"Last week’s mild weather was definitely responsible for the lower snow-pack on the area lakes and the melt-down has continued throughout this week. The below freezing temperatures at night have hardened the remaining crust, which in many places is enough to hold a up snowmobile and a portable fish house quite easily.
The thing is, when you get out the shovel and dig down to the ice you may well run into three or four inches of slush and water under the crust. After you’ve drilled your holes you’re apt to see water flowing under the snow-packed crust all around you, but this really isn’t much of a problem, you just need a good pair of boots!
Most of the lake accesses are packed down by snowmobile tracks which make a sled the only option to get out on the lake. There are a few lakes in the area with plowed roads but these are beginning to be shut down. All in all, conditions are still good, just a little challenging.
The crappies are moving from deep to shallow and then back to deep, and almost anywhere in between. Chances are, they won’t be where you found them the day before. Fishing has been good one day and then not so good the next. It’s just what happens this time of year.
Perch have been deep to shallow and back again as well. It just takes some moving around and my Helix 7 with the LakeMaster chip and the chips color contour highlight feature makes it much easier to target the depth range I’m looking for.
The weather forecast for the remainder of the week and even into next week calls for sunny skies and high temperatures in the forties. The mild weather conditions will make this week and weekend a great time to get out and hook some fish. Spring is here at last. Have a Great Week Everyone!" - Paul Larson, Frontier Sports 218-832-3901
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Conducted by MN DNR Fisheries Supervisor Dave Weitzel and Large Lake Specialist Gerry Albert, most of the presentation revolved around Lake Winnie’s changing ecosystem and how they affect the fishery. Zebra Mussels, Faucet Snails, Starry Stonewort and clearing water, got a lot of attention. So did protected walleye slot-limits, tribal netting and the ability of anglers to adapt to the changing water conditions.
I didn’t hear anything un-expected until Weitzel and Albert discussed a possible connection between walleye spawning success and water levels. Statistically, their chart showed that most of Winnie’s best year classes of walleye have occurred during “high water” springs. A correlation between low water and poor year class strength was also shown.
Albert cautioned the crowd against making hasty judgements that spawning success is related only to water levels. Albert said; “There are too many variables; water temperature, food supplies and weather must all be factored in. But the connection is interesting and we’re engaged in discussion with the US Army Corps of Engineers about controlling water levels in an attempt to discover more proof of the relationship.”
That discussion made me remember how the weather turned warm early last spring, and the spring before that one too. The ice melted early and fish began their spring spawning runs well ahead of schedule. In fact April 21st marked the conclusion of the walleye egg harvest at Little Cutfoot Sioux in both 2016 and 2017.
With such an early start, one would expect to hear news about strong year classes of healthy walleyes soon to be entering adulthood. But apparently Mother Nature’s plan doesn’t, or didn’t work that way. During both the spring of 2016 and 2017, early stretches of warm weather were followed by hard core cold snaps accompanied by low water levels.
The apparent correlation between early spring ice out and poor year classes of walleyes may have been at work. Fish that spawned early could easily have been under-nourished and over-stressed by the time warm water generated adequate food supplies. It’s too early to know for sure, because according to Albert, fish do not show up ewell in test nets until they're a couple of years old. But so far, it doesn’t appear that either 2016 or 2017 can be counted on to produce anything close to a “strong” year class of walleyes.
Conversely, the year class chart shows that during the latest of all late springs produced an excellent year classes of walleye. In 2013, the year that featured ice jammed lakes for the fishing opener was one of the better walleye hatches occurring not only in Winnibigoshish, but all around the state.
So the link between spawning success and a late ice out could simply hinge on higher water levels. As walleye move into spawning areas, higher water levels resulting from late melting snow would naturally expand the amount of productive shoreline spawning territory. This in turn could result in a larger than average hatch of walleye entering the system.
Another potential link is that fish hatching later in the spring may have a shorter waiting time before water warms and zooplankton becomes plentiful. Walleye fry that have more food become stronger, faster, resulting in an elevated survival rate.
No matter how it happens, there is some evidence to suggest that anglers could benefit from a late ice out.
Whether or not Mother Nature provided her own strong year class in 2017 is still up in the air. But as a contingency, the DNR did intervene in 2017 by increasing the level at which walleyes from the hatchery are returned to the system. Additionally, walleye fry was stocked into Lake Winnibigoshish for the first time. Historically, all of the walleye fry that were returned from the hatchery went directly into Cutfoot. In 2017, the 17 million DNR stocked fry were divided and dispersed throughout both lakes.
One of the folks in attendance at the meeting pressed for an answer to this question; “Given what we know right now, should we expect the fishing on Winnie to be the same this year as it was last year?”
Reluctant about going out on a limb to make a prediction, Albert did acknowledge that there aren’t many indicators pointing to 2018 as an easier time to catch fish on the big lake. That said, there are still solid populations of adult fish in Winnie and their growth rate is fabulous. Despite the filtering by Zebra Mussels and Faucet Snails, Winnie continues to have adequate food supplies to produce strong year classes of fish. All we need is the right combination of weather, water and timing.
Will it happen this spring? I hope so and if it will help, I’m willing to volunteer as the head cheerleader for a late ice out, who needs spring anyway? - Jeff Sundin 218-245-9858 or EMAIL
"Fishing reports all over the board this week. Some anglers filling the bucket, while others getting just enough for dinner. Lots of little fish to sort through with a lot of small fish in the system. Some trophy eyes showing up again this week. Electronics very helpful. Resorts are out in 24-33' and continue to make final pushes shallow.
Glow pink spoons with some gold working best. Many big pike being caught in shallower water. Live suckers the best, but hard to get. Auger extensions still needed. Fish houses on ice through March 31st, walleyes open through April 14, pike open all year.
Rainy River still pushing out some big walleyes in the morning/evening with an occasional sturgeon. Open water 7.5 miles east of Birchdale, Possibility that smaller boats will push over ice near Franz Jevne this weekend, only time will tell.
The NW Angle fishing continues to be solid. Walleyes and saugers in traditional areas with some pike in shallower. 17-19 feet during low light times and 21-25 feet during the day. Pink, white and gold spoons tipped with a shiner/chub head or tail. Crappies still being caught in good numbers." – Lake of the Woods Tourism, (800) 382-FISH
"Guided Sturgeon fishing packages are now available for April and May. As soon as the access is clear and we can put in boats we will be guiding for Sturgeon through May 11th.
