Challenges for ice fishing; here's where the walleye are hiding
Ice conditions remain very good in our area, with ice thicknesses ranging from 11 to 15 inches on most area lakes.
This past week has been above-normal for temperatures, with multiple days above freezing, and even a couple of days into the 40s. We did not make much ice this week and we did lose snow cover, even though we haven't had much. The ice we have is good, clear, strong ice. People have continued to drive trucks onto the ice, even though we should really have a few more inches for safety sake.
I am also still only recommending single-axle wheel houses (pulled out with ATV or UTV) or skid houses until we get another good week of cold (not mild) weather.
It does help that we have limited snow cover, as that is helpful for ice-making. Snow acts as an insulator and slows the ability for the cold to thicken the ice. ATV/UTV/sled or smaller vehicles are still recommended.
Stay away from current areas. Ice heaves or pressure ridges can be risky to cross, especially after the week of warm weather. Check conditions as you travel and make sure pressure ridges are checked before crossing. With the minimal snow cover at this time, travel on the lake is very easy, and many areas that are not always accessible are available to fish. Keep speeds to 15 mph with vehicles and 20 mph with wheelers.
Access points onto the lakes are also a challenge now, after all the heaving the ice has done the last week due to the dramatic changes in weather. Pick your way slowly and carefully getting on and off the lakes. If the forecasters are right, we should get some snow starting Christmas and continuing for a couple days following the holiday. Snow on the lakes will make sled travel on the ice a premium way to travel. It may create challenges for others as it is not a good time to put snowplows on some of the area lakes for at least another week or so. The snow will also help smooth out some of the accesses and some rough ice conditions on a few of the lakes that had early ice pile up on itself as we froze up.
There will be more activity on area lakes over the next week to 10 days as school is on break. Many anglers will get new ice fishing equipment for Christmas that will need to get out and get used.
Look for walleye to be holding in the 14 to 22 foot water on shoreline breaks or the edges of close-in humps. A combination of jigging and dead stick fishing will help determine what is working best on any given day. Look for the last couple hours of the day and the first 30 minutes after dark to be the most productive.
Northern can be had on the flats in 9 to 14 feet of water on weed edges or pockets in the weeds. Big minnows on tip-ups is always a good option for tricking some of them to bite. Sunfish and crappies are holding in the weeds (cabbage, if you can find it) or out over the deeper water, soft bottom areas. Small jigs and jigging spoons tipped with high-action plastic tails or wax worms will work for them.
Have a blessed and safe holiday season.
(Laabs owns Brad Laabs Guide Service in Detroit Lakes)