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Jarrid Houston column: We're heading into the waning, sometimes wonderful last weeks of winter fishing

Stop by and visit at the Duluth Sport Show this week.

Jarrid Houston
Jarrid Houston

DULUTH — My goodness, winter is flying by. It’s crazy to think that the regular inland lake game fish season is heading to a close in a couple weeks — Feb. 27 for inland Minnesota waters and March 6 in Wisconsin inland waters. If you have your heart set on late season, last chance fishing, better make plans to get out soon, although Minnesota/Ontario border waters are open into April.

According to the forecast, things should mostly be stable weather-wise, so fish should be more on the cooperative side. Conditions for ice travel continue to be good on most bodies of water. Usually, we are able to drive a truck onto inland lakes well into March. As we stand, snow has not been much of an issue, but any Northlander will agree that can change as we climb into March. As far as the bite goes, we are starting to see more and more changes. On a typical year, we can be into a good last chance walleye/pike bite right before the season closes. I am hoping this year is no different.

We have one more weekend of Sports Show commitments, this time the Duluth Sport Show that runs Thursday through Sunday. If you can, stop down and see us and maybe attend a seminar presented by either myself or one of the other great fishing pros we team up with. Check out duluthsportshow.com for more information. One thing is for sure, once this weekend is complete, it will be game on for a strong finish with late ice bites.

Here’s this week’s report:

Lake Superior angling on the Wisconsin side continues to be the talk of the town and arguably one of the most sought after ice fishing areas in the country.

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Ice conditions are for the most part stable, especially in the Chequamegon Bay areas near Ashland. Pike, bass and perch have been coming topside when targeting depths of around 20 feet of water. Don't be surprised to run into an occasional sturgeon roaming around as they are getting more active this time of year. Live bait jigged with spoons is the best bet, but as always, don't abandon your set lines.

In the areas farther up the Bayfield Peninsula and into the Apostle Islands, anglers are chasing lake trout and whitefish. These waters are most definitely on the more dangerous end, more exposed to winds and changing conditions, so you should take your time making sure to constantly check ice conditions. Last weekend we saw a big blow with strong winds that moved around some ice, so be careful. The bite has been fair to good depending on location and the day, but it still pays to fish away from crowds and avoid any noise pollution. Yes, even Lake Superior fish can spook easily.

The bite on the St. Louis River estuary continues to pick up. Most of the walleyes have been on the smaller side. But this time of year it is not uncommon to start to see some bigger females coming into the system to put on a feed bag before staging for spring spawn. We highly encourage any St. Louis River anglers to release prime-sized spawning fish this time of year for obvious reasons. We don't have the numbers of walleye in our system like Lake of the Woods or Green Bay. We are of the opinion that eater-sized fish you keep should be in the size structure of 15-17 inches. Let the big ones go. Best bite continues to be in the morning and late afternoon peaks, using spoons tipped with a minnow head. I still love the Northland glo-shot fire belly in the color of red. For back-bay panfish anglers, fishing has been very hit and miss, but it pays to drill out new areas and be patient with small tungsten and soft plastics.

Inland lakes also have had a bit of an uptick for fishing success with lots of biological commotion happening in soft substrate or mud bottoms. Panfish have started to drift off into deeper basins and have started to roam around eating mud bug hatches. You can still get good fish in weeds, but it is important to try and fish areas that have seen less fishing pressure. Pike and bass can still be had utilizing typical setline tactics with either a golden shiner or a mid-sized sucker minnow. On some bigger lakes, pike have started to dig up mud in search of frogs and other marine type food. This time of year can be a hoot setting up tip-ups and chasing flags. Don't be surprised to see the occasional walleye in similar areas. However, if walleyes are what you are after, I would start to seek out areas that hold spring spawning grounds. Tough to beat a Clam Tika Minnow jigged aggressively in said areas. This will capture the interest of all fish, guaranteed. Lastly, and again, stop by our Houston Guide Service booth or catch me in the RJs Sport and Cycle booth with my Lund Boats teammates. We love to talk about fishing!

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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