Mar 10, 2015

Holding Out For Late Ice

By:  Kyle Sorensen

This hard water season has surely been quickly climbing into the rankings as one of the best seasons I can remember.  I have iced some big fish and steady numbers at that.  From the reports and pictures passed onto me, I know it’s also ranking high on others’ lists as well!  All good things must come to an end and with that comes the slow and gradual transition period between the late ice and open water seasons.  I love my open water fishing but after this hard water season, I am really sad to see it go.

The Winnebago System Sturgeon Spearing season has come to pass, and with that comes the last few weeks of hard water.  As I look upon Lake Winnebago, I see the vehicle bridges being pulled, the snow cover beginning to fade, and another season coming to a quick end… but hey, it’s not done yet!

With the warming temperatures and the receding ice runoff creeping into the system, the fish will begin to feel their spawning clock start to tick.  With each tick, the fish begin to spark with energy and start to snap up as many meals as they can before their long and tiring journey to the spawning grounds.  As they move and their appetites call, I am there waiting.

To me, late ice and early ice sit on the same pedestal.  Both challenging, yet rewarding.  The common factor between them is safety.  As shown in the picture, I am fully ready for what the late ice time period has in store for me.  A spud bar, ice picks, and of course, a life jacket, are all a must.  The same factors go into late ice safety as early ice safety.  In this aspect, however, I think Mother Nature throws us a curveball.

As we first venture onto the ice during the early ice period, we are out there thinking, “Is the ice even ready?” We think this because we have not been out in several months, and that question sticks in our minds as our ambitions of wetting a line are chomping at the bit.  During the late ice period, we have been out on the “safer” ice which has carried our sleds, wheelers, and vehicles in recent weeks.  This is a point that is sometimes very hard to overlook.  We must remind ourselves to think as though the ice is not safe.  Once we are able to do this, we are opening the door to some CRAZY action!

As with early ice, we need to look towards the areas that our targeted species first populated before the hard water period struck.  The trick, however, is also factoring in the spawning locations.  With most of my fishing time dedicated primarily to the Winnebago System, I know spawning runs occur.  With rivers, channels, and shallow marshes encompassed into this system, I am able to hone in and refine my targeted areas.

The spawning runs are just remarkable in this system.  Various species travel the sometimes endless waterways in the search of suitable spawning grounds.  It’s no secret, a lot species of fish in this system utilize the Fox and Wolf Rivers as their travel route.  Area municipalities such as Omro, Winneconne, and Fremont depend on the economic boom to support local businesses as some fishermen travel hundreds of miles to fish these waters during the runs.  Knowing this, we need to keep in mind where the fish are heading and plan our attack before the last ice fades away.

Rather than fishing the wastelands (mudflats) of the lakes in this system, I attempt to grow closer to the inlets and outlets of each ending and starting river.  If these areas can be safely fished, larger schools of the running species can be found in smaller areas.  After all, it is a lot easier to shoot fish in a barrel than in an ocean.  The trick to fishing these areas is timing.

If you are fishing late ice on a body of water that includes a river with annual spawning runs, it’s easy to tell when the fish are moving.  Fishermen begin gathering on local bridges, piers, and sometimes boats, to fill their buckets while attempting to dodge the crumbling ice heaves. I would like to be able to tell you a certain water temperature that triggers the movements but I cannot.  There have been years in which fish have moved under the ice, while some years, it’s hard to even find any ice on the system.  I think the best thing I can give you is a time frame which would encompass March 1st through March 31st.  Again, it’s sometimes very hard to find good fishable ice during this time, but this is when the fish [usually] heat up on a more frequent basis.

Bait selection really does not change; however, my techniques do.  On warmer days, with the activity spiking, I love an aggressive presentation.  Working my lures of choice (Jigging Raps, Buck-Shots, and Kastmasters) with a pounding “thump,” usually ensures the result of a hammering rod. As the marks show up on the flasher, the gradual climb of the bait draws them closer. When I see the mark rise faster than my bait is climbing, I get ready as I know that mark is about to turn into an iced fish!

One of the best aspects of holding off on the storage of our hard water gear is the weather.  As we sit alongside our snowmobiles, four wheelers, or even on top of our buckets, we don’t have to worry about that negative degree wind chill creeping up our overalls (usually).  Scientific studies have shown, if you are comfortable, you are able to concentrate more on the task(s) at hand.  To dive into this aspect even further, colder temperatures affect our hook-up rates.  Problems resulting from the removing of gloves during/after hookups, the use of gloves during our jigging presentation, and even something as little as our eagerness to change up and re-tie baits, can certainly play a role in our successful icing of a fish.

No matter where you are, late ice plays a huge role in the hard water season.  I recently asked the followers of the Facebook page (facebook.com/oboutdoors) for a late ice picture of themselves.  I decided to use the one from Ted Miller.  What a gorgeous eye!  He was up fishing in the Bay of Green Bay during late ice conditions when he hooked into the gem.  Because of the receding temperatures and being able to key in on fish movements leading up to the spawn, this fish was met by the welcoming hands of Ted.  As with the Lake Winnebago System, late ice action is known and had from all around our state.  The fish are easier to find, and thus, making our time on the water better than what we expected.

As we creep into open water season, it’s time to look back and see what we have accomplished during the hard water season.  Some of us have iced our personal bests, some have ended with a few more meals that were not expected, while some are just eager to get back into the boat.  Whatever you see as you look back, remember, we made it through another Wisconsin winter and we sure had some fun.  But before it’s all over, grab that rod and head out to finish it with a bang! Until next time,

Tight Lines.  Stay Dry. 

Kyle Sorensen has been fishing the Lake Winnebago System for over 22 years.  He enjoys being able to sneak out to several different bodies of water in the hunt for a variety of species.  When he is out, so are his cameras.  Visit his website to view these videos and current fishing reports: oboutdoors.com