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Good times ahead?
02-17-2018, 09:59 PM (This post was last modified: 02-17-2018 10:00 PM by Ron.)
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Good times ahead?
In tonight's Post Bulletin Newspaper.

I vividly remember a late-March ice fishing trip more than a decade ago on one of the gravel pits that will someday be part of Cascade Lake Park in west Rochester.

The day was warm, probably 55 degrees. The ice along the edge of the lake was poor, but I wore chore boots and found a place where I could reach solid footing without getting my socks wet. Within minutes, I was hauling in chunky sunfish and 10-inch crappies. It was wonderful to pull fish through the ice while wearing a light sweatshirt and no gloves, and after two hours I could feel the beginnings of a sunburn on my face.

With more than a dozen keepers in my bucket, I packed up and headed for shore -- at which point, things got interesting.


I'd accessed the lake from the south side, and a south breeze had picked up as I fished. When I got to the spot where I'd walked onto the lake, I discovered eight feet of open water between me and the shore. The wind had moved the ice sheet, and those gravel pits drop off quickly. If I had stepped off the ice, not even chest waders would have kept me dry.

So I backed off and started walking, trying to find a place where the ice reached the shore. After a couple hundreds yards of searching, I realized that my only option was to trudge to the north side of the lake, where hopefully I'd discover that the ice had been pushed against the shore.

I was in luck. It wasn't easy to drag my sled up the steep, brushy bank, but it was better than going for a swim.

I've never pushed my luck that way again, and I don't recommend that anyone take such risks. When the edge ice is truly iffy, I put away the ice fishing gear and start thinking about turkey hunting

But that day on the ice sticks in my memory not just because of my brush with danger, but also because it was the last time I enjoyed a truly great late-ice bite.

March is supposed to offer great ice fishing, but that hasn't been the case around Rochester for years. On our reservoirs, fishing seems to cool off in mid-January, with the bite becoming almost non-existent in February. By early March, the ice begins to deteriorate, and even when the ice is decent, I've had a hard time finding active fish. I'll mark them, and catch a few small fish, but nothing to get excited about.

But this year, I'm cautiously optimistic that things will be different.

For starters, we've got a lot of ice. I mean, a LOT of ice. I use a hand-crank auger, and when it starts taking more than 50 turns to punch through, that's a lot of ice. But there's relatively little snow on top of that ice, and we've had so many bright, sunny days that some light is getting through. That's crucial. Light spurs plant growth, which increases oxygen levels -- which usually translates into more action for anglers.

I haven't fished a ton this winter, but I've managed to get out a half-dozen times since early January, and while the bite hasn't been great, it has been consistent. If you're willing to drill holes until you find fish, then stay on top of them for an hour or two, you should be able to bring home dinner.

Thursday was that kind of day. Once I found fish, they bit decently for 20 minutes, cooled off for a while, then heated up again. Most were sunfish in the 7-8 inch range, and while the majority were tight to the bottom, some were willing to come up a few feet to chase a jig tipped with a waxworm.

I had five keepers in the bucket when the bite totally shut down. I drilled a couple more holes, found nothing, then returned to give the formerly hot hole one last try, using a new strategy. I got the jig down to the bottom, reeled up six inches and set the rod down. I normally jig pretty aggressively, but experience has taught me that sometimes, a motionless bait can trigger a bite on a slow day.

After 30 seconds, my rod twitched, and I set the hook on a solid 8-inch bluegill. Two minutes later, the rod twitched again, and soon another 8-incher was on the ice.

The size of the fish lessened after that, but I still caught another half-dozen fish before I packed up and went home.

I can't remember the last time I caught 25 fish in Rochester in mid-February -- and if the fish are biting during what's supposed to be the winter doldrums, it's possible that early March could produce a late-ice bonanza.

But be smart out there. No fish is worth an icy bath.

Eric Atherton is the Post Bulletin's outdoors editor. Contact him at eatherton@postbulletin.com.

The hardest thing in life is knowing which bridge to cross and which one to burn.
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