We are officially putting the 2019 open-water season in the books and getting ready for the 2019-20 ice-fishing season.
The open-water season started with some goofy spring weather, with the extremely elongated close to last winter. We transitioned from a cold spring to summer in a matter of days and had yo-yo summer weather. The transition from our summer to fall was just as goofy as the spring was, and we were never short of rain. High water conditions remain right up until ice now.
With the weird weather, the fish didn’t seem to mind, just us fisherman at times. Great catches of all species of fish were had all open-water season in the area this year, and I look for that to continue into the ice season.
The shallow lakes that iced over the earliest will also develop the walk-out ice first. Make sure that you have at least 3 inches of consistent thickness of ice before heading out any distance. Check the ice with a spud as you go. Some of your best early ice spots will be the same as your best season-ending open-water locations. Stay away from current areas and emergent weed areas during early ice outings, as ice is always sketchy and unpredictable in those areas.
Many time the early ice is also very slick, so the use of ice cleats can prevent painful or injurious falls. A set of hand ice picks can get you out of a breakthrough and get you back onto safe ice. No wheelers, side-by-sides or sleds until there is a solid 5 inches or more. Until then you will get your workout in by walking out and pulling your light sled full of what you need.
Read your regulations book to make sure you are following the lake limits and slot limits. We have numerous special regulation lakes in the region. The DNR has also re-opened Mille Lacs Lake for walleyes for the ice season. You can catch and release again, and you can harvest one walleye from 21 to 23 inches. It must touch 21 inches and cannot touch 23 inches to be legal for harvest.
Also, a reminder of the change that is in place for Lake of the Woods. Many years anglers have been used to keeping up to eight walleyes and sauger (with only four allowed to be walleyes). The limit is now a combination of walleye and sauger up to six fish with a maximum of four of them being walleyes.
Upper Red Lake is one of the earliest and best first ice walleye bites. The ice season will usually start just before we have walk-out ice around here. The regulations right now will allow for four walleyes with one being over 20 inches on Upper Red. I still recommend putting the over 20s back to help the brood stock keep doing their thing and keep us fishing quality walleye waters.
Stay safe, make good decisions, and error on the side of caution when it comes to getting on the early ice.