We are still ice fishing through the end of the month. We had excellent weather for being outside this past week. There was mixed activity through the week, generally the bite was tough for keepers although there were a number of little fish and big fish caught this past week.
The river is open about 9 miles east of Birchdale. It can open a mile a day, but the forecast for the next few days are not likely to allow that. It would appear it would be another week before the Birchdale access is open. Franz Jevne will likely have small boats getting pushed across the ice by the end of the week.
This week’s forecast shows a little cooler than the previous two weeks. We start with some cloud cover and possible snow or rain. Temps are supposed to stay in the upper 30’s in the daytime and teens overnight. This is not the best forecast for opening the river but should keep the ice on the lake even longer." - 1-800-776-3474 Border View Lodge
"No roads on steamboat bay but I did see 2 roads out of ericksons landing. I'm not sure about the ice conditions but I got to believe there is still plenty (of ice) to drive. We are not open so anybody wanting to go to steamboat bay will have to use ericksons landing with 4 wheelers. Our access is closed until May 1, 2018" Lee & Laura Nupson, Oak Point Resort
"There are a few roads still accessable on the south end of Cass Lake, but they are pretty rough. It didn't stop our guests last weekend, going out the the south bay of Star Island, they took shovels and got stuck a few times.
The launches are holding up really good and the ice is still reported to be 30"+ the only issue is finding a way to the launch through some pretty rutted up roads, We are closing our road to the lauch, so if someone comes with a 4 wheeler or snowmobile they can still make it to the lake and launch - for awhile. Fishing was okay for some but slower than hoped for." - Wayne & Sue Marchant, Sah-Kah-Tay Beach Resort (218) 335-2424
"Hey Jeff, we just returned from Winnibigoshish on Sunday. The snow pack is still deep enough to make it rough going for anything other than a snowmobile or Helicopter. especially after the afternoon sun softens the crust up a tad. The Roads are in good shape if you are into that sort of thing. While perchin, I agree fully with the need for weeds. lots of small perchies in the sand at 12 ft. On Winni at this time of year mobility to find the dark weedy bottom is key. If the roads don't lead there....well good luck and tight lines to ya. Going back in 2 weeks(God Willing). WACK!"
"People are getting out on the lake better than they have been able to most of the winter.
Only had 2 trucks completely stuck this last week. Hard crust in the morning with soft slush in the afternoon. Not terrible roads but great weather to be out there fishing." - David, Northern Acres Resort
"I don't know if you need this information or not. But as you might expect, the Mississippi River channel here at Oak Haven is wide open, like normal. It was ice covered 4-6 weeks ago. (Obviously with the river flowing underneath the ice.) I don't have information about ice on the lakes." Mike Trachta, Oak Haven Resort, 218-335-2092
"Plenty of ice out there! 30 plus inches of solid ice!" Spirit of the North Resort
"Still lots of snow on Cutfoot, and plenty of slush holes. A few trucks are getting on the Seelye landing, but are pretty limited where they can go. The landing seems solid as of now. Snowmobiles or ATVs with tracks are the best way to go." Bryan Harris, Eagle Nest Lodge 218-246-8701
"The third river access is still open road is holding up as the temps have not gotten over 40 and it is still dropping down into the teens over night. Good ice road down to clay Banks. Traveling out is not great but still getting around on ATVs. Even had trucks out to the ridge. Nice evening bite for the crappies nice Jumbo's too. " - Dixon Lake Resort has shelter rentals, including sleepers. Reservations 218-659-4612
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Unless someone sent you a reminder that today marks the first day of spring, it could slip your attention. Winter has no intention of melting away early this year and from what I can observe, we’ll be talking about ice fishing well into April.
Its 20 degrees outside my door right now and temperatures barely crossed north of the freezing mark on Monday. In fact as of yesterday, ice conditions in the Itasca Area were actually improving rather than deteriorating. So for ice fishermen, squeezing in an extra trip or two this weekend should pose little problem.
So far we haven’t received a traditional full meltdown of snow on the surface of most lakes. But warm temperatures last week did encourage a combination of settling and evaporation that have greatly reduced the amount of snow cover on our lakes. Much of the water that was trapped below deep snow has wicked toward the surface, re-frozen and formed a crusty hard packed surface.
Barring a major snowstorm, ATVs will soon replace the snowmobile as the preferred mode of transportation. There will be some access by vehicles too, but I would caution against driving your truck onto any lake that does not have a well-developed road. That’s because over the past few days, I’ve drilled holes into ice that varied wildly in quality.
Yes, the ice seems plenty thick enough to drive on, but even 40 inch thick ice isn’t safe after it’s been saturated with water. The ice that laid under heavy slush a couple of weeks ago is now heavily saturated and water-logged. On my last trip I drilled some holes in areas where the thick ice was high, dry and plenty solid. But I only had to walk a short distance to find saturated, soft ice that my auger went through like melted butter. Soon, those soggy spots will become honey combed, weakening them even more and becoming treacherous.
Remembering early winter and how un-evenly the formation of ice occurred, I want to be extra cautious about avoiding lakes that had heavy slush this winter. Typically, the smaller lakes that have deep water are the worst because they freeze the most un-evenly. Shallow lakes that froze early last winter will feature safer ice going into the spring.
Perch fishing has been my only pursuit over the past few days. I’ve experienced fish that were on the move, roaming across shallow, weedy flats at random intervals. One minute, I feel like I’m in the wrong spot as I sit on my empty bucket. But the next minute I have a half dozen fish flopping on the ice and I feel like the action is great.
The only one key element for locating perch has been the presence of weeds. I’ve been able to catch fish in water depths of 6 to 9 feet, but once I move too deep to find weeds, the action stops dead in its track. Apparently, the fish are moving through the weed patches, feeding sporadically as they encounter schools of minnows.
A few days ago I wrote that the perch I was catching showed a preference for the Lindy Perch Talker. On a family fishing trip this Sunday, the perch drove this notion even further into our heads and there was another twist too; they were extremely particular about color. The fish showed an absolute preference for the Tulibee pattern Blue/Silver Perch Talker.
