Open-water ‘March Madness’


Time sure does fly by these days. It seems like it was just yesterday when I was getting my ice fishing equipment ready and now I’m preparing for the open-water bite as we move through March. In my part of the Midwest, it really has not been that bad of a winter. In fact, I kept the boat ready often and enjoyed the open-water river fishing on the Mississippi many times with success.

Now it’s time to start getting ready for the great bite as the ice of the season leaves and more open, fishable waters appear in more areas. With that said, let’s talk about some early open waters on rivers.

The waters below the dams on the Mississippi are known as the “tailwaters,” and usually have areas that stay ice-free during the winter. These can be fished, as many anglers know, and limit catches are the rule. Even with more open-water spots now available, it always amazes me how many anglers get hung up thinking the only place they can fish in March is below the dams on a river. Many locations along the “big river” and other rivers can hold concentrations of nice-sized fish. These are honey holes where you can go and possibly not see another angler all day and catch fish after fish.

When searching, I fish locations that have minimum current flowing through. In the spring the current is more apt to be heavier from runoff caused by melting snow and early spring rains. So areas with less current is better like side cuts off the main river and backwater slough areas where fish can keep from expending their energy fighting the heavy main-river currents but still get food washed down to them. Here, fish will congregate in good numbers and be available. You will find that in spring it’s not uncommon to find multiple species of fish using these areas.

You can be among the first to get the latest info on where to go, what to use and how to use it!

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

If possible, get a good map of the area you’re fishing so you can pick out the spots that have these favorable conditions. If you have GPS, waypoint these spots so you can go right back to them in the future with no problem.

Your presentation is simpler in the spring, and live bait will be your number one choice. For your walleyes, saugers or northerns, lively minnows will work. A fat nightcrawler in March will also catch a lot so don’t be afraid to try one under a slip-float rig. For panfish, keep it simple again. Bluegills will still take ice jigs tipped with euro larvae or similar baits fished under a small slip float near structure out of the current. The slab crappies will prefer a minnow or waxworms. Look for those panfish to be holding in the same areas they being taken while ice fishing. The other species I’ve mentioned will be more mobile in their choice of location.

We are definitely in late winter, and the open water brings the anticipation of a great season ahead. Hopefully, this March you can make time to get out and enjoy the annual reawakening of a river near you.