I’ve been seeing early hatches of snow fleas here where I live and usually, they appear late winter and early spring. This coming week appears to be much warmer than usual and I expect the people with maple trees already tapped will be harvesting sap. I’m also seeing some of the local rivers starting to open up. We have less ice than normal this winter, so I expect an early ice-out this spring; and this also dictates that you be cautious on any moving water and especially low, swampy areas for the rest of the ice travel season. Indeed, official spring season starts in barely over two weeks from now.
Late-season ice fishing can be some of the best of the year for local ice fishers, but here’s the bad news — many lakes have a considerable amount of slush on them. The big wind we had earlier in the week wreaked havoc and allowed much water to come up and onto the ice. As well, you will need to check the fishery management zone (FMU) in which you intend to fish for dates to have your ice fishing huts off the ice. Some seasons have closed already to protect early runs of spawning fish, but many seasons are still open in many FMZs, so just do your homework and fish where allowed while you can.
Many spring-spawning fish are moving more now as they eat more heavily to help ripen their roe, and they will soon be staging for their spring spawn. Pike can be taken in quite shallow water as they will be feeding on the now more active smaller prey species found in such water. Pike also spawn almost immediately after ice-out. Walleye are also feeding heavily and likewise will be staging for their spawning run up some of our local rivers. Lake-dwelling walleye, which spawn on reefs and the like, will also be staging not far from their familiar spawning grounds.
Lunker lake trout will also be prone to shallow water now as they will also be feeding on the smaller forage fish before they head deeper in warmer weather. Speckled trout feed heavily, if you know of specky water, even though speckled trout spawn in the fall. If you are a pan fisher, then fish shallow water close to structure such as tree tops down in the water along shore or near beaver houses, as these panfish are forage for the larger predators. Often, if you are pounding on panfish, and all of a sudden the hot bite stops, figure a large marauding pike has shown up and wishes to join in on the action. Usually, if fishing for panfish, I will have a second tip up within 10 feet of where I’m fishing, the tip-up baited with a live minnow — which often a hungry pike coming to investigate the smaller fish will see and wham-o — fish on.
Late-season trail travellers, be they on foot, snowshoes or snow machines, need to be mindful of the low areas mentioned above. On said travels, know that wolves, coyotes and fox will have puppies right now, and I ask you not disturb their den areas, which often have abundant tracks and scat in the vicinity. If lucky, you may even see a setting bald eagle, hawk, owl, pileated woodpecker or raven as it broods its eggs. Most female bears will have their young in the mid- to late winter, albeit they do so while in their hibernation slumber, only to awaken to their young progeny, having been born whilst they slept. I don’t expect too many bear sightings for a while, though some bears may awaken from hibernation and start moving early, as they may not have fattened thoroughly enough last fall.
Open-water fishers soon need to go over their full set of gear — their boat and associated equipment, as well as fishing gear. Many of us have to budget for these items, especially big-ticket items — as mentioned, I predict an early ice-out this year.
What are you seeing on your outdoor adventures? Do you need further discussion regarding anything in the column? I enjoy chatting with like-minded northerners so do email me!
John Vance’s Outdoor Trails column runs regularly in The Sudbury Star. Contact him at email@example.com.