By Don Gasaway
Some anglers mistakenly seem to think fish are like bears and go into hibernation. Large game fish often turn up at this time of the year. The fish are not as aggressive when water temperatures are below 50 degrees. But they still eat and take a properly presented lure.
Any current in a body of water increases the oxygen content and fish relate to it. In general, fish are in the 12-to-20 foot range this time of year. On larger impoundments without a warm water discharge, the warmer water is in the section closer to dams. On the main part of a lake, the combination of structure and currents hold promise of good fishing. Fish tend to be just out of the current near structure. The forage fish are there picking up the small plankton that flows with the current. Bass in particular hang around the area close to stumps, beneath undercuts, rocks or just on a sharp breakline.
Thawing periods increase river flow and current. The warming trend that occurs signals a feeding frenzy in predator fish. For some reason, the larger fish are the first to react to the action. Often one will have to fish hard for a long time to get bites - but the bites come from the larger fish.
Gamefish like to hold on the edge of muddy water concealed from the forage so they can ambush them. The silt attracts the forage fish as it presents a source of food.
Disruptions such as noise on shore or in the water make the fish shut down. Light also seems to influence the fishing action. The brighter the day, the closer to the bottom the fish seem to locate.
Weedy areas or those with the dark bottom warm sooner and are areas likely to harbor fish. The weeds and the dark, muddy bottom absorb what heat there is available on a sunny day and hold it longer than any other bottom structure.
Lures for ice-out fishing fall into two categories jigs and deep-diving crankbaits. The rods should be very sensitive and the line very light. The bite will be just a tic and therefore the light line and sensitive rod are required for the angler to know of the bite. One-piece rods are more sensitive than two-piece rods.
Fish all lures slowly. The lure needs to get down to the bottom or at least near the bottom. Crankbaits like a Bandit 300 or Norman DD14 should slowly bounce along the bottom, kicking up small clouds of mud. A loose wobbling crankbait that disturbs the silt on a branch or stump is more likely to attract the fish’s attention than one just passing over his head.
Because baitfish are just as slow reacting as the ones you’re trying to catch, the crankbait needs to move in slowly. The idea is to make the crankbait imitate the action of the baitfish. That is to dart, slow down and shimmy in one spot before moving off.
The lure is going to have to be right in front of the larger fish for him to react to it. Long retrieves are a must in order to get the crankbait down to the strike zone of fish sitting on the bottom.
Jig fishing is a little less complicated. A 1/16th-ounce Lindy Jig fished right below the boat works well. With electronics one can park a boat right on top of the fish and bounce a jig right in front of their noses. It is possible to cover the fishing zone with the jig. The fish will not be more than a foot off the bottom. One can do well with just about any type of jig or jigging spoon as long as it weighs less than an ounce.
You also need to fish jigs slowly and right up against any structure available.
In the case of both jigs and crankbaits it is important to pay close attention for the tic of the bite. Then set the hook quickly. They will not hold the hook for long. Any variation in the action of the line calls for immediate setting of the hook. This is a game of total concentration on the job at hand.