are starting to lean toward driving the truck. There are plenty of lakes with vehicle traffic right now as ice conditions continue to improve.
There are at least three good roads plowed on Big Winnie right now. With Nodaks, Highbanks and Beckers Resorts are all maintaining roads and have Icehouse rentals available in decent fishing territories. Some of the other larger lakes have additional roads as well and most of the more popular winter lakes have at least some vehicle traffic in selected areas. Snow cover is becoming a factor because of some slush build up, but it’s not deep enough to be a major problem yet.
Plowed roads and Icehouse rentals are available now with more to come as ice conditions continue to improve.
Fishing reports are coming in mixed from around the area with relatively few reports of great action. It turns out that mixed bag fishing is probably about the best idea right now.
On our family outing this weekend, we chose a lake known for having a variety of fish and it paid off for us. We caught some Perch, Crappies and a bonus Walleye all near the same spot.
A good starting place was a shoreline point that ran all the way from shore out to the main lake drop off. At the tip of the bar, water depth topped out at about 16 feet with water of about 25 feet all around.
The Perch and walleye came from near the top at about 18 feet and the Crappies from the deeper edge at 25 feet. The edge with the fastest (sharpest) break into deep water was the key location.
Watching the flasher like a hawk was the key to picking off the fish one by one. Lifting the jig above the fish and holding it still was the key.
We tried a variety of baits and came up with two that worked better than most. The Jigs ‘n’ Rigs Rockin’ Spoon and the old standby Demons were the best baits for us.
We had to watch the flasher like a hawk and whenever we spotted a fish on the screen, we brought the bait up about four feet above the fish. The more active fish that were willing to come up for a look at the bait could usually be teased into biting by gently wiggling the rod tip.
Fast and hard jigging was a definite no-no and most of the time this would scare the fish out of view rather than attract them. Fathead minnows hooked near the dorsal fin was good for the Demons and just the head of the minnow was our best choice on the Rockin’ Spoons. Jeff Sundin 218-245-9858 or EMAIL