February is a fun time for ice fishing
Welcome to February ice fishing. The days start to become noticeably longer, and the weather will start to be noticeably nicer. We will still have some brutal cold, but it never seems to last as long. This is when it can be fun to "bucket fish" on the ice.
Even the days around zero degrees, but with no wind and sunshine, can be very comfortable on the ice outside the shelters. Kids love to fish, play, slide, eat, play, fish, and play some more when it gets nice to be outside on the ice!
In our area we typically have about six more weeks of ice fishing once we hit February. Ice fishing will last another 8-10 weeks up at Lake of the Woods.
When it does get nice, we will see even more anglers on the ice. With more anglers, more fish get caught. Many derbies also take place during February, and that will increase the harvest rates from area lakes.
With the good thick ice, and the ease of travel now, we will also have more "wheel houses" sitting on the ice for extended periods of time. The increased winter pressure with the growth of ice fishing the last number of years definitely has an impact on the fisheries.
I know I harp on "catch and release" and "selective harvest" several times a year ... this will be one of those times again. Several of our area lakes have been kicking out quality sunfish, crappies, and walleyes the last month. When that happens, it is easy for some to justify taking limits, and better quality fish with those limits.
Just a reminder—"daily limits" are also "possession limits." If you took a limit of crappies yesterday and didn't eat any, you don't take another limit today! Stockpiling your freezer is an attitude that needs to be corrected.
The future of the quality of our fisheries depends on conservation-minded attitudes. Many locals will get outraged when they hear of others visiting our area and over limiting, yet will sit with more than their own limit in the freezer. We should be outraged when people abuse our fisheries! Be the example you expect from others.
When it comes to harvest size, because the rules say we may do something doesn't mean we ought to. By law, if you catch a 24-inch walleye you can keep it, as you are allowed one over 20 inches (unless you are on a specially regulated lake) but I plead with anglers to think better about that.
Those fish over 20 inches are our brood stock. A 24-incher is in its prime as a breeder. The best eating walleyes are truly the 14-18 inch fish.....please focus on them. Take a picture of that beautiful 24 incher and release it. Buy a burger for dinner!
Crappies are not in endless supply. Ten as a limit is very generous. It is awesome to catch a crappie over 13 inches, and in this area you will—put those big girls back for the future of crappie fishing. Take a picture and share it all over Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat, whatever, but be sure to brag that you CPR'ed (Catch, Photo, Released) that fish!
Our area is also well known for exceptional sunfish fishing and not just for numbers, but quality of size. Keep the 5- to 8-inch sunnies for the table and put those 8 inches and over back, so this area continues to be a pan fish angling destination.
When you're out enjoying the ice, be sure to go check out the "Ice Castle" by the Pavilion on Little Detroit Lake. A huge compliment to those that were involved in turning that from an idea to a reality!
(Laabs owns Brad Laabs Guide Service in Detroit Lakes)