Saturday, April 13, 2013

Late 2013 ice-out should mean extended season

Mid-August anglers like Mike Boyer may find walleyes shallower than normal
There is little doubt now that the 2013 ice-out on all lakes in Northwestern Ontario, including Red Lake, is going to be later than it has been in years.
We just got another 10 inches of snow here in Nolalu, near Thunder Bay, and Red Lake is expecting something similar this weekend.
Basically, with about five weeks to go before opening weekend, May 18, there still isn't a sign of spring.
For us at Bow Narrows Camp, we have no reason to believe we will not be able to operate opening week. In our 52 years of business, we have always been able to get us and our guests into camp for opening week. However, it could mean that we will not be boating to camp but flying. We would take off from the Chukuni River at the outlet of Red Lake, fly 20 miles over the partially-frozen lake and land in the narrows in front of camp. The west end of Red Lake will probably be clear of ice, just the big stretches between camp and the town of Red Lake that will be frozen. There will certainly be lots of places to fish.
This scenario is still a long ways off but it is looking more and more like a possibility. Mostly it is just a headache for us as camp operators and has little impact on our first guests, many of whom have done this type of thing with us in the past.
The interesting thing for our customers, however, is that I believe a late ice-out ends up prolonging the entire fishing season. Here's why. Let's look at the exact opposite situation -- a record-early ice-out. That is what happened last year. The average ice-out date for Red Lake is May 8. Last year ice-out occurred April 13, eclipsing the previous record by more than a week. What effect did that have on the fishing?
Although anglers the very first week found fishing to be quite different -- pike, for instance, were not on their spawning beds -- hardly anyone else the rest of the summer saw much of a change. That is until August.
Although Red Lake always has great fishing, we have noticed for years that there is a surge in activity around the beginning of August. Walleyes, in particular, seem to go on a feeding frenzy that lasts until the weather starts to cool off, usually in later August. The fish continue to bite well afterwards, but they move to deeper water.
The most-common misconception our customers and potential customers have about fishing on Red Lake is that they believe walleyes move to deeper depths when the water warms up.  But that isn't what happens. On Red Lake, walleye don't go deeper because the water is warm, they go deeper when the water begins to cool off.
This may be exactly the opposite of other lakes but it is the absolute truth about Red Lake, at least the western end of this lake where we fish. It probably has to do with all the deep bays -- over 100 feet deep -- in this area. They act like air conditioners for the shallower bays where we normally fish.
At any rate, last year we had a record-early start to the season and then a nice warm summer. It was still nice and warm in early August, right when we should have been hauling in loads of walleye from 12-foot depths, but inexplicably, despite the warm weather and continued warm water, the fish started heading toward their deeper fall spots, way earlier than normal. It was as if their whole routine was moved up by a few weeks -- the same length as the early ice-out had occurred.
Again, whether the walleye go deeper or not, we still catch them. But I think it was interesting that the fish responded in the way they did.
So, by the same reasoning, a late ice-out this spring should mean that walleye will be later in taking up their fall habits this year. They could be in the shallow bays right until September or even the first week of September. It will be interesting to see if that is what actually happens.

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