Midwinter Slowdown, Don’t Stop Ice Fishing

The winter started early this year in my part of the country and across much of the Ice Belt. There will eventually come a point in where the bitter cold weather starts to break, and the longer days will make it feel like we are making progress toward spring. This is the midwinter slowdown, but don’t stop ice fishing.


The Slowdown

A midwinter thaw is common in my part of northern Minnesota sometime during February. It’s nice to have a little break in the cold, with most species of fish getting more active as the end of the gamefish season approaches.

Some parts of the Ice Belt don’t have closed seasons, while the border waters in Minnesota have extended seasons for gamefish. The season for walleyes, sauger, northern pike and bass close the third weekend of February in Minnesota.

Good thing for border waters and panfish! I can travel to Lake of the Woods to keep fishing for walleyes, sauger and big pike, or I can stay close to home and fish for perch, crappies and bluegills.

My wife Heather loves to fish for eelpout, and I like to try for whitefish and lake trout, so there are plenty of options even after the general gamefish season closes in Minnesota.


Where to Go

Once the winter starts to turn the corner, anglers have many options for ice fishing locations. Ice is common across most of the Ice Belt after the January cold temperatures, so the sky’s the limit when it comes to places to ice fish.

Lakes to the west of my home, like Devils Lake, the Glacial Lakes of South Dakota and reservoirs along the Missouri River. There are lakes to the north which include Lake of the Woods, Lake Winnipeg and most of Canada.

Also, there are lakes to the east that include Lake Superior, Green Bay, Gogebic and Lake Erie, while lakes to the south include Mille Lacs, Spirit Lake, Clear Lake—or all the way to Florida for some saltwater fishing.

I like to fish new areas, but if the truth be told, I have some of the best lakes in the country close to my home. That’s why I chose to live here; it’s all about the lakes. I have so many good choices, I sometimes have trouble hitting the easy button, choosing to fish lakes further away just for fun, instead of fishing lakes right in my backyard.

The lakes have been locked into winter for more than two months around my home, with the lakes constantly freezing and making ice. When the first midwinter melt begins to happen, the spell is broken, and melting water full of oxygen once again begins flowing through the ice and into the lakes.

If the oxygen in the lakes is going to be depleted, it will start in the extreme shallows and in the deepest water. The fish often leave the shallows and start to suspend further from the bottom after the coldest part of the winter, to stay where the oxygen levels are more favorable.


The Fishing

Spring-spawning species start to develop their eggs in the fall, and their eggs have been developing all winter. The fish need to keep feeding to supply the calories they need to develop their eggs, and also to be in good shape for their spring spawning runs.

The long, cold winter puts the fish in survival mode, just doing what they have to do in order to keep going until spring. There isn’t much urgency in their daily actions until they start to feel progress towards spring.

The fish are not super-aggressive, and they don’t move too quickly, so the most attractive presentations are often the ones that move at the same speed. Presentations with too much movement don’t often catch the most fish during the dead of winter.

Fish often prefer presentations that make small moves, with lots of what I like to call “uncomfortably long pauses.” Sometimes, no movement at all is the key, with deadstick presentations catching many fish.


What to Use

Deadsticks come in many different forms. It could be a rattle reel on a fish house wall, rigged with a Gamakatsu hook and a split shot with a lively minnow. If I want to get fancy, I will use a colored hook instead of a plain one.

A deadstick could also be a Frabill tip-up rigged with a similar setup to a rattle reel. I use a larger minnow on tip-ups, so the perch leave it alone and don’t keep tripping the flag. I like to swing for the fences when I use tip-ups.

Fish can also shy away from jigging spoons or other aggressive presentations during the dead part of the winter. I like to use a Bro-Dropper in these situations, with a tiny Gamakatsu hook under a Northland Buckshot Spoon.

Sometimes, I use a small tungsten jig under a spoon, tipped with a single waxworm or a couple of maggots. I experiment with the length of the line below the spoon to see what works best. The right length is often 2 to 4 inches. Longer droppers get harder to fish because of tangles.

I also like to use a drop shot in the winter, especially for guide clients fishing perch. If the fish are feeding off the bottom, I can put a sinker on the bottom of the line and a hook further up the line, so clients can just put the sinker on the bottom, and put the rod in a rod holder or on top of a bucket and watch for the rod tip to bend.



I often use my AquaVu HD7i camera so I can see how the fish are acting around the bait. This helps me decide on what presentation would work best. I can also see much of this on my Humminbird Helix 7 Ice when I move from hole to hole, searching for active fish. Technology can be a wonderful thing; embrace it and learn how to use it.

A tip I like to share on the Bro Roadshow is, the best time to read the instructions for your electronics or other technology is after you have started to use a product for a while and begin to have questions. That way, the light bulbs go off much quicker in your head.



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