Seven-year-old Tristan Angen set the hook and had a fish halfway up to the hole before it got loose on Sunday morning.
Not to be deterred, he got his line right back in the water. Seconds passed when another bite pulled down his bobber. Angen wasn’t going to let this one get away as he landed his third sunfish, this one a keeper after a couple smaller ones were released to start the day.
“I might get to help scale him with a spoon,” Angen said of his role in preparing the fish for supper.
Conditions could not have been better for the youngster from Alexandria. He prefers the freedom of running from hole to hole on the open ice over the confines of a fish house. The weather on Sunday was ideal for doing just that after the fog lifted and the sun warmed temperatures into the mid-30s.
SMALL LAKES, BIG OPPORTUNITIES
Angen was on the ice with a group that included his aunt, Kayla Bous, and Alexandria’s Tyler Kluver. They were three of about 10 anglers fishing a tiny body of water a few miles south of Garfield on Sunday.
Ida, Reno, Osakis, Minnewaska and the Chain of Lakes are some of the most popular fisheries in the area. Ice houses form villages that give away the hot spots. But for those who like to get away from all the traffic, there are plenty of opportunities on smaller lakes around Douglas County.
“I like to be peaceful,” Kluver said. “I just don’t like hundreds of people and cars moving by your fish house all day long. People drilling holes all around. One or two people drilling holes isn’t bad, but when you have 50 people drilling holes and then you have a couple chiseling on the ice, it tends to get pretty busy out there. There’s so many [small lakes] around that you can’t hardly not find a fish.”
Kluver found them on Saturday when he and a group of friends and family caught more than 50 panfish. They were still searching for that kind of bite on Sunday, but that’s fishing through the ice. Schools move, and it’s on anglers to keep up.
“I just kind of go for the structure of the lake and where I think the fish might be, close to weed beds,” Kluver said. “I know this lake, but on other lakes what I look for is the structure.”
Panfish have become the name of the game for Kluver right now. He’ll target walleyes after first ice and get into a darkhouse to go after northerns. He speared a 14-pounder on a lake near Parkers Prairie, so the season has been pretty good to him despite the late ice that frustrated anglers this winter.
SEARCHING FOR HOT SPOTS
Alexandria’s Ryan Walsh headed north to spear on small bodies of water before the ice became suitable to drive on around here. That made for a longer than normal wait, but it’s a distant memory with the season now going in full force.
“It’s been fun,” Walsh said. “We’ve got a few fish. We were spearing before so that’s hit and miss. You stare down a hole for a couple days and get a few nice ones. I hit another lake the other day and caught some panfish — five, six of them and brought a dinner home.”
Walsh was fishing with his grandfather, Darrell Oberg, on Sunday. Oberg hasn’t been ice fishing for almost four years but didn’t turn down this chance on a beautiful winter day.
Walsh is still waiting to run into a great bite for panfish this winter. He’s heard good reports on Lake Osakis but hasn’t experienced it himself yet. He’ll go wherever he thinks that good bite might be, even if it means going off the beaten path.
“You just have to go out there and get your line in the water,” Walsh said. “That’s all you can do. I do like hopping little bodies of water and it can be beneficial. Sometimes you deal with hard-to-get-on areas. We worked really hard to go fish a lake by Brandon this year, a little pond way back in there. We fished pretty much the whole body of water and never had a bite, but it was a fun day.”
ON THE MOVE
Alexandria’s Tyler Floding was back from Fargo during his freshman year at North Dakota State University to get on the ice on Sunday. He brought a couple friends with him from school in Rochester’s Sam Schwanberg and Victoria’s Trevor McGuire.
Floding is a regular on area waters and got out 14 of the 21 days he was off for Christmas break. Schwanberg, on the other hand, had never fished Alexandria until Sunday.
“Just trying to figure out the local hot spots,” he said with a smile.
McGuire’s grandparents have a home on Lake Darling, so he too is familiar with the area. He was out on Lake Ida for walleyes the weekend of Jan. 23. They proved hard to come by before making the switch to crappies.
“We were out on Darling for crappies in about 40 feet of water,” McGuire said. “We got six on Saturday [that] weekend, but my grandpa said they’ve caught over 300 in there. Last weekend wasn’t as good, but fortunate to get out at least a little bit.”
Those three were just getting set up a little after 10 a.m. on Sunday. Floding pointed them in the general direction of where to start. From there, the search was on.
“You got to search them out,” Floding said. “The one day they were up in the shallows when we were fishing out deeper here, and we just kept drilling and found them up in shallow. You just have to follow that technique.”
It takes some persistence to stay on the bite at this time of year. But after a late ice, anglers are eager to make up for lost time.