If anybody in our group wanted to catch fish, that was the lure we had to have tied on. In fact my almost a daughter Joelle was catching fish one after another while her POSSLQ Patrick watched in envy. Eventually he tied on the Tulibee pattern Perch Talker, got himself into the game and life was good.
You just never know when the fish will be in a quirky mood and this was one of those rare instances when lure selection and color made all the difference. Experiences like these prove why we need to have a full assortment of lures to work with, just to be sure that we have all of our bases covered.
That color preference, along with the nomadic behavior of the fish we caught helps bolster the idea that these perch were chasing minnows rather than feeding on insects.
That said I do not believe that the only way to find perch is in shallow water feeding on minnows. If I was heading to a lake with areas known to produce bloodworms, I would definitely drill some holes over a deeper, softer substrate. The attraction of these small midge larvae can never be under-estimated and wherever they’re available, perch will be in the area.
Several of you have written, asking about both access and fishing action on Lake Winnie. I’ve got feelers out about the conditions up there and will post an update about Winnibigoshish tomorrow morning.
In the meantime, ice conditions will be changing quickly and I could use all of the help I can get. If you are passing by a lake and observe anything notable about the access or travel conditions, please drop me a line. You don’t have to write a book, just share a few words about what you see. Who knows? Somebody might share a tidbit of information that really helps you out and returning the favor is always a great idea! - Jeff Sundin 218-245-9858 or EMAIL
The 2018 Legislature could prove to be an apex predator of Minnesota muskies if a new bill introduced by a key committee chairman succeeds in depleting the big fish from numerous lakes.
The proposed anti-muskie law authored by state Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, Ingebrigtsen’s bill and co-authored by Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, and has bipartisan support from Sen. Tom Bakk, D-Cook, calls for muskie-stocking prohibitions, liberal harvest of muskies and a new muskie study.
Ingebrigtsen’s proposed bill would stop the DNR from introducing muskies to waters not previously stocked with the fish. Any savings realized from the ban must be used for walleye stocking.
The bill also seeks to force the DNR to drop its statewide, 54-inch minimum size limit for keeping a muskie. On “nonmuskellunge’’ waters, anglers could keep any muskie 20 inches or longer. The term “nonmuskellunge” applies to waters where ..." Learn More >> MPLS Star & Tribune Minnesota Legislature Declares War on Muskies
Dry conditions have encouraged a slow melt this week and as snow cover compacts, travel conditions on the ice continue to improve. I’m still travelling by snowmobile because there’s no reason not to and will continue to do so. But I am seeing vehicle traffic increase on some of the smaller waters in and around Grand Rapids these days.
NOAA’s weather forecast calls for nighttime temperatures below freezing and daytime highs in the mid to high 30’s. If that forecast plays out, I envision an extended ice fishing season that will run well into April.
Contrast this with the story I wrote on March 16th one year ago; “One day ice conditions are ideal, the next day everybody gets scared away by deteriorating conditions. With 25 inches of solid ice, easy vehicle access and no snow cover on the lakes, there’s another spring rainstorm headed our way. All of this uncertainty has dramatically reduced the number of ice anglers, especially local traffic."
That's right, at this time last year we were already putting away our ice gear and preparing the boat for an early run up to the rainy river. In fact, we had to cancel an ice fishing trip to the Northwest Angle because the conditions deteriorated so fast that the resorts were forced to close the ice roads.
I for one have been both taking advantage of and enjoying the late winter perch fishing opportunity. I’ve been on the ice almost every day this week. While I can’t boast putting up huge numbers, I can say that fish of quality size have been available so we’ve been able to eat fish.
For me, perch action has been best in shallow water, depths ranging between 6 and 8 feet have out-produced any other. The presence of weeds has helped boost productivity too and whenever I snag an occasional weed from the bottom, perch have been soon to follow.
I’ve tried a variety of lures this week and most of them produce some fish. But the best presentation by far has been the small size Perch Talker tipped with 3 wax worms. Maybe the perch have keyed in on waxies because they’re feeding on insect larvae, maybe waxworms just enhance the drop chain presentation more than a minnow head. It really doesn’t matter, if the fish eat ‘em, I’m happy.
Speaking of happy, the Hippie Chick is back on the ice again for the weekend and she’s back to her old tricks. With the Northwest Sportshow opening next Thursday, this may well be her last weekend of ice fishing, so we’re on our way to the lake again today. With luck, I’ll have a great report for you tomorrow. - Jeff Sundin 218-245-9858 or EMAIL
"This will be the last day of public access for vehicles at our resort. Yesterday was warm and there was a lot of water on the surface of the ice. Overnight, some of the surface water re-froze and it's still trying.
We'll monitor conditions closely and we may possibly remain open for ATV travel, but that will depend on how the weather breaks today and early tomorrow." - Bill & Erin Charlton, Trails End Resort
I was surprised that the snow had not melted more than it has, but I guess it didn’t warm up as much as I expected while I was away from home. The only folks that I saw fishing anyplace on Thursday were travelling by snowmobile.
That said, the snow has settled somewhat and I did see places where user developed roads have popped up. Some of those single lane trails are better than others, so driving your truck onto the ice will require that you do your own research. But from what I could see, it will remain very difficult to travel off road on most lakes.
I did not drive to any of the large lakes where plowed roads are available. But I’m told that most of them are reported to be in good condition. The truth is that there’s more than enough ice to support traffic for at least a couple of weeks, maybe even longer. The problem that appears to be developing right now is the ill-timed thaw that’s forecast for this weekend.
Temperatures in the mid 40 degree range will soften the landings, deteriorating some to the point that they will not be useable. After that, we’ll be depending on another cold snap to freeze them back up. No matter what, I believe that there will be opportunity to ice fish well into April; we’ll just have to see where they are and how to access them.
I’ll be out and about again today, and post an update. In the meantime though, I could use your help; does anyone know whether the access at North Star Campground on Leech Lake is useable right now? What about the road going out from the Sucker Bay landing? If you can let me know, I'd really appreciate it, in fact I may even send you a little something for the effort! - Jeff Sundin 218-245-9858 or EMAIL
"We want to give everybody a chance to remove their permanent ice shelters from the lake, so we will have our plowed road and access to Bowstring open to the public this weekend. After the weekend, we will be closing the road to travel by vehicle.
