I think I might have an ice fishing addiction. I mean, I love the opening day of pheasant, duck, and archery deer season just about as much as I love the opening of my Christmas and birthday presents. But nothing tests my patience or raises my level of anticipation more than waiting for safe ice--it drives me crazy and it gets worse every year.
These days, Editor In Chief Doug Stange and I wait patiently in our offices, our trucks loaded with ice gear two weeks before the lakes freeze. I sense he's just as excited as I am, though I think all seasoned veterans have a way of hiding their enthusiasm. Last season he popped his head into my office and said, "Let's go, there should be enough ice to reach the close spots." Upon arrival, it looked like good ice, but 5 feet from shore and one punch with the spud bar, Stange shook his head and said, "Not today, ol' boy." Bummer, but oh well, it's better to be safe than sorry--no fish is worth dying for. Two days later, we were fishing and catching. Love it.
The solitude of sitting on the ice, fishing through a hole, and getting that first initial strike and all the strikes after that really gets me jazzed. And before I call it a night, I'm already thinking about what I'm going to catch tomorrow. Most winters, I fish 30 or more consecutive evenings, or until the action slows. I'm not alone. Everywhere lakes freeze, a growing number of anglers venture out at first-ice. Many experience that same level of excitement and anticipation and fish every chance they get. After all, first-ice undoubtedly is one of the best periods for great angling success.
By midwinter, though, the action inevitably slows. And I don't care who you are or how much you like to fish, it takes a lot of willpower to continue going out daily and not catching anything worth remembering. Oh, the fish may be biting somewhere, but most of us have jobs and families. As the days get shorter and temperatures grow colder, many anglers become content to stay home. There's really no fun in freezing your tail off staring at a hole in the ice that rarely produces a fish. The problem with the midseason lull is that we tend to get stuck in the rut of not fishing, and only a few of us ever revisit the ice. Big mistake.
Late-season ice fishing quite possibly is the best time to catch lots of fish, including trophies. Perch often are as fat and aggressive as they've been all winter. Pike are aggressive and porked out of proportion. In states where the walleye season hasn't closed, the fish often are schooled in big numbers in predictable locations and are willing to hit most lures. Bluegills move back into the shallows and bite more willingly then they have all winter. Crappies strap on the feedbag, too, and can bite as fast as you can feed them. The opportunities are endless, and the action can be beyond description.
The few of us taking advantage of the late-ice bonanza really don't mind the solitude. It's a hoot being out there all alone jerking fish like there's an infinite supply. Still, a part of me feels it's my job to at least remind folks about the late-season action. It's good. I'm not just some hyped up fishing editor promoting ice fishing. If you tend to get burned out on ice fishing early, pace yourself and save some of your enthusiasm for the late season.
And as at first-ice, if you plan on fishing the late season, take appropriate safety precautions. Pack all the safety equipment (long rope, ice picks, and life jacket) required to free yourself if you fall through the ice, and always fish with a buddy. Be safe, be well, and don't store your ice fishing gear until the late-ice opportunity has passed.