Catch ‘em on late ice

Fishing the Midwest

— Submitted photo Mike Frisch rattled this walleye up on a Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon.

Depending on where you live in the Midwest, the ice-fishing season is winding down. Once March arrives, you know you’re on the downhill side of another season of ice-action. And, if you’ve done much ice-fishing, you know that March can provide some outstanding ice-fishing. Following are some reasons that you shouldn’t put the ice-fishing gear away just yet.

One reason is the weather. While we can still get some cold, blustery weather in March, many days will be warm and really comfortable on the ice. In fact, you might want to put some sunscreen on to prevent sunburn. The direct sun and the reflection off the ice and snow can create color on your face.

There have been many days in March when I’ve fished outside in just a heavy shirt, jeans, and some Cabela’s GuideWear bibs. The bibs are mostly to keep slush at bay.

Perhaps the best reason to go ice-fishing right now is that fishing can be good: Really good. Some states or areas of states are closed to walleye fishing, but there are plenty of places where it’s still okay to catch and keep a few walleyes. And you can catch panfish pretty much everywhere this time of year. Here’s how you can take advantage of the ice action for the next few weeks.

Most of the time in March fish will bite. It’s up to the angler how we get them to bite. Some anglers prefer to sit still and let the fish come to them, while more aggressive stay on the move. They pop a bunch of holes and move quickly from hole to hole. They watch the sonar and if nothing shows up in a couple of minutes, they’re on their way to the next hole.

One key to remember is to keep your bait above the fish. This is always a good idea, but it’s very apparent this time of year that fish will respond much more favorably to a bait above them than below them. For one thing, they can see the bait above them better.

An aggressive presentation will attract fish to your area. Use a larger, noisier bait to get the fish’s attention. A Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon is favored by many of the most successful ice anglers. For walleyes, tie on a quarter or three eighths ouncer. For perch and crappies, go with the eighth or sixteenth ounce sizes. Move the spoon quickly to make the rattles rattle. If the fish come in and look but don’t eat, slow it down a bit.

In some areas it seems like the fish, mostly panfish, are getting conditioned to spoons, especially at this time of year. If you see fish looking at your spoon but not eating, go to a smaller, more finesse presentation. A Mooska Tungsten Jig with a wax-worm or spike will often be what it takes to get a reluctant perch or crappie or bluegill to bite.

More and more anglers are using plastic bait on their spoons and jigs for ice-fishing. An Impulse Bloodworm has been very good for this ice-angler. Sometimes shortening it a bit gets even the most reluctant biter to bite. You can catch more fish per bait with plastic, so you’re fishing more and baiting up less, and plastics come in lots of colors, so you can show the fish more options. Lastly, you don’t need to keep plastic baits alive.

You must keep an eye on ice conditions this time of year, but if you get the chance to go ice-fishing, go. Maybe we’ll see you out there.