Beginning on Monday March 19, 2018 we’ll take it day by day as the weather dictates. We will certainly limit the access to ATVs only and may possibly limit our ramp to guests only if deterioration becomes too great.
Please watch for an update going into next week." - Bill & Erin Charlton, Trails End Resort
If you missed the Outdoor Bound episode about Northern Pike fishing on Lake Winnibigoshish last weekend, here's a chance to catch up. In it, I not only show you how to remove the Y Bones from a pike, but you'll get a free lesson on how to cook blackened pike too.
Kurt Walbeck wrote; "Please join us as Outdoor Bound TV travels to famous Lake Winnibigoshish in northern Minnesota for a little Northern Pike action with our friend Bill Heig of Bowen Lodge and long time friend & guide, Jeff Sundin.
On this trip we're not targeting the monster Pike, we're looking for eater fish on light tackle. Then Jeff shares with us his recipe for blackened pike at a backyard fish fry by the lake." View Video >> Outdoor Bound TV Pike Fishing Lake Winnie
Flag Island Resort, its staff and owners were welcoming and warm in every possible way. It’s the kind of place that makes you want to plan your next trip even before your current one is even finished. Located in the Northwest Angle on Lake of the Woods, they have the market cornered on everything from fabulous walleye fishing to gorgeous sunsets.
Our trip to Flag Island was a good one, the weather was great, the fish were cooperative and travel conditions were good. In fact, there haven’t been more than a few inches of new snow since our last visit a month ago. For snowmobilers, the trails are well groomed and off road travel on the hard packed snow is easily managed.
The ice roads are in excellent condition and the ice thickness is somewhere in the neighborhood of 48 inches. The only thing that could stand in the way of accessing the ice next week would be an advance in shoreline deterioration caused by warm weather. Barring a major change, I think it would be possible to squeeze in one more trip this weekend and into next week.
We travelled to the Canadian side of the lake to fish for walleye and crappie, but we heard good reports about fishing on the Minnesota side as well.
For us, the action was slower than it was on our previous trip, but it was still good. Even though the fish were moody, the on again, off again spurts of action allowed us to catch fish for the creel as well as catching several large fish for photos. I’d rank the action at a 6 on a scale of 10. Part of the reason that we didn’t get in on a “hot bite” was that we didn’t choose to wait for the evening sunset bite. There were some groups at the resort who did, and they reported having fast action between 6:00 and 7:00 PM.
Walleyes were holding in water depths ranging between 25 and 31 feet of water. Crappies were deeper, 32 to 35 feet of water was their preferred range. Shoreline related structures like deep points or reefs lying close to shore have become prime territory and are more productive than isolated offshore reefs.
With the Northwest Sportshow beginning next Thursday, my ice fishing days could be numbered unless the arrival of cold temperatures predicted for next week actually come true. There does appear to be the makings of a full scale meltdown headed our way for the weekend. If snow cover does melt, and temperatures produce a re-freeze, the ice season could easily extend well into April. We’ll just have to wait and see how that plays out.
Now that I’m home, I’ll be touring the area today to see what’s changed in my absence. I’ll post an update about weekend travel predictions tomorrow morning. - Jeff Sundin 218-245-9858 or EMAIL
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Grand Rapids area fisheries office, will hold an open house to discuss historic and recent changes in Lake Winnibigoshish.
The meeting will be Tuesday, March 20, from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center, 402 SE 11th St., Grand Rapids. The meeting will begin with a short presentation of data and include time for questions.
Lake Winnibigoshish (Winnie) is a destination fishery for walleye and yellow perch. Fisheries biologists will share data about changes in fish populations, and the impacts of exotic species and regulations.
“Like many walleye populations, walleye numbers on Winnie have gone through periods of ups and downs over time. Presently, the fishery is going through one of the down periods,” said Gerry Albert, DNR large lake specialist. “We’re investigating whether recent changes are a normal part of walleye biology on Winnie, or if something has changed in the system.”
The meeting is not a regulation review meeting and no special fishing regulation changes are currently being proposed. Interested parties are invited to attend the meeting, review current biological data, and provide input regarding Lake Winnibigoshish management.
More information is available by contacting the Grand Rapids Area Fisheries office at 218-328-8836Call: 218-328-8836, or Lake Winnibigoshish large lake specialist, Gerry Albert at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"These next few days will be crucial days in determining how long we’ll be able to keep our access open. Warm sunny, days are causing the shoreline ice to soften, but as long as we continue receiving below freezing temperatures at night, we stand a chance of prolonging it. Our landing could hold up for a few days or maybe even a week, we’re taking it day by day and will keep you posted.
On the lake, there are still 40 inches of ice, maybe more!
Crappies are on the move, heading into the shallows to the west and south, but no large schools have showed up in the North yet. I am still convinced that they are scattered, transitioning to the north and coming soon.
For anyone thinking about a summer fishing trip, we are filling up fast!" - Bill & Erin Charlton, Trails End Resort
As we roll through March fishing has heated up. Electronics helpful. Some fish are aggressive and others must be enticed. Most resorts are out in 24-33' and continue to push shallower. Glow spoons working. Smaller presentations working well tipped with a shiner or chub head/tail. Pike fishing on fire with many 35-43 inch fish iced. Auger extension needed if fishing on your own with 4+ feet of ice in most areas. Snowmobilers stay on marked trail, big ice chunks off of trail. Fish houses allowed to be left on lake LOW through March 31st, walleyes open through April 14, pike open all year.
Rainy River pushing out some bigger walleyes in the morning/evening with an occasional sturgeon. Morning, evening bite most effective. Lots of ice but spring river walleye anglers looking for that to change by end of month.
The NW Angle fishing continues to be good. Walleyes, saugers and pike doing very well. 17-19 feet will produce late in the day with 21-25 feet being most productive away from structure during mid day. Pink, white and gold have been most productive all around. Glow or UV have also had success during cloudy conditions if charged often. Crappies being caught in holes of 25 feet or deeper. Catch your crappies and move on. Snowmobile trails on and around the lake are marked and groomed.
