Ice Fishing Report 3-18-20

By Ross Hagemeister,

Otter Tail County is still covered in an ambient blanket of snow.  It does have a peaceful quality and when the wind isn’t blowing I would have to confess the countryside is tranquil, especially in mid morning when the colorful hues of the spring sun reflect off the snow.  The spring snow and sun are bright and reassuring.  It gives hope.  We are living in an uncertain moment in time.  It will pass.  For now, go fishing—since we’re in a cold spell and there’s a little ice-life left.  Besides, it’s something to do.  If you don’t want to go into a store or shop for bait, be creative.  Dig through your box of tackle and baits and put some of the fancy fake stuff to use!  Here are a few things to try that resemble “bait” or mimic food for spring panfish:

Ice fishing is still open. Photo submitted by Ross Hagemeister.

–Try old rubber stuff like Mister Twisters, good old fashioned plastic worms, Berkley Power Bait, Berkley Gulp—usually found in your summer selection.   They don’t have to be perfect.  You can take a 7 inch plastic worm and slice it into small slivers that might mimic a worm or aquatic bug. 
—Try a piece of thread and string.  It’s time to pretend that you are a fish. Fashion an attractive yarn/string style “fly”  off of the end of your ice fishing lure.  You’re trying to mimic something that wiggles and looks bug-like.  You can also suspend your “fly” beneath a spoon or flashing lure a few inches. 
—Panfish love Jigging Rapalas.  Sometimes I tip them with worms and sometimes not.  Try the smallest ones you have, but they’ll bite remarkably large Rapalas—Rippin Raps work too.   

Sunrise in Otter Tail County, MN

These tricks will work, but they won’t catch all of the fish in a hole.  The first bitters are typically larger fish that actually act dominant and will race to a bait, regardless of  flavor or color etc.,  I call them the 1st biters.  You’ll likely get a good second biter, and then you’ll struggle to temp others to bite.  You’ll have to change holes and keep repeating the process.  I often fish without bait.  It’s a part of my common searching process.  I’m looking for groups of fish large enough and aggressive enough that I don’t need bait to catch them.  Good luck with late-season ice fishing this year.  I was on the lake tonight and found ice to be between 20-25 inches.  It was a low-grade ice.  It won’t have a lot of life in it after a few consecutive warm days.  I recommend foot or ATV travel.  Be sure and keep your eyes on the access points.  I imagine they’ll turn rotten earlier this season since the ice quality and thickness just isn’t there.  Enjoy the late ice in Otter Tail Lakes Country—it won’t be around much longer.  Good Luck, be safe, and stay healthy this spring!