Walleye fishing ends on inland waters in Minnesota after Sunday, Feb. 25, but some of the best panfishing of the year coincides with the late ice of March. And there’s a lot of ice. As February wraps up, I’m using my ice-auger extension on Twin Cities-area lakes.
Great walleye fishing continues on border destinations like Lake of the Woods into April, but locally, I’ll be targeting big sunfish and crappies. Late ice anglers pursuing crappies and sunfish usually think shallow, but they can be deep. I consider food sources and fishing pressure first when searching for panfish locations, and I’m always targeting morning hours and late afternoon. With the longer days, it’s possible to chase late-ice panfish into the evening.
March offers a great time to catch fish because of weather changes, lower fishing pressure, and many wheelhouses are already off the lakes. Many anglers have “wrapped up” their ice fishing and already are thinking about open water.
That said, as soon as we see a warming trend (not necessarily a melting trend), panfish head toward the shallows, but it is not uncommon to have success deep. Fish can be suspended, say 4 to 5 feet under the ice in deep water. Use your electronics to see where you’re marking these fish.
Crappies will move to shallower locations, like a point or breakline, toward any food sources. Those forage webs will develop wherever we can find water running under the ice coming off the bank or shoreline. That rejuvenates the area with oxygen and stimulates crappies coming in to 4- or 5-foot depths. The same rule applies when sunfish come into these bays, attracted by the fresh water coming into holes.
As for presentations, with aggressive fish in deeper water, I’ll use tungsten first. It drops down faster for more aggressive fishing, and delivers a great bounce for my sonar. I’ll use a No. 12 or No. 14 ice lure. In a tougher bite, I’ll revert to standard lead, which will flutter down slower.
Don’t forget vertical jigging spoons. Outdoor News Managing Editor Rob Drieslein and I had phenomenal success on Leech Lake panfish during a past March working primarily jigging spoons tipped with wax worms or wigglers.
This winter, by the way, I’ve done a lot of experimentation with one to three wigglers, and it’s amazing how often fish preferred two wigglers. Keep swapping out colors and try different jigging actions, too. Sometimes no movement is the way to go; just hold it steady. Good luck!