As of last Sunday, I’ve still be using my old Bearcat to get around on the lakes but that almost came to a screeching halt, when I visited a small lake up north, looking for crappies. Motoring out from the public access, I ran into deep slush and was lucky to make it out of it.
Squeezing the throttle for all it was worth, I slowly spun my way to “higher ground.” Glancing behind the snowmobile, I found a real surprise. My fishing shelter, which wasn’t sporting a travel cover, was filled with slush and water. I couldn’t even see any of my gear.
First things first. I unhooked the shelter and plotted a path to ..." Read >> Greg's Guidelines March 13, 2018
Tune in this weekend as Outdoor Bound TV travels to famous Lake Winnibigoshish in northern Minnesota for a little Northern Pike action with our friend Bill Heig of Bowen Lodge and long time friend & guide, Jeff Sundin.
On this trip we're not targeting the monster Pike, we're looking for eater fish on light tackle. Then Jeff shares with us his recipe for blackened pike at a backyard fish fry by the lake.
Q) "On March 9, 2018 Ralph Zobjeck wrote; "After reading this (Will Winnie Walleyes Make A Comeback?) I have to ask. Why is this lake and her smaller connected lakes consistently harvested for their roe at Cut Foot if there seems to be an issue with the hatch? Shouldn't this practice be suspended for a couple of years if the problem is not enough smaller fish? I have heard the numbers and personally seen the process taken from Cut Foot and they are astronomical. Just curious.
A) I understand that it does seem to be counter-intuitive, but the simple answer is that eggs deposited naturally by walleyes upstream of Little Cutfoot have a very poor survival rate. Over time, sedimentation has degraded the habitat where they drop their eggs. Although the fish instinctively continue their tradition of spawning upstream from Little Cutfoot, the conditions for survival of the eggs is very poor.
Left completely to nature, walleyes that spawn at this site would actually contribute less to the system than the fry that are hatched under controlled conditions. Because the survival rate at the hatchery is much higher, surplus fry are returned to Winnie and Cutfoot in lieu of the "natural spawn".
Additionally, if the egg harvest was discontinued and the hatchery was closed, we could say goodbye to walleye fishing on some very popular waters. Lakes like Pokegama and Deer, along with many others are virtually dependent on stocking. The reduction in opportunity to catch walleye on other lakes would simply increase fishing pressure on lakes like Winnie, Bowstring, Leech and others.
This speaks to a point that I've been trying to make for quite a while now. We already have both the infrastructure and the expertise for stocking walleyes. Utilizing our skills to enhance walleye fishing opportunities takes pressure off of troubled waters and would allow fisheries staff to focus more on gamefish species that suffer whenever there's a shortage of opportunity for anglers to catch (and harvest) walleye. Viewing walleye as a commodity instead of a natural resource may not be as romantic, but it is one heck of a lot more practical. I believe that stocking fish is a better solution than rationing them and I'd encourage folks to think about that for a while. - Jeff Sundin 218-245-9858 or EMAIL Related Articles >> Walleye Slot Restrictions MN vs WI Whose Is Better?
"With the recent colder temperatures, the snowpack has settled and firmed up a bit. Slush is still a major concern but at least the storm we were expected to get hit with went down to the south, leaving us with barely any new snow. On the other hand, we did get winds up to 40 mph so that kind of put a kibosh on fishing activity for a couple of days.
As for vehicle travel, it's a snowmobile only situation for the time being. There are some plowed roads out on the more popular lakes but that could end at any time. I haven't seen many anglers out on the ice lately, most likely the result of the tenuous travel conditions.
It seems that Crappies and Sunfish, as well as Perch, have started getting interested in feeding again. Perch daytime bite, Crappies, and Sunfish about a half hour or so before sunset. Bloodworms are making an appearance and small tungsten jigs with Bloodworm imitations like the Berkley Gulp Red Wiggler have been producing well. It's surprising the first time you pull a big Jumbo or Crappie up the hole and it barfs up a bunch of Bloodworms all over the hole! Pardon me.
Don't forget to get your 2018 fishing licenses before you go out and also remember to turn your clock ahead Saturday night. The weather forecast looks good for the weekend so have fun out there and be careful. Have a Great Weekend Everyone!" - Paul Larson, Frontier Sports 218-832-3901
Q) Al Kirkpatrick wrote; “Wondering your thoughts on Big Winnie. Do you think Walleye populations will return to the days of old, or is this lake another disaster due to poor young of the year recruitment?
These slots just seem to mess up lakes with too many larger males that decimate forage. I'm all for saving spawning females, but things just don't seem to work out well with the existing slots. I think it's more than just the clear water situation occurring on Winnie. Given the poorer than normal productivity during recent seasons and the harvest being way down from the good old days, this lake should just be chuck full of walleye, but it's not in my opinion.
I realize lakes harvest can fluctuate up or down with poor spawns, but again, things just don't add up; what you say bud?
A) Al, there's little doubt that Winnie’s walleye population is out of balance right now. I agree that larger fish are easier to find than smaller ones, at least for now. That said there are too many variables at play to allow pointing the finger at any one problem as the sole fix up.
I’ll do my best to address your question, but there are folks with a lot more brainpower then me working on solving these issues. I do believe that I can clear up one misconception right away. If there is a cause and effect relationship between the protected slot size limit and a decline in populations of small fish, the issue not about a lack of forage, it would be caused by a lack of space.
DNR fisheries staff has been attempting to address the lopsided balance between large and small fish for quite a while. As adult walleyes reach the protected slot size and are returned to the lake, they begin taking up more and more space, apparently causing an imbalance between large fish and small ones. Stacking, the term they use to describe this problem describes the condition where there’s already so many large fish that the lake doesn’t sense “The Need” for another strong year class of walleyes.
The theory is that you can only pack so many pounds of fish into any body of water. Let’s say that a lake has the ability to support 1000 pounds of walleyes. It would not matter to the lake if there were 1000 1-pound fish, or if there were 100-10 pound fish. Even when a lake is packed full of forage, crowded fish don’t grow very well unless they have lots of room to grow.
