March is one of the best fishing months of the year in this part of the world. With longer days come warming temperatures, melting snow on lakes and rivers down to the bare ice. This diminishing snow cover also allows light penetration to the depths of our lakes, triggering our cool water species to become more active. While lake trout and whitefish are active all winter, other species like smallmouth bass, walleye, crappies and perch can become quite dormant in the frigid conditions. This can severely restrict feeding activity so even when you do find the fish, it can be quite a chore to get them to bite.
This all changes as we move into March, with the best ice fishing of the year in the last two weeks of this month. After a tough winter, I have fully bought into March Madness as it’s known to ice anglers
I have two days planned on Big Windy for walleye, especially with the number if big walleye being caught this winter. There will be one back country crappie trip in the Whiteshell with a group of biologists and friends. I also have a trip lined up with long time friend Vance Hrechkosy for some stocked trout.
So little time, so much water, as an old friend of mine use to say.
I had quite a few great days of ice fishing the past couple of March’s. One was Shoal Lakes in the Interlake for perch and the other was to Shoal Lake, Ontario for whitefish and some bonus smallmouth. Those top my list once again this year. We found the perch feeding actively on sand bar in about seven feet of water on this massive, shallow inland prairie lake. While a bit of chore to find fish, with no snow cover and an ATV to drive around in, we soon found some fish close to a pressure ridge. As the day wore on the wind died. This only improved the bite as the sun beat down on the ice surface triggering an intense afternoon long bite.
It was much the same for the day spent on Shoal Lake, Ontario. We drove out off the Clytie Bay Road to a lake that was devoid of snow cover. It was another perfect late March day as we started looking for the big whitefish this lake is noted for.
Friend Pete Hiebert took us to an area he was familiar with, a rocky island with deep water surrounding it. We drilled holes from 18 to 26 metres and in the deeper holes we started marking fish. Whitefish like this type of depth, especially if it is in combination with steep drop-offs. They forage in small schools, herding the bait up against rock walls.
Josh McFaddin marked a number of fish on his new Humminbird Helix 5 unit. It was neat watching the screen on this digital unit. Since it has a memory, even if you turn away for a second, you can still see if a fish had come in on your lure. After some cat and mouse, he got one to commit on a Lindy Rattlin Flyer spoon, jigged just off the bottom. After a head shaking tug of a gorgeous 25 inch whitefish was on the ice. What a way to start the day!
A short time later friend Pete Hiebert got another fish to commit, this one measuring 24 inches. Two hours later, despite marking numerous fish just off the bottom, we could get no takers. It was time to try new water, deciding on a shore line point that extended out into deeper water. We started drilling holes in 18 metres and spaced them out all the way to 24 metres. There seemed to be activity in all the depths but it was a good 20 minutes before Kevin Stobbe hooked into a real good fish.
Man, as Josh helped him with keeping the line off the side of the hole, this fish must have run off a good 50 feet of line. I was checking Kevin’s drag to make sure it was set properly, and it was! This fish was just that strong. After about a five-minute fight we could see a massive whitefish down the hole. Josh skillfully helped it up the hole. As Kevin held it up for pictures, I compared this fish to a linebacker with huge shoulders, a real tank of a whitefish. While we only landed three whitefish during the day, all were true trophies and put up a great battle. I was starting to feel sorry for myself because as the day wore on, I was the only one to not catch a fish.
As three o’clock rolled around Pete decided to try one spot he had luck on years ago. He had saved it on his handheld GPS so it was with some apprehension that we started drilling holes. Well that doubt turned to jubilation once we dropped lines. Josh, Kevin and Pete all had fish as soon as their lures hit bottom! Holy smoke, what was going on? The only reason I didn’t have one is that I was changing my lure and I didn’t have a line in the water. Three smallmouth bass emerged, and the bite was on.
We were fishing a sunken island off a small island that was obviously a wintering hole for smallmouth. As my friend Jeff Gustafson knows, in late March once the snow goes and the sun comes out, this light penetration gets these bass in the mood to feed. We caught the smallmouth on small jigging spoons and I felt a bit of redemption since I got the biggest smallmouth of the day along with the largest walleye! Hooray!
All in all it was a day that makes living in this part of the country a treat.