Final thoughts on ice season 2016-17

A very productive trip to Lake of the Woods in late March wrapped up my 2016-17 ice fishing season. Hitting several feet of hard water long after inland-waters seasons had closed (and ice was marginal in most other places) produced a great couple of days for me and the crew from Clam Outdoors and Vexilar.

Fishing out of Arnesen’s Resort, we caught multiple species of gamefish and tested some new equipment. Late next winter, I’d strongly encourage the region’s ice anglers to remember Lake of the Woods options in 2018. The long days allow many hours of fishing, and the big border water almost always produces fish.

We had an odd ice season with late early ice, an incredible February warm-up, but a quality bite in between. Looking back on the past ice season, here are a few conclusions.

• Don’t move too much. If you’re marking fish consistently on a spot, you don’t need to drill 200 holes. Rob Drieslein and I fished the same couple holes most of two days, and I mixed things up by swapping lures. Why? Because my sonar consistently was marking fish of all sizes throughout the water column.

Yes, drilling lots of holes allows us to switch spots frequently, just like we’re covering water like it’s spring or summer. But drilling holes, even with today’s augers, consumes valuable fishing time, and if it’s not necessary, why drill? When I hit a location, I’ll drill a half-dozen holes quickly, then start fishing. Unless I’m consistently marking no fish, my default is to stick around and switch lures until I find my ice formula.

• Remember deep water, even late in the season. We caught many of our walleyes and saugers in 30 feet of water, on March 23 and 24th! Those soft-bottom areas produce insects and other borrowing critters that set up an active food chain late in the winter. Lots of anglers hate to leave green weeds for “deep nowhere,” so locate some structure to assuage those fears. Locate slight dips or depressions in these areas and you’ve likely found your ice holin’ “spot on the spot.”

• Switch up your presentation. We say it a lot, but I’m amazed how many guys stick with one jigging algorithm the entire time they’re fishing. Pound the bottom occasionally and create some disturbance in the substrates. Raise your lure several feet off the bottom and work higher in the water column. Let your lure drift back down. Try jigging a few inches, then a few feet. The fish will tell you if you’re being too aggressive.

• Use electronics. Newcomers to ice-fishing sonar units still act shocked the first time they realize how much a Vexilar alters the hard-water paradigm. They add an element of fun because you can see fish, and you can work them more directly. I hear some people refer to fishing without electronics through the ice as “fishing blind” and honestly folks, that’s pretty accurate. Save a few bucks between now and next winter and invest in a good unit before hard water 2017-18.

We’ll see you on the soft water!

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