Late ice is nice
With temperatures creeping up above zero and spring on the horizon, many anglers hang up their ice augers and tip-ups prematurely. Traditionally, the last few weeks of the ice-fishing season offer the best action and chances for trophy fish. It’s also the most comfortable time of the year to be out on the ice, soaking up some early spring sunshine. Conditions and seasons permitting, late season ice fishing can extend well into April in Northwestern Ontario.
The Walleye Way
If I had to choose only one weekend per year to ice fish for walleye, it would be at late ice. At this time of year walleye begin migrating towards the areas where they will spawn after the ice goes out. They start to school up and feed aggressively and fishing can be explosive.
To locate schools of walleye, target areas such as flats, points and bottlenecks that are near spawning areas. Typically, areas with an inflow of water attract pre-spawn walleye. Picking the right depth to target largely depends on the type of lake you are fishing. Depths can vary widely from 30 feet-of-water in the large shield lakes to less then 10 feet-of-water in smaller back lakes. A rule of thumb is to fish shallower the later in the season it is.
All the standard walleye ice baits will catch fish once you locate them. Spoons and jigs tipped with minnows are consistent producers. My strategy usually involves jigging something in one hole with a jig and minnow on a setline in a nearby hole. If the bite is really hot, I forgo live bait altogether in favour of minnow imitating jigging baits like the Lindy Darter. Their internal rattles attract fish while the realistic darting action triggers strikes. They can be very effective during an aggressive bite with no wasted time dealing with live bait.
Perfect Time for Pike
Ask any serious pike hunter and they will tell you that late ice offers up the best chance of the entire year for a monster gator. Much like walleye, pike are also preparing for spawning, which takes place shortly after ice out in shallow bays, creeks and rivers. This means they congregate in predictable areas with many large females together in the same vicinity. Look for flats at the mouths of bays and near inlets. Fishing shallow is key – under 10-feet of water is ideal.
The best way to target pike at this time of year is with tip-ups and live or deadbait. You can up your odds of catching big pike by using big bait. Live suckers in the 10-to 13-inch range are an excellent choice. At times, however, deadbait outshines live bait. Many bait shops sell large frozen herring for use as deadbait and even the grocery store sells deadbait suitable for pike fishing. Rig both dead and live bait using a quick-strike rig and slip-sinker under a tip-up. When pike take the bait the line will slide through the slip-sinker giving no resistance. It is important to not wait too long before setting the hook (hence the name ‘quick-strike-rig’) or the pike will swallow the bait and hooks, which isn’t good for the fish.
Consider Catch and Release
Late season ice fishing is the closest you can come to catching fish before they spawn. Many of the biggest fish are older egg-laden females who will soon be dropping eggs and spreading their trophy genetics. With these big fish, consider letting them go after a photograph. There is nothing wrong with keeping fish for the dinner table and smaller fish make for excellent eaters.
Where seasons and safe conditions permit, late season ice fishing offers excellent opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors. Use these tips to catch your biggest walleye and pike of the season while catching some sun, too.