We are finally done with the polar vortex and its icy grip.

The weather will be more favorable for getting on the ice with portables now. Ice conditions are the best they have been all season after this long-lasting severe cold weather. Travel is also easy on area lakes, with thick ice and the minimal snow cover along with the hard-packed snow created by the cold.

If the forecast holds, there will even be some opportunities for “bucket fishing.” Sitting outside fishing this time of the season can be very enjoyable with the mild temps, more powerful sun, and good outdoor gear available to keep comfortable.

Now is a good time to remind anglers that on Feb. 28 the season closes for walleye, northern, and bass fishing on the inland lakes in our region.

You can continue to fish for perch, gils, crappie, tullibee, and eelpout. March 1 is also important for a couple of reasons. As of the first of March, all permanent fish houses must be removed from lakes south of the line created by Highway 10 and 34 in our area.

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You can leave a “hard house” on the lake past midnight if it is occupied, so skid and wheel houses can still be used, but they must be off the lakes if they are not in use. Remember, you can’t leave them at any public accesses, either. March 1 is also when you will need your new fishing license. Your new license will be good from the first of March 2021 until Feb. 28, 2022.

We are coming up on the time of the season that the tullibee bite will start getting more active and chased more by anglers. The popularity of catching tullibee in the later ice season has grown every year, especially over the last 5-8 years.

They are willing biters and aggressive to attack flashy spoons tipped with minnow heads. They are scrappy fighters on the end of your line. Look for them over the deepest soft water basin areas on the lakes that hold them in the area. You can check the DNR website to find the lakes with the best populations.

Most anglers smoke them, but they can be steamed or pickled as well. They are not as good a fish in the frying pan as other available fish. For smoking, some cut the head off and slit the belly and clean, much like a trout. You can also butterfly fillet them and de-skin them for smoking, steaming or pickling. They have a Y-bone, kind of like a northern, so removing that before smoking or steaming is a good idea, but it’s not as much of an issue if they are going to be pickled.

Eelpout (burbot or freshwater cod) have also grown in popularity for being targeted as a desired fish, instead of the accidentally-caught fish they were in the past.

Again, only some of the lakes hold populations of them in our area. Lake of the Woods and Leech have always been more known for eelpout catches. This is the time of year you can start locating them close to mid-lake rock piles. They are also willing biters and good fighters. Many times referred to as “poor man’s lobster,” they are commonly cooked by boiling chunks in salt water and dipping in butter.

There are several ways to clean them, and many anglers have made videos demonstrating techniques that can be searched online. The back straps are the most desirable for eating, but all the meat, including the belly meat, can be consumed.

Just know, you always have choices when it comes to fish to catch and fish to eat.

(Laabs owns Brad Laabs Guide Service in Detroit Lakes)