Structure and top colors for super-late ice season crappies and bluegills [Video]
Late season sunfish and crappie movement is underway across the ice fishing belt. I witnessed this firsthand fishing a north-central Minnesota lake earlier this week. Crappies in Minnesota typically head for the shallows a little later, say mid-March in Minnesota, but crappies and sunfish were on top of each other during my recent foray onto the hard water.
Shallower south-facing bays and even offshore flats are the most likely location. Why? Because they’re the first places in late winter and spring to begin rejuvenating. Near shore, snow on south-facing slopes will melt first and this oxygen-rich water will flow into the lakes through holes and shorelines. With the recent heat in Minnesota, we saw water swirling down the ice holes, so the oxygenation effect is underway mid-ice, too.
Crappies especially will be moving to edges of shallow breaklines, bays, and edges of near-shore flats. We caught fish in four or five feet, but they may be in a mere couple feet of water! Again, depending on the winter or your latitude, some years this activity may be occurring by late February.
I consider this the best time to be ice fishing. It’s more productive than early ice because the fishing pressure has dissipated (fewer people and vehicles), and the fish are quite simply on a feeding rampage. Now, if word of a hot bite gets out, throngs of anglers can push sunfish and crappies back out into deep water.
Also, as the season progresses, the sun and heat begin creating black ice – the kind you can drive an ice spud through all too easily – and we need to pay special attention to safety. Ice quality is deteriorating fast across Minnesota, and we may be down to a matter of days for reasonable hard-water fishing, so get out exploring now before the season is over. Fish in pairs, wear a life jacket late in the season, and have an action plan in case of an emergency.
One final tip: So many people tend to drill holes where there’s no snow cover. Bad idea. Snow is a good thing, because it helps cushion and mitigate the noise. Also, don’t skim all the ice out of that hole. Shallow panfish are spooky at any time of the year, and that little bit of slush in the hole helps diffuse the sunlight and makes fish less skittish.
Finally, our top colors earlier this week were pink and white. I offer some general thoughts on lure color in the accompanying video. Good luck during these final few days of ice fishing, then bring on open water!