EARLY ICE: Fishing can be hot on the first ice of the season
First ice or early ice has long been known to be a time when the bite can be hot. Because of this, some anglers will venture out very early to take advantage of this action. It has to be a "proceed with caution" and safety in mind approach. If you have not been on early ice yourself before, make sure you partner up with a veteran ice angler. Not only will they know how to check and read the ice, but they will help put you in a location that can offer the success that early ice can provide.
If you were on a good bite in the late fall, right before ice, that is a good place to start with early ice. Drill multiple holes from your area toward the shallows and then to deeper water. This gives you the flexibility of covering the area to locate the best concentration of fish. With the opportunity to fish two lines you can fish two presentation styles. A minnow on a small jig or plain hook under a bobber in one hole and jig with a jig or minnow spoon to try to trigger the aggressive fish in the hole close to your bobber rod.
Fishing with a locator can make a big difference in your success. When you see fish come into your hole you can slow down and tease the fish by holding the bait slightly above the fish. Quiver the bait, pause, slightly raise the bait, or jig slowly to see what triggers a reaction. Pay attention to what triggered the bite as you can now reproduce that stroke when the next fish enters your hole. If the stealthy presentation of the bobber is out fishing your jig, you can easily change up and match what is working and increase your action.
If you didn't get a chance to locate fall fish, you can increase your chances by keying in on locations that have a couple of considerations. Areas just outside of a bay that have access to deeper water tend to hold early ice fish. Baitfish, for whatever reason will leave shallow bays early and slowly filter back later during the ice season. Crappies and sunfish will move to areas with cover close the mouths of the bait to take advantage of feeding on the baitfish as they leave and return the shallows. Weeds always provide good cover and are worth a check, and even better when there is a break with deep water access close by. Make sure you locate green, healthy weeds. The dead or dying weeds don't hold the oxygen or baitfish to keep the gamefish in them.
Look for walleyes on the edge or bottom of the first drop-off outside of the bays or neck down areas. They will always set themselves up to be in locations with easy access to the baitfish.
Typically the crappies and walleyes will have shorter feeding periods during this time of year and throughout the frozen water season. The hour around sunrise and sunset will usually be a period of feeding activity. This doesn't mean you can't catch them during the day -- you can -- it means that you have a better chance and will have more action during "primetime." Some walleye lakes are actually better with the daytime bite and the bite will drop off after dark. Lakes with stained water like Lake of the Woods are a prime example of that type of body of water. Deep, clear lakes can be known for a good night bite. Leech and Otter Tail would be examples of this type of lake. Sunfish and perch are more active daytime feeders and can usually provide fishing activity during daylight hours. Many lakes in our area are rich with pan fish action. Ice is improving and we are still in an early ice period so now is a good time to try.
(Laabs runs Brad Laabs Guide Service in Detroit Lakes.)