Saturday, April 3, 2010

How will early ice-out affect spring fishing?

Douglas Falls, March 17, 2010
If the ice on Red Lake and other Northwestern Ontario lakes goes out record-early or even just earlier than normal, what will that do to fishing this spring and summer?

The ice on Red Lake is in bad shape and given the right conditions could disappear within a couple of weeks. Just check out Enid Carlson's blog for the most recent evidence.

Enid and Hugh Carlson own Viking Outposts and Viking Island Lodge and live on the shore of Red Lake. She shared the above photo of the bay leading to Douglas Falls, at the west end of Red Lake and a favorite fishing spot for Bow Narrows Camp anglers.

This shot was taken on St. Patrick's Day, March 17, during a snowmobile trip to Viking Island on Douglas Lake. That was more than two weeks ago but even then you can see that the lake was melting rapidly. Since then the ice thickness has probably been cut in half by the unusually warm temperatures for this time of year.

The weird weather continued on Good Friday with a thunderstorm!

Anyway, as it always does, the question being asked by anglers is what effect will an early ice-out have on fishing?

It will probably lead to an earlier spawning run by northern pike and walleye. Pike spawn as soon as the ice has cleared from the shorelines and from weedy and brushy areas at the mouths of creeks. Walleye spawn as soon as the ice is gone from the lake. Their favorite places are fast flowing streams but they will also spawn on gravel beds around the lake.

Normally the earlier the spawn, the more successful it is. Tremendous walleye hatches in particular usually occur from each early ice-out.

There are exceptions, however. If the weather turns unusually cold after ice-out, it can negate the time advantage. The best scenario is for the warm weather to continue so that the water progressively warms to the summer. This way the eggs develop rapidly, the young hatch and move off the spawning grounds to cover before they become the victims of predators or just accidental death.

So, early ice-out is usually a great thing for the fish. What about the fishermen?

Of course they too ultimately will benefit from the higher fish populations, but what happens this year?

On Red Lake warmer-than-normal water temperatures when fishing season opens almost always means great walleye fishing. The fish should be totally done with spawning and will be feeding aggressively.

The same holds true for northern pike. However, it can mean that dead-bait fishing will not be as successful. This style of fishing appeals most to pike when they are cold or tired from spawning. If the water is warmer than usual and it has been weeks since spawning they will hit artificial lures better than passive dead-bait. They will also be moving away from their spawning areas to look for prey.

If an early ice-out leads to warmer than normal spring lake temperatures, lake trout will no doubt be deeper than usual. The trout are temperature-sensitive and in a typical year will be caught right on the surface for the first couple of weeks after ice-out, then they start moving to deeper water.

This year lake trout anglers may need to add weight to their lines when trolling to get their lures down to 15 feet or so.

All lake trout on Red Lake must be live-released immediately. Lures for lake trout must have single, barbless hooks. No live or dead bait is permitted for lake trout.

Excellent spring lake trout lures on Red Lake are salmon spoons that have single hooks. The barbs on these can be pinched down with pliers. These are best fished by trolling.

So, in conclusion, IF ice-out happens earlier than normal and IF the weather stays warm from that point on, THEN I would expect at the start of fishing season that walleyes will be biting better than normal, northern pike to be more aggressive but spread out from their usual spawning locations and lake trout to be deeper.

It shouldn't have any effect on this summer's fishing other than it could lead to earlier-than-normal weed emergence. That's a good thing as weeds are habitat for young walleye and northern pike and for minnows and other aquatic life.

After last year's flood from incredibly rainy weather and the nutrients that the rain flushed into the lake, an early start to the growing season should see weed growth around the edges of the deep bays. In the past when similar conditions followed forest fires that also created lots of nutrients these areas were bonanzas for northern pike and walleyes.

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