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Ron Hustvedt

Ramsey, Minn.

Embracing winter/spring purgatory

The good news is that winter will be around for quite some time.

The bad news is the same.

Welcome to winter purgatory. One of the best times of the year to get outdoors because most people are content to sit it out.

Fishing licenses expired February 28 and most people don’t renew them until the eve of the fishing opener. Darkhouses, fish houses and portable fish houses must be off the ice soon as well: March 4 on waters south of Highway 2 and March 18 on waters north of that line.

Turkey season doesn’t start up until mid-April around the same time as the regular stream trout opener.

Most hunters and anglers only tend to venture out to visit shindigs like the Deer & Turkey Classic March 8, 9, 10 and the Northwest Sportshow March 21 to the 24. Otherwise, the couch or easy chair is the place to be while the television set is tuned to one of the many hunting or fishing shows.

All of that is why this is a great time to get out there. The crowds have dispersed and some of the best opportunities to be had prevail. It’s bucket list time. We are living in unpredictable times and the months of March and April are the most unpredictable of all.

Minnesota’s jumbo perch lakes are about to enter what, in my opinion, is the greatest fishing opportunity of the year. Bluegill and crappie lakes are also great this time of the year through the ice. Catch a bunch, release almost all of them, and take home a fresh meal.

Stream trout anglers who have never tried the southeastern catch and release season might want to consider giving it a try. Watch the ice ledges along the sides of the creeks but soak in the silence of a slowly slinking stream before the spring melt floods them.

Predator hunting in the deep snow is prime time right now, just be ready to do a lot of scouting and cover a lot of ground. My son and I did some coyote hunting last weekend and while we were unsuccessful, it was a joy to sit in the snowy woods.

Someday sooner than later the snow will begin melting and snow geese will fill the skies. Waterfowlers who haven’t tried this hunt might want to follow the scouting reports as they move north. The action is hot and heavy once it strikes.

Fill the gas tank and drive north until the Canadian border shows up on the GPS, then keep on driving. Border waters are open to ice fishing for a long time to come and offer terrific angling opportunities. Whether you want to chase giant pike on the ice near where rivers flow into lakes, or want to venture onto a quiet lake trout lake, trophy ice fishing in March (and even April) is an exhiliarating experience. Just remember that ice is beginning to weaken and two feet of ice isn’t as strong as it used to be!

There’s more. Shed hunting, turkey scouting, foraging, and birding are all good excuses to cancel the cable subscription and let the couch remain unfilled. Bring the kids, bring the dog, and bring your husband along for the experience.

Surprises abound when you step out of your comfort zone.

Put the video games on ice and take a kid fishing

Kids love ice fishing when its introduced to them properly in a way that raises the fun and reduces the misery. If you wish to have a future ice fishing partner, the challenge is yours to make it something they want to do again.There are some basic things to keep in mind when taking any number of kids out onto the ice. It’s not just good advice for kids but for all rookies you might fish with this winter.

As a rule of thumb, understand that taking kids on the ice means you are a full service fishing guide, entertainer and coach while at the same time being a fun partner with an open agenda.      

Kid facts

Adults are nothing more than big kids who have learned to play the game of life a bit better (usually). Adults get bored, but not as quickly as kids. Adults want to catch lots of fish, but are more willing to wait than kids. Adults get cold, but not as quickly as kids. Seems obvious but most adults forget these facts.

If the child wants to play, read, or do something else besides fishing, let them. They’ll be watching whether you know it or not. If you show that you are enjoying yourself, chances are they’ll want to try it again.

Kids want to be independent and do as much as they can by themselves. There is a fine line to walk between doing it all for them, and letting them try it and fail. Be accommodating and helpful, but when they say ‘I want to try it’ or ‘I can do it myself,’ let them.

Shelter is essential, especially when the temperatures are closer to single-digits or colder. Renting a fish house for the day is a great option, but sometimes a bit expensive. A high quality portable shelter will keep you warm, provide plenty of storage for gear, and is durable enough to hold up to the wear and tear that only kids seem capable of dishing out. If you can fish on a lake where roads are plowed and someone can direct you so driveable ice, a vehicle can serve as a shelter—just make sure to follow all the precautions. Ice is never totally safe to drive on and conditions change rapdly.   

A numbers game

Unless they are already seasoned anglers, most kids would rather catch five one-pound fish than a single five-pound fish. Kids crave the action of fishing and numbers will have them asking to go again.

Separate your fishing experience from theirs. If you are taking a child out fishing, you are the guide and they are the client. If they get sick of catching little perch and tell you they want to catch walleye, then go for it.

On the other hand, if they want to play on the ice for awhile, this can give you a chance to pop a few more holes and find active fish. Keep fishing hard if you must and when you find the action get the kids on it. Just don’t lost sight of the overall goal, spending time together, so maybe it’s a better idea to put down the fishing rod and play too.

Everything you do in the outdoors has potential for misery–it’s how you respond to it that makes the difference. A child is probably going to get cold at some point in time and want to go home, but if they had lots of fun as well, they are going to want to go again.

Stay warm and dry

 Keeping warm is harder for kids than it is for adults. Keep them comfortable and they will usually stay on the ice longer.

If you have a depth finder or underwater camera, bring it with you. It can help your fishing success and give the child something else to look at besides a hole in the ice.

Short trips are always better than long trips. So start out close to home and plan on being out for a few hours. Have some snacks along and don’t forget the hot chocolate.

Remember that kids sometimes need a lot of processing time and don’t always make up their minds very quickly. If you ask whether or not they had a great time, you might not get the answer you want or they might focus on a minor detail rather than the big picture.

If they don’t give you the answer you want the first time, give them more time. Ask them a month later and they may have changed their mind. If not, give them until next season and ask again. It’s only a problem if you stop asking!