March Madness . . . for Ice Anglers


My favorite time for ice fishing is when most other anglers have stored their winter gear. Here in Minnesota, as soon as the ice thickness dictates that anglers must walk on hardwater instead of drive vehicles (ATVs included), fishing pressure falls to nearly zero.

I almost hesitate writing an article such as this one because I love having the local lakes all to myself. And “all to myself” isn’t an exaggeration. Even though the lakes I usually target in mid- to late-March are within an easy drive (45 minutes or less) of downtown Minneapolis, I’m often the only angler.

And the best part? The sunfish and crappies are easy to find and aggressive!

The Shot

Indulge me for a moment as I remember the best late-ice day of fishing I ever experienced: March 28, 1992. How can I possibly remember the exact date from 25 years ago? Easy.

As I was catching slab crappie after slab crappie from a northern Minnesota lake, I was listening to the radio, specifically March Madness basketball. Duke was playing Kentucky in what many people would later say was the best college basketball game of all time. Love him or hate him, Christian Laettner hit “The Shot” (click here for the video) sending Duke into the Final Four.

As those 2.1 seconds of overtime transpired and Laettner hit his miraculous shot, I was hooting and hollering while fighting a 14-inch crappie, one of dozens I caught and released after dark that evening. And there was no one on the lake to hear my screams or watch my amazing catch.

Ice Team’s Matt Johnson knows how to travel light and travel safely when targeting late-ice panfish.

Safety First!

Of course, no fish is worth dying for, so safety is paramount when it comes to March ice fishing. Whenever possible, fish with a buddy, and everyone should wear a life jacket or some type of flotation jacket/suit. Carry ice picks. Be smart.

When shoreline ice becomes marginal but solid ice exists a short distance from shore, I rely on my favorite pair of hip boots to keep me dry while wading in a bit of shallow water to access solid ice. I put a small amount of gear in my one-man ice sled/shelter and float everything across the open water until I reach solid ice. During the day, I’ll often sight-fish by simply looking down the hole. When I’m targeting crappies after dark, I’ll use my flasher to keep my lure in front of active fish.

While live bait is often necessary to entice finicky panfish into striking during mid-winter, late-ice gills and crappies will hammer larger jigs and soft plastics.

When it comes to lures, you can limit your gear to a few tried-and-true favorites. If I had to pick one color, I’d go with glow-in-the-dark. During the day, it works well for sight-fishing, and after dark it can’t be beat.

March is also a great time to bring your kids ice fishing. The sunfish and crappies are more aggressive and the temperatures are more comfortable than during mid-winter. Again, think safety first.

A few years ago, the author took his 6-year-old son ice fishing for crappies in late-March. The temp was 70 degrees, and the anglers watched a beautiful sunset; they had the entire lake to themselves. There was 5 inches of solid ice that evening, though the lake was ice-free only a couple of days later. Father and son played it safe by wearing life jackets. Photo by Dave Maas.

Check out the video below from avid ice angler Matt Johnson for more tips on March Madness panfish.

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