Moving back to Winnie, there is a pretty fair population of larger fish and these adult fish do eat a lot of food. But most folks who have caught a walleye on Winnie lately have commented about how fat the fish are. The growth rate of walleye in Winnie is excellent and perch, their primary forage are in abundant supply. Shiners, another important food source, are also abundant; especially now because the battle against invasive species have forced severe restrictions on commercial harvesting of minnows.
Put simply, the walleyes in Winnie that have already reached adulthood are in fine shape. They are healthy, well fed and fat. The fisheries assessments of the lake show that walleye numbers are well below historical highs and that there’s no reason to believe that the lake doesn’t have enough space to support more adult fish.
Additionally, the DNR adjusted the protected slot size a few years ago as a remedy against stacking. Anglers are allowed, and have been harvesting a significant number of fish over the 23 inch threshold. I too have encouraged folks to harvest some of the larger fish.
You’re definitely right about one thing, just because the water is clear, doesn’t mean that an angler can’t find and catch fish. We catch fish in clear water lakes all of the time, but we shouldn’t lose sight of why the water has become so clear. Invasive Faucet Snails and Zebra Mussels are robbing nutrition from the water and this has adversely affected the lakes ability to produce strong year classes of small fish.
Before we can enjoy the kind of fishing we experienced in “the good old days”, there has to be enough walleyes produced to meet the demand. An occasional poor year class isn’t all that bad, but when year after year, the lake repeatedly fails to produce a strong year class, we have big trouble.
Even a slight imbalance between “keeper” size fish and the overabundance of their forage can make it feel like you’re fishing on the Dead Sea. So even when there’s a fishable population of keeper size fish, getting them to bite can extremely frustrating. To an angler, it feels like fishing the Dead Sea, even though there are more walleyes present than we think.
Focus on production and you will likely begin to see Winnie’s real problem; it lies on the other end of the size spectrum. Natural recruitment of walleye stocks depend on the survival of tiny fish. From Zygote to fry, tiny walleyes depend on the abundance of zooplankton for growth. The larger these young fish can grow during their first summer, the better their chance of survival will be through the first winter.
Several years ago on Lake Mille Lacs, DNR fisheries staff was pulling out their hair as they tried to unravel the mystery. The walleyes would spawn and the lake would consistently produce a good hatch of walleye fingerlings that would grow for a while. Sometime after their first winter, small fish that were produced a year earlier would simple vanish from the system?
Apparently, the lake’s ability to produce a strong year class of walleyes is directly dependent on how fast young of the year fish can grow. If they can put on enough weight to survive their first winter, then the odds are good that anglers will enjoy improved fishing a few years later.
Nobody has a 100% handle on what to do about the problems caused by invasive species like the Zebra Mussels. But I know some of these folks and I can promise you that they are learning as much as they can as fast as they can. One thing we know about the “zeebs” is that they have the same dependence on food supply and space as the fish do. Any lake can only support so many filter feeders and around Minnesota, there are examples of lakes where populations of invasive species boom at first and then begin to decline.
These days it is dangerous to have an opinion, but I do and it is this; Lake Winnibigoshish is going to make a comeback, but she is going to need the helping arm of human intervention to do it.
Before this mess can be sorted out, anglers, resorters and fisheries staff will need to come to grips with this simple concept; walleyes are a commodity, not a natural resource. There is a certain finite demand for walleyes in our state and it’s my belief that our goal should be to meet the demand by whatever means possible. Slot limits have their place; stocking has its place, angler education about having responsible harvest goals have their place too.
In my years as a professional fisherman, I’ve tried to stay involved civically and because of that, I’ve seen a bunch of issues come and go. Throughout this time I’ve observed that anglers have an uncanny knack for knowing what the problems are, but almost always disagree about how to solve them.
I’d submit that a lot of our problems are self-induced and that collectively, we could all be better students of the sport. A healthy hunger for knowledge should drive any conversation about any issue, including this one and I appreciate the opportunity to have the discussion.
I’ll leave you with this parting thought.
Once upon a time, Upper Red Lake was dead, Leech Lake was once dead too and everybody knows the trouble that poor Mille Lacs has been through. Lake Eerie, Saginaw Bay and other mega-lakes have all died and risen again. No matter how bleak their futures looked, they have all made or are in the process of making a comeback.
It’s hard for me to imagine why Winnibigoshish wouldn’t follow suit and I believe that there are brighter days ahead. - Jeff Sundin 218-245-9858 or EMAIL Related Articles >> Walleye Slot Restrictions MN vs WI Whose Is Better?
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The rain and snow that had been expected to arrive on Monday failed to find its way into the Grand Rapids area. While areas to the south and west got dumped on, we wound up with little more than a dusting of snow. On the lakes, snow cover remains heavy because cooler temperatures have slowed the melting.
Lacking a full scale meltdown, slush problems will persist in many areas. At the most popular lakes, packing of the saturated snow has improved conditions wherever there has been heavy fishing traffic.
Off road travel by vehicle is not advisable anywhere at this time. However, I’ve seen some user developed roads popping up as anglers work on removing their permanent ice fishing shelters. If you do some exploring, you may discover isolated areas where limited travel by vehicle is possible.
For me, today is scheduled as a full day in the office to work on my favorite job of the year; taxes.
I know that you don't want me to get in trouble with the IRS, so I'm calling on all aspiring "Cub Reporters" to drop me a line with updates about conditions in your area. With luck, I’ll get this pile of paper cleared up so I can get back on the ice tomorrow. Whatever happens, you will definitely be the first to know. - Jeff Sundin 218-245-9858 or EMAIL
"Fish activity increasing as we roll into March. The fish have always been there but temperamental. Stable weather helpful. As always, some houses doing better than others and some days better than others.
Electronics continue to be very helpful. Most resorts are out in 24-33' and making a push shallower. Smaller presentations working well tipped with a shiner or chub head. Pike fishing continues to heat up. Auger extension needed if fishing on your own with 4+ feet of ice in most areas. Snowmobilers stay on marked trail, big ice chunks off of trail. Ice houses allowed to be left on lake LOW through March 31st, walleyes open through April 14, pike open all year.
Rainy River pushing out some bigger walleyes in the morning/evening with an occasional sturgeon. Morning, evening bite most effective. Lots of ice but spring river walleye anglers looking for that to change by end of month.
