Another hard water trout season is behind us, and this year has been productive right to the end. Hopefully this will be a good indicator of future success for those so inclined on open water.
Focus now is on crappies and sunfish up here on the edge of the Boundary Waters. Ice conditions are beginning to deteriorate, but still remain viable for the next week or so as there's still approximately 20-24" on most lakes where moving water is not an issue. Play it safe if you do decide to go out again for one last trip. Always carry life jacket, a good length of rope, and some ice picks or at least a screwdriver in your pocket, and really, don't do it alone. There's a lot of truth to the saying, "safety in numbers".
If instead you decide to hang up the ice gear for another season, perhaps you can turn your attention to getting your gear ready for the upcoming opener. One of the most important and often overlooked chores is to replace the line on all of your reels. It's also time to weed out those rusty hooks and unproductive lures from your tackle box. It's often better to have less gear that actually produces, than to clutter up the box with junk that will most likely never get used.
Entering the home stretch for trout fishing, as it ends on the 31st of this month, and that will be a big let down for a good many anglers in the North Country. From lake trout to splake, to rainbows and brookies all have been doing their share to fill in the gap of a closed walleye season. Some very impressive catches have been coming in from area lakes. This weekend will be the last opportunity to land some of these beautiful fish until season reopens on May 10th.
The success rate for crappie fishing is still building, although many anglers have been doing well enough. The action should continue to build through ice out. The crappies are still holding rather deep, down in twenty to thirty feet of water.
Some nice sunnies are providing some action on area lakes by fishing old weed edges and rock piles.
Ice conditions vary on each lake as well as lake to lake. Use caution. Just recently, a vehicle went through the ice. Fortunately, the driver was ok, but it doesn’t always end that way. Check often while crossing lakes to determine ice thickness. Also, check with someone familiar with the lake you venture out on. The locals often know the areas that are never safe.
The lakes are getting a bit sloppy due to the warm temps and melting snow, but as long as the entry points hold up, you can still travel on the ice. Many folks are out there every day and they are hauling home some nice fish. There's still plenty of trout to be caught, but not much time left to catch them. Trout season closes March 31st.
Area trout lakes are still producing lake trout in excess of ten pounds. Active jigging is very effective, but some are still being caught on ciscoes fished right on the bottom. Other trout lakes are giving up some nice rainbows, splake, and brook trout. Small salted minnows and small jigging spoon and wax worm presentations are the best bet there.
Crappie fishing is getting into high gear right now as well. The amount of holes you tend to drill is related to your success rate. Anglers that remain mobile have a great advantage as a fish or two will come through each hole before it goes "cold". Artificial baits are beginning to overtake live baits as being the most productive. Small Chubby Darters, Jiggin Raps, Lindy Darters and other jigging lures are good to start with as their bulk tend to draw the larger, more aggressive fish on the initial drops. The extra weight allows you to drop down quickly, and when you're hole hopping this is a plus.
Crappie action is heating up on area lakes and anglers are taking full advantage of it. Over the weekend, fishermen and women searched for the slabs in twelve to twenty-four feet of water and taking some crappies up to fourteen inches. Most anglers were using dead sticks with a minnow, but more and more anglers are finding that artificials are working very well in capturing the most aggressive fish in the schools. From tiny jig and soft bait combos such as Gitzit micros, up to small Chubby Darters and Jiggin Raps are working well for anglers on the move.
Rainbow trout are continuing to bite on area lakes. Early mornings are best, but some folks are managing limits throughout the day.
Lake trout are still active, and some of them are being caught in as little as twenty feet of water. This migration to shallow areas usually coincides with ice out, but this season finds them staging shallow earlier than past years. A ciscoe on the bottom works well and allows you to use another rod that you can actively jig with. Small spoons such as Little Cleos and VMC Tinglers are doing the job. Chubby Darters and Salmo Zippers are also a good bet to take lakers by working the entire water column with fairly aggressive jigging.
Traffic on local lakes has receded with the closing of walleye and pike season, however, those who have adapted by pursuing pan fish and trout are managing to catch a few fish.
