Brad Laabs: Ice fishing is just around the corner; prepare now
Water temperatures have dropped to the low 40s to upper 30 degree range this last week. Ponds and small lakes have started to skim over with ice over the cold and calm nights. When this starts to happen with the smaller bodies of water, the larger lakes are usually a week to ten days away from skimming over. The sun still has some power, so thawing will occur with the daytime temperatures in the 30s and sunshine.
The freezing won’t occur until the lakes have skimmed over and the daytime temperatures stay below freezing, the overnight lows drop to the teens. It helps the lakes stay locked up with ice if we have cloud cover to go with colder temps. When the lakes finally do lock up with the skim ice it will take several days of cold to get a good start on early ice. Things will change fairly quickly now over the next two to three weeks.
With the changes that will be occurring, it is a good time for avid ice anglers to start prepping for first ice. Early ice has always been known for having the potential for fast action and quality catches. The key is to not try to get on the ice too quick, and make sure you do it safely. No ice is ever perfectly safe, but making sure you have a solid 3-4 inches before venturing out to the early ice bite can help prevent an early season tragedy. No fish is ever worth dying for. We will talk more about this next week.
A good way to prepare for your early ice bite is to locate fish during this late season open water (cold water) period. Fish you locate now will continue holding in that area at first ice. They may be a couple of feet deeper or shallower, or have ranged within a number of yards along the break, but they will be in the same general area.
If you have been able to notice a “bite time” of activity on these fish during the open water, it will stay similar at early ice. With walleyes, the change in light penetration caused by the ice may prompt the “bite time” to start a little earlier than in may have started during the open water period. As always, weather fronts, cloud conditions, baitfish movement, water clarity, and other factors will also play a role in bite activity.
The other preparations to consider now is getting ice fishing rods and reels ready. Spool with new line and make sure reels are working smoothly. This is also a good time to organize a tackle box that is just for your ice fishing. Make sure augers are starting and running properly. In the early ice situation, a hand auger is really all you need. This is a good time to fill propane tanks, clean up portable and permanent fish houses, and make sure you know were all your pertinent equipment is located.
If you are planning on getting a few more open water trips in yet this fall, you will find that getting out in the afternoon and fishing until dark may be a bit more pleasant than starting at sunrise. With the cold nights, it is cold in the morning. We really don’t reach our daytime highs until the early afternoon. If you start in the early morning, you may encounter skim ice at some of the accesses. You may not encounter, or have to deal with those conditions if you plan your trips for the early afternoon.
Waiting until the afternoon lets the sun, warmth of the day, and the wind work their magic to improve the conditions and increase the comfort of being on the open water at this time of the year. If you have to fish when you can, and not when you prefer, just make sure you plan for the conditions. Frozen pumps, stiff anchor ropes, weak batteries, wet and cold hands, and all the rest are just part of the adventure of late fall fishing. I love it!
(Laabs runs Brad Laabs’ Guide Service in Detroit Lakes.)