The NW Angle continues to bring nice fish topside. Walleyes, saugers and pike strong bite with some perch in the mix relating to sand bars. Day bite in 18-26 feet and the 16-22 foot range for the evening bite In Ontario waters, crappies in holes of 28-34' off of points. Remember releasing crappies in deeper water causes mortality. Catch your fish and move on. Snowmobile trails on and around the lake are marked and groomed." – Lake of the Woods Tourism, (800) 382-FISH
"Just North of Pine Island our houses are spread from 24-31 feet of water. We still have plenty of snow and ice to carry us through March.
Smaller presentations have been making some success, plain hooks with a drop shot and an active minnow is a good bet. Electronics continue to improve success. We have had a mix of activity with shallower houses doing better one day and deeper the next, there was also a couple days with a tough bite.
We have put a bounty out for bait containers! Anyone bringing us empty and clean 1lb 11.8oz plastic coffee can with lid we will donate $2.00 to the Willie Walleye Fund. Limit one per person on each reservation, so if you booked for 8 people and bring 8 cans we will donate $16.00 for the new Willie Walleye in Baudette.
After today and tomorrows chance of high winds with rain turning to snow the week ahead looks great, lows overnight in the single digit with highs in the 20’s during the day." - 1-800-776-3474 Border View Lodge
For me, five of the past six days were spent on the ice fishing. Three of those days were very good and two of them were not good at all. As far as I can tell, the only reason for the two slow days was my inability to keep up with moving fish.
Having the right lures, the right baits and the best electronics are all critical for catching fish. Having reliable transportation to and from the fishing spot is pretty darn important too. But on balance, knowing where fish are located is still way more than half the battle. Obviously, if you don’t know where they are, there’s nothing you can do to entice them into biting.
Where they are right now is on the move.
My original goal was to find something to do for a project that I had scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday. The plan was to cover as much territory as possible, hoping to discover an opportunity. Coming up with the idea was surprisingly easy; I thought.
Last Monday, Bill Powell let me tag along to check on some fish that he’d already located the day before. Those fish were still where he’d found them and they were still active, so as soon as we knew that, we left the area and began searching for another school of fish to serve as a backup. We did locate another spot and while not as heavily populated, it would surely produce a few fish in an emergency.
Not wanting to rely too heavily on either Plan A or Plan B, I decided to try another lake on Tuesday. After a few moves, I located a good school of panfish and the size structure was excellent. So knowing that I had yet another backup, I gave the green light for our project to begin on Wednesday.
It was a little disappointing to find a group of fishermen already set up and fishing at the designated Plan A. But sometimes that happens and that’s why we have a Plan B right? Unfortunately, when we arrived at the second location, fish were nowhere to be seen and with limited time, finding another alternative wasn’t going to work. Well, I’ve had rough days before, so we shrugged it off and made ready for Friday and an excursion to Plan C.
Just to be sure we didn’t miss out on any action; we arrived at the lake at 6:30 AM an Friday morning. It looked like the payoff would be good because I caught a couple of fish within minutes of drilling the first hole. But as the sun rose, the action stopped and for us, the next 9 hours were spent wondering how Plan A, B and C could all fail on the same trip.
Discouraged by the results on Thursday and Friday, I could have been easily convinced to sleep in on Saturday morning. But for one reason or another, the Hippie Chick hasn’t been able to do a lot of ice fishing this winter, so when the sun came up, we headed for the lake.
When we arrived at the first spot, an ordinarily reliable location, there wasn’t much action. It looked like we could be facing another slow day on the ice, but the weather was warm and we had nothing to lose, so we headed across the lake and drilled a few fresh holes. I got her set up with a lure, a flasher and some fresh bait.
I began walking toward another hole to get myself set up, but before I got there I heard her say “Jeffrey, look, I got one”. I walked back over, unhooked a nice Perch and helped her reset the bait. She started fishing again and I started walking back toward the other hole. I never got there this time either; “Jeffrey, I got another one” she said. I suppose this went on for a half hour or so, she was catching the fish and I was getting a workout; perfect!
Eventually, I did get a chance to fish, but I couldn’t have cared less because there’s no way not to have fun when you’re hearing the Hippie Chick’s infectious giggle and hearing it I was.
After the initial burst of action, we had to do some “hole-hopping” to stay with the action. The fish were moving in small packs across a flat in about 10 feet of water. The most reliable spots featured patches of short weeds on the bottom. Apparently the weeds provided cover for minnows and that why the Perch were there; we saw no evidence of insect larvae in this area.
Initially, a 1/16 ounce pink/glow Quiver Spoon produced reliable action. A pike snipped that lure off though and I grabbed whatever next rod that was already set up. This one had a green/black Tungsten Fat Boy tied on and that lure turned out to be a hot one for Susan. Tipped with a single waxworm, the fish found it and struck fast, not only did she catch numerous Perch with it, but the average size went up as well.
Ice conditions on the lake remained good, but slush is definitely a concern. The snow has settled because of warm temperatures, but the air temps have not allowed a full scale meltdown of the snow cover. As the temperature rose throughout the day, it became increasingly difficult to walk in the soft, water saturated snow.
The forecast for this week offers little in the way of encouragement for folks who like to travel by vehicle on the ice. It appears that air temperatures will likely be warm enough to make fishing comfortable, but will fall short of warming enough to produce melting on any large scale. This means that snow machines will still be the primary mode of travel, but slushy conditions will make that tricky too.
On Thursday, I saw one man get stuck in the slush on his snowmobile. He managed to shovel his way out of, but I’m sure that it wasn’t much fun. I’ll be steering wide of high risk areas like popular fishing spots, narrows, creek mouths and heavy drifts. - Jeff Sundin 218-245-9858 or EMAIL
"We've been pretty busy this week. Steam boat bay is full of snow and we are not allowing anyone to use our ramp until opener. We shut down March 1st and will not be plowing any roads. You can drive onto the lake from Ericksons landing if you have a good 4 wheeler or big 4 wheel drive. I'm not sure if it is slushing up underneath yet." Lee Nupson, Oak Point Resort
"Over the past couple of days, Bill has been cutting in a fresh road out onto the lake. We are pleased to announce that our roads are cleared and we are open for business." - Bill & Erin Charlton, Trails End Resort
Reporting back with an update about last week's Q&A regarding pre-mature loss of battery voltage in his Ice Helix 7, Steve Sykes wrote; "Thanks for your help, it worked! Battery lasted all day long and I actually still had 70% battery life after a full day of ice fishing." Click >> Review Original Ice Helix 7 Q&A Here
Okay, this is more like it! The past few of days have really made up for all of the sub-zero, gale-force, eyebrow freezing, and machine breaking nastiness that the weather dished out this winter. Warm weather, fish biting and lots of room to move around; what more could you ask for? Many of you are thinking a place to go, that's what I need.