Stream trout fishing is currently the most productive. A few local trout lakes have been giving up some nice rainbows, with a few browns thrown in for good measure. The most effective method has been using small salted minnows either alone or attached to a small spoon. It pays to work the entire water column as the fish have been working various depths.
A few lake trout are still being caught on with small heavy bodied spoons such as Kastmasters and Little Cleos. Some are tipping them with either a minnow tail or strip of ciscoe to add flavor and scent.
Crappies to fourteen inches are starting to appear on the menu, but it's been a bit slow and the bite should continue to build up until ice out.
Don't hang up the ice gear just yet as there's still some fine fishing to be had.
Another walleye and pike season has come to an end, but that doesn't mean we need to hang up the tackle just yet. Some great fishing for trout, sunfish and crappies still remain, and this can be some of the best action of the winter season. The fishing pressure has been greatly reduced and this minimal traffic allows fish to settle down and resume their normal feeding patterns without being pushed around by noise from above.
Area stream trout lakes hold very good numbers of trout and the access to these waters is for the most part easy. Try fishing the first couple hours of daylight with diminutive baits like ice flies tipped with a wax worm and a subtle approach, then, as light develops, get more aggressive with small spoons.
Crappie action will begin to build and continue to get better up till ice out. A couple of area lakes have already begun to turn out some crappies approaching fourteen inches, which indicates a good supply of fish ahead.
A reminder to anglers, Northern Pike and Walleyes season closes on February 22nd this year, so time is limited to put a few fillets in the freezer for the remainder of winter.
Although walleye fishing has slowed a bit, and lake trout are eluding some anglers, stream trout fishing has been holding its own since opener and the catch rates have remained good. One angler caught an eight pound rainbow trout while using a Jigging Rap.
Crappie fishing is beginning to shape up with near limits currently being caught. The action should continue to build until ice-out.
Ice conditions are exceptional this year with most lakes sporting twenty to twenty four inches of ice with eight inches of snow on top. This makes travel relatively easy for most four wheel drive vehicles.
The topic of the day around Ely has been of the trout fishing. Whether it be lake trout or stream trout, Ely has what it takes. Our area trout lakes have been experiencing some of the best action in recent years. Ciscoes, Airplane Jigs, Soft White Tubes in the 3-5" range and live rainbows or suckers have been the most productive.
Anglers have been getting some nice limits of stream trout. Tiny dark colored jigs tipped with a wax worm right at daybreak, the change to a lighter color as the sun rises higher. By mid-day, small spoons become productive. One reason for this increase of action could be the light fishing pressure of the past two winter seasons, due in most part by the limited travel due to the heavy snow and slush covering them. This is definitely not the case this season, as you can move around with ease whether by sled, four wheeler, or your run of the mill four wheel drive truck. Hint: Carry a shovel so you may cut an access through the berms of the plowed roads. Mobile anglers are in most part the most successful. If you're on a spot more than a half hour or so, and you haven't caught or worse, marked a fish, then it's time to move on. There are active fish out there, and you need to be flexible to find them.
Trout still lead the way in the fish of interest in the Ely area. Good numbers of rainbow trout and splake have been taken from area trout lakes. Times to target these fish have been at sunrise and just before dusk. Small dark jigs and the new dark colored preserved wax worms have been a deadly combination. No active jigging is required as strikes come just as readily when using them on a "dead" stick. Small jigging spoons then turn them on during mid-day hours when tipped with either waxies or salted minnows.
Lake trout too have been pleasing some anglers. Best lure choices to jig with have been Chubby Darters or Zippers and the Airplane jigs and Bionic Bucktails, some tipped with all or part of a ciscoe.
Northern pike action has remained fairly steady as they begin to drop into deeper water in search of the forage base. Live suckers or frozen ciscoes seem to work equally well when fished in eight to twenty feet of water.
It's time to get out and enjoy what nature has to offer in the winter season, so make the most of it while avoiding cabin fever.