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Jarrid Houston column: Cold temperatures have firmed up the ice but slowed down the bite

Try tungsten jigs with wax worms for finicky crappies over deeper basins.

Jarrid Houston
Jarrid Houston

We all knew it was only a matter of time before Old Man Winter had something to say about our warm January temperatures.

This past week we have finally slipped into the sub-zero angling adventures. Is it hard? You bet, as hard as the ice. Speaking of which, with the extreme cold, we have finally made for some more sturdy ice conditions. Most slush pockets have now frozen up, making conditions not as wet. However, we still do have deep snow, so I would stick with track machine travel. If your only option is a wheeler or side-by-side, I certainly would not travel off the beaten paths.

It’s still best to avoid driving trucks onto most Northland lakes, unless you go west and north where resorts have plowed roads and where less snow and slush prevail and ice is thicker. Most resorts charge a small fee to drive onto the ice, but the convenience of parking and drilling during these cold days can be well worth the price. As usual, make sure to call ahead.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources report for the week of March 20.
Last fall's steelhead run was down a bit from 2021 and from the long-term average.
Based on DNR creel surveys, anglers landed an estimated 15,000 crappies this winter on Upper Red, compared with about 900 crappies, on average, over the previous 10 winters or more.
Lake Superior will be a popular choice for early-spring open-water fishing.
Firefighters responded only to find their water rescue services weren't needed.
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources report for the week of March 13.
Send us your big fish photos by email to outdoors@duluthnews.com.
The big pike was caught Jan. 22 on Mille Lacs Lake.
Season details for 2023 have not yet been set, but information will be available in May. The deadline to submit comments on the proposal is Thursday, March 30.
Send us your big fish photos by email to outdoors@duluthnews.com.

OK let's bust into this week's fishing report:

Lake Superior ice is growing with the cold weather. Some new sheets of ice are finally starting to grow in and around the Apostle Islands. That doesn't mean it is safe to plan a trip to Bayfield. It just means we may have a chance sometime soon. As always, accessing Lake Superior ice should be taken slowly and with the utmost respect.


The fishing has been so-so this past week. Splake seem to be coming around on feeding missions more often, so that is good. Setting out some set-lines will offer a good chance for a cruising splake and/or brown trout. Depths to target still remain around 10-30 feet. However, you can certainly tangle with fish if you fish the steep breaks into deeper water. Whitefish have been marked often on our Vexilars, but it has been hard to get them to commit. They can be among the pickiest fish that swim and cause any angler some frustration.

On the North Shore, we have heard of a few anglers casting the open waters off the breakwalls in Two Harbors trying for cruising coho. However, no confirmation of success. I think as we climb into longer days, this will become more and more of a viable option.

The St. Louis River had a decent walleye bite going on right before the temperatures plummeted. Best bites were coming in the mid-mornings and the later afternoons. Jigging puppet minnows and shiny spoons in metallic colors have gained some attention. There are many reasons I prefer a puppet minnow over a spoon. One reason I like the hard-bodied minnow baits as opposed to spoons, is because it creates more of a reaction bite. And make no mistake, covering more water underneath your hole helps as well. The only nuance when utilizing any type of glide bait, make sure to stick your "dead stick" far enough away so you don't get tangled. Best depths have been around the 7-13 feet and locations have been random. I like to set up near any break I can find though. Channel edges are good. Don't be surprised to run into a cruising sturgeon, especially as we climb further into February.

The bite on the inland lakes has certainly been affected by the cold front as well. Panfish in the thick weed cover have been the best bite. Small plastics tipped on tungsten have been best. The fish have certainly become a little lethargic, so you will have to work for bites. Sometimes, you will get them to commit right away, but most fish have been pretty finicky. Crappies have already begun to move off the shallower stuff and into basins. I mentioned whitefish being picky, but crappies also can be one of the pickiest fish that swim. Fishing tungsten tipped with shredded wax worms over the sides of deep basin holes has been somewhat productive, but, as mentioned, it may be a grind.

Walleyes have been biting in similar areas, but best to really concentrate on an area that is relative to a steep break, or other type of structure. Set lines have taken a few big pike and the occasional bass and walleye, but jigging in an ice house has been best this past week. Lastly, we are about half-way through the ice season.

Get out and enjoy but bundle up and be safe. We will see you on the ice!

Jarrid Houston of South Range is a fishing guide ( houstonsguideservice.com ) on Minnesota and Wisconsin inland waters, the St. Louis River and, in winter, on Lake Superior.
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