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Jarrid Houston column: Slush poses huge issue on most Northland lakes

St. Louis River Estuary, harbor opened up, so do-over ice may be slush-free to start.

Jarrid Houston
Jarrid Houston
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The Northland has become a winter wonderland of snow-making ice conditions way less than ideal. Prior to last week's big snowstorm, we were finding ice conditions anywhere from 3-10 inches and, in some a few spots, as much as a foot of ice. But the recent heavy snow weighed down a lot of that ice and many lakes are now covered with slush pockets and bad ice.

Not all was a loss, as the St. Louis harbor area broke free of ice and was completely open water, allowing for a chance to start the freeze process over without the snow and slush. Lake Superior also has wide-open water, so hopefully it can have a chance at a good freeze. The upcoming cold temperatures will help, but we need to avoid another snow dump. Unfortunately, as of this report, forecasters are calling for more snow this week. Yikes. We’ll just have to roll with the punches.

If you do want to get out on a safe lake, I highly recommend a track snow machine and watch for the deep slush. We trailered a snowmobile up to Lake Vermilion last weekend and found many areas of slush, so make sure to keep enough speed to avoid getting stuck. Also, rubber boots are a must.

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Let's jump into the fishing report:

Lake Superior continues to be in a holding pattern until we have safe ice on Chequamegon Bay. I still think we are three to four weeks out until we start the initial early ice spots. Let's all hope for cold temps and no wind. The areas that will freeze first will be near Ashland. Who knows if we will get fishable Lake Superior ice in the Twin Ports? Fingers crossed for a good, safe ice season on the Gitch.

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The St. Louis River was hosting anglers in the big expansive flats prior to the snowstorms. Walleyes were scattered, but some anglers were catching a few. Best bet was Clam Tika Minnows or noisy spoon baits tipped with some meat. Successful depths targeted were anywhere from 5-10 feet. It is important to avoid walking around and spooking fish.

Also, drilling several holes will not do you any favors and in most cases, you are just scaring fish away. Now that we are into a start over period for ice it will be interesting to see how the bite fairs through these next few weeks.

As far as panfish in the estuary, anglers are getting a few fish on Maki plastics tipped on small tungstens. Another good tactic is of course dead-sticking a crappie minnow with a simple red hook and split shot.

The inland lake bite continues to be good on deep breaks for early ice season walleyes. Depths of 15-22 feet have been our most consistent depths for action. It also pays to set up a tip up nearby in shallow water. On some days, the flags are better than the jig sticks, and some days, vice versa. With the common barometric pressure changes this last week, fish have been a little moody. But, as mentioned, we are still on a good bite.

Favorite baits this week for walleyes, pike and perch have been buckshot spoons. If the bite is on the slow side, make sure to downsize your lure or rig a bobber setup over a live minnow. For panfish success, we have been sticking to the weeds using conventional panfish tungsten jigs either tipped with a soft plastic or meat. It's hard to beat a gold tungsten (hint, hint.)

Everyone have a safe and enjoyable Christmas and we will see you on the water.

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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