It’s the end of the first week in April and there are still people on the lakes ice fishing. There have been a few days where lows at night have stayed above freezing, but most nights are still falling below freezing, which helps extend the ice fishing season.
Most anglers are walking or using snowmobiles on the lakes. Schools of perch have moved shallow, with a good bite in 8 to 12 feet of water in most lakes. Fish move shallow to feed. Perch spawn within days of ice-out on the lakes, so they are in their prespawn mode.
Fish eggs are similar to chicken eggs, with the yellow part the yolk and the clear part the food that feeds the egg. The last thing fish do before they spawn is add the clear part to the eggs, which means they need to increase their intake of calories dramatically during the last stage of gestation.
Perch are on the move when they are shallow, following the schools of minnows or scouring the bottom for insect larvae and crayfish. They can be here today and gone tomorrow, but will likely be somewhere nearby following the food.
Crappies and sunfish like to hold in deeper water adjacent to the shallows and move in and out as they feed. Members of the sunfish family spawn later than perch, so they are not as far along in the gestation process.
Crappies and sunfish eat more insect larvae than perch as a general rule, so they like slightly different types of structure. Perch like weed flats, while sunfish and crappies like shallow mud with reeds, wild rice and lily pads adjacent to deep water.
Walleyes in the Rainy River are also in the last stages of gestation and are feeding heavily as they swim upriver towards their spawning sites. This makes them more vulnerable to anglers and gives anglers the chance to catch, photo and release some of the largest fish of the season.
Mature female walleyes can weigh 20 to 30 percent more in the spring than they do during the summer because they are full of eggs. A walleye around 8 pounds may weigh more than 10 pounds at their heaviest during the spring.
The Frontier and Birchdale accesses were open at the writing of this column and Clementson and possibly even Baudette could be open for the last week of the spring season.
Walleye fishing closes on Lake of the Woods and the Rainy River on April 14.
Anglers are reminded that the spring season on the Rainy River is strictly “catch and release,” which is a change over past seasons.
Sturgeon fishing is also open and is also “catch and release” only. Many sturgeon are caught accidentally by walleye anglers, but there are also anglers that specifically target the sturgeon.
The harvest season for sturgeon runs from April 24 until May 7. Anglers should check the regulations for more information.
Fishing for sturgeon requires some heavy tackle if you want to be able to play and land the fish and release them unharmed. You have to be planning to catch something up to 100 pounds when fishing sturgeon, so a big landing net is important.
Most muskie rods will work for sturgeon. Use a big hook like a No. 4 or No. 5 circle hook with a short shank. A combination of night crawlers and emerald shiners is a good choice for bait. Load the hook full to have a good sized blob of bait on the hook.
Leaders should be kept short, 12 to 18 inches is usually enough. A flat river sinker is ideal, with 3 to 5 ounces usually necessary to keep the bait from tumbling on the bottom. Sturgeon bite very light, so set the hook as soon as you feel a little wiggle on the line.
Twenty pound test line is usually enough if anglers are using straight mono. Anglers can also use 50 to 80 pound braided line with a 20 to 30 pound test mono leader for sturgeon.