On my way onto the lake yesterday I drove past a sign that said "No More Plowing After March 1st". I was on my snowmobile so the impact on me isn't great, but I did think about all of the permanent shelters and "wheel houses" that will soon need to be taken home. Many of them have already disappeared from the scene at this popular entry point after recent heavy snowfalls.
Driving across the lake, I did see one pair of pickup truck tracks, but traffic on the popular lake was virtually nil, eerily so when compared to the hubbub I’ve seen out there earlier this winter. For the moment, there aren’t any anglers driving anywhere except on the large lakes where plowed roads remain available.
Yesterday I promised an update about travel conditions for the weekend, let’s get right to it, starting with this. There are quite a few responses, so keep scrolling down the page to see them all.
Blia Yang wrote; "Hi Jeff, I just want to ask if you can report on the ice thickness up there. I see reports of auger extension needed for those who want to tackle the late perch season on Leech or Winnie. Unlucky for me, I passed on an auger extension early this winter, now a lot of stores are sold out or out-of-stock."
A) There is such a wide array of auger lengths available these days that it’s not easy to generalize about auger extensions. However, I did shoot a message to Bill Powell at Fred’s Bait in Deer River and he says YES, most folks on Winnie are using extensions right now. The alternative, he says is to shovel snow all the way down to the surface before you begin drilling. That could get to be a lot of shoveling, I think.
Luckily for you and anybody who needs one, Powell has several universal auger extensions in stock right now. So if you’re planning a trip, I’d suggest giving calling Fred’s Bait with your credit card and locking one in, you can pick it up on your way through town. Fred's Bait 218-246-8710
Case in point, the weekend before last saw two storms move in, one after the other and the result was a drop of over twenty inches of snow, some areas in the northland had over twenty six inches. The lakes in this area have over a foot and a half of snow right now and as we’ve seen the last couple of days, with temperatures in the forties and light winds, the snow pack is starting a melt down and creating a lot of slush problems for anglers.
Traveling to your fishing spot in a truck is probably not a good idea right now. I saw two pickups stuck in the heavy snow, both trucks unable to get any kind of traction. This resulted in a lot of shoveling. A report came in two days ago that one of the popular bays on a big deep lake in the area had four inches of water under the snow pack and he was lucky to get out of there. Full throttle for sure!
I was all hooked up Monday and ready to go out but first I took a hike out on the lake to test the snow conditions, where upon I turned around, unhooked the portable and put the sled back in the garage. I hate getting stuck, especially when I’m going alone. More interesting weather patterns are forecast for this weekend with rain and snow likely. This should complicate things all the more.
Fishing has been relatively slow for Panfish and with the way things are now it may be a while before the March Crappie and Perch bite picks up. It will though, it always does. Getting out on the lake on good ice is the question right now." - Paul Larson, Frontier Sports 218-832-3901
"Just leaving the ice because I wanted to check conditions first hand. We do have a lot of snow, but Todd's got good roads down to the Third River Flowage and then out to what we call the clay Banks.
From there, snowmobiles are getting around pretty well it looks like, but I think truck traffic is at kind of at a standstill. On the plowed roads, Todd has cleared a nice big area for parking fish houses. Anglers are happy, they are getting sunnies and crappies right up there by the old spear houses. Jumbo perch are biting too, but it sounds like they are out by the pressure Ridge. I've Been Told that anglers can get over the ridge with the snowmobiles, but there's no way to accomplish that in a vehicle." - Dixon Lake Resort has shelter rentals, including sleepers. Reservations 218-659-4612
"There is close to 30 inches of ice up here on Leech Lake, snow has settled and access is great." - Spirit of the North Resort, Leech Lake
"Here on Pine Point of Leech Lake we have three feet of ice, ten inches of snow and no slush. No ice heaves, and you can drive around Pine Point if you have a truck that can go thru the snow.
We have access and roads to Trader’s Bay for our customers only, although there is an access at Shores @ Pine Point to the Walker Narrows, Grand View Flats and possibly Goose Island, with a pay box as you get on the ice.
Our ice houses are still out (no sleepers, just day houses) and we are taking cabin/ice house reservations until March 11th. We also have cabins for people fishing from portable ice houses and will plow areas for them to set up. Free fish cleaning!" Shay, Adventure North Resort 218-547-1532
"For Ball Club Lake there is about 2 foot of snow on the lake. The south public access to the crappie hole has blown shut and was not plowed as of yesterday.
I have some open access to perch holes both north and south of our resort on the west shoreline. There is currently about a 10’ slush hole off the beach to hard ice and is about a 1.5 foot deep. No one has gotten stuck going out yet but with the warm temps this week I’m not sure how much longer it will be accessible.
Not sure it matters as the fishing has not been very good for the last couple of weeks. The perch have been small, we have seen no walleye but Northern and Tullibee have been good size." - Scott Gorsegner, Hundred Acre Woods Resort (218) 246-8520
"We still have plowed roads to a couple areas on the south bay area of Cass Lake. All the accesses are in great condition. the sunny days and warm temps are making off road travel tough with a truck - snow is about 1.5' deep and is heavier now with the warm temps.
Snowmobile and 4 wheelers are best means of "go anywhere" on the lake . My guys reported some slush under the snow when drilling new holes but nothing that concerned them too much. Fishing has been good one day and not so the next." - Wayne & Sue Marchant, Sah-Kah-Tay Beach Resort (218) 335-2424
"On Sand Lake snowmobile travel is fine but other travel can be difficult due to the amount of snow we have received lately.
Also due to the amount of snow it tends to get a bit slushy.
Crappie and Perch fishing has been good at times and they have been very picky at other times." Steve Casselman, Lakewood Lodge 218-659-2839
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