Forget walleye, go for the sunfish, crappies, perch, northerns and eelpout
The past week was a bust for most anglers in the area.
We all know how much of a weather dependent sport this is during open water, and this last week's weather also demonstrates that winter fishing is heavily influenced by Mother Nature.
The close to record-setting cold from Monday to Thursday almost made us forget about the additional 5 inches of snow, followed by high winds and blizzard like conditions we also had during this last week right before the cold snap. This polar vortex stuff gets old quick.
As you read this now, we are back into a manageable ice fishing weather pattern. We will get some more cold snaps, as we always do in February, but nothing like we just finished getting through.
As we are into February now, you can plan on having about six more weeks of ice fishing in our area, and about eight more weeks on Lake of the Woods. The walleye season for our area closes at the end of this month, but stays open on Lake of the Woods.
It is still the time of the ice season when a slowdown of fish activity is pretty normal. That slowdown is not just here, but all over the state, and even on some of the hot bite lakes like Red, LOW, Leech, Winni, and Mille Lacs.
Even during some of the slower part of the season, some fish will be easier and more active to catch more consistently than the walleyes.
Sunfish and crappies will be more predictable and consistent, and the season never closes on them. You can fish them on the ice until you can't get on the ice anymore, and as soon as the water is open you can chase after them.
Perch can be a good alternative, but finding a quality jumbo perch bite becomes the challenge with them. In our area, we have tons of 4-9 inch perch, but getting on a 10-13 inch perch bite is tough. Only a few lakes in the area consistently put out an opportunity for them. There are destination lakes like Devils Lake in ND, and Winni, only 1.5 hours away, that are regular jumbo perch producers.
Northern will cooperate from now until the season closes, sometimes even when you don't want them to, because you are after something else! It won't be long before the tullibee chase gets started, and that bite also becomes a good ice alternative for getting a line stretched.
Oh — I almost forgot to mention the eelpout as another option. They have been increasing in popularity for not only catching, but eating over the last several years. Leech has had the festival for many years, mostly popular for the party, but increasingly so for the catching also. Leech and Lake of the Woods are the "go to" destination for getting on that bite, as that gets going good now and lasts a good month.
Plenty of options and time left to get on the ice.
(Laabs owns Brad Laabs Guide Service in Detroit Lakes)