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Brad Laabs column: Getting the drop on winter: Ice fishing augurs well on area lakes

Both last winter, and this winter, have been years of late-developing ice.

We are coming into the first full weekend of the new year, and finally have enough ice for full size trucks to venture onto area lakes. Last year, with a late ice start, and an early ice out, we had limited weeks of the ice fishing season.

It is hard to know if that will be the case again this year, but we are a couple weeks behind our "typical" ice season development. As of now, we have about 7 or 8 good weeks of ice fishing in our area left. With the busy winter schedules for most people and families, theses weeks will go by quickly.

The recent heavy snows and high winds will make for drifts and hard-packed snow on the lakes. This can limit travel. Snowplows will now be able to get out on the lakes and clear roads to some of the community spots on a few of the area's lakes. The ice is finally thick enough to handle larger trucks and fish houses.

Travel off plowed areas will be with some risk. Make sure you have a shovel, tow rope, sand (or cat litter). Make sure you always travel during winter with warm clothes, and it never hurts to have a couple pair of gloves, a change of socks, and an extra pair of boots. Cold is challenging, and wet and cold can be brutal.

Locally, we are coming into some prime panfish action for this time of year. This bite can also be active during midday hours, which makes for great family time together on the ice. Kids can easily get hooked on the action panfish can provide.

The use of modern electronics to aid in ice fishing fits in perfectly with the tech oriented youth. It is also way better, in my opinion, to have them on the ice interpreting a flasher/graph/or GPS, than on the couch playing video games!

Walleye activity will transition to smaller bite windows, with early morning or late evening usually being the best. Not that daytime activity doesn't occur, but the higher percentage opportunities are sunrise and first hour of daylight, the last hour before sunset, and the first half hour after dark.

Some anglers like to night fish, and have good success with crappies and walleyes throughout all hours of the night. For walleyes, it is a period of activity, followed by a lull, and another period of activity. Time on the water can help identify feeding patterns. But like all fishing, the best time to go is when it fits your schedule and you can get out.

The ice fishing season can be extended every year by traveling north of our area to take advantage of late season bites that occur at Lake of the Woods, Vermillion, or into Canada on prime waters like Lake Winnipeg.

Due to the increasing popularity of ice fishing, pre-planning a late season trip and making the arrangements should start occurring now.

The Vermillion area can be a good place for walleye, or some of the lake trout available at connected lakes

Lake Winnipeg is for chasing the trophy "greenback" walleyes the lake is famous for producing.

And of course, Lake of the Woods is always known. not only for the quality walleye and sauger action of the late season, but also for the trophy northern pike bite that occurs on late ice. Northerns of 40 inches or more are common on a trip, and multiple fish in the 30-to-40-inch range are the norm.

Ice fishing until late in the season is a good way to pass the time until we finally get open water again!

(Laabs owns Brad Laabs Guide Service in Detroit Lakes)