So, what is normal?

Sunday, March 25, 2018
Ice fishing continues on the Iowa Great Lakes, but the bridge areas like this one at the Highway 9 bridge are starting to open up.
Photo by Steve Weisman

Ever wonder when it comes to the weather, “What is normal?” It seems that right now we are going through a lot of abnormals instead of normals. Take a look at our ice outs. The past few years we have had a lot of early ice outs on the Iowa Great Lakes.

In fact, last winter, reports from the Iowa Great Lakes Water Safety Council show that East Lake went out on March 10, although it refroze on March 14 and didn’t completely leave again until March 21. West Okoboji was free of ice on March 20. So, this year when we are still ice fishing on the 20th, we begin to think this is really late. Yet, on historical averages, we are not really behind. Records show that average iceouts are March 31 for East Okoboji, April 4 for Spirit Lake and April 5 for West Okoboji.

Latest dates ever recorded for ice outs are April 26 for East Okoboji and April 28 for both Spirit Lake and West Okoboji. I do know that the fisheries biologists like to have a later ice out, because it helps compact the walleye spawn into fewer days. When the ice goes out too early, the temperatures usually yo-yo and are not very consistent. This causes the spawning conditions to also be off, and the spawn drags on.

So, the million-dollar question now becomes when? It all depends on Mother Nature and when she allows the daytime temperatures to consistently be in the 50s, along with some gentle spring rains. At this point, we are still looking at late ice fishing opportunities. Perch are going on the south end of Big Spirit, crappies and bluegills in Anglers Bay and in Templar Lagoon, bluegills and crappies on the north end of West Okoboji, along with perch out deep. Crappies, bluegills and perch have been taken on Center Lake. I could go on and on.

The real issue will become the landings and approaches as the ice begins to pull away from shore. Ice fishing can be awesome on late ice, but I encourage anglers to use caution.

Open water at Chamberlain

Each year in March and April, open water fishing begins in earnest on the Missouri River from the dam at Fort Thompson to Chamberlain. Certainly, the weather plays an interesting part in fishing with days of 50s and sun, to days of 30s and wind, to days of snow squalls and rain showers, to days of winter weather warnings. Typical South Dakota weather as Mother Nature tries to decide if it is spring or still winter.

On the fishable days, the bite can be incredible with most anglers using a jig and minnow. For a lot of years, my father-in-law, my son and I would take my boat out and stay at Allen’s Hillside Motel in Chamberlain. However, I don’t have the storage that I used to have, and I keep my pontoon in storage longer. As a result, I’ve only gotten to go out a couple of times in recent years, each time fishing with guide Garry Allen.

This year I really got the bug again, when I attended the Iowa Great Lakes Fishing Club’s spring fishing seminar hosted by none other than Missouri River guide Allen, his son Mike and one of his fishing guides, Dave Hennings. Stories and memories of those early season trips really fired me up.

Following up on the seminar, many of the IGLFC members head to Chamberlain and spend four days and three nights at Allen’s and basically “take over” the motel (March 22-26). Usually, two to four guys will get together to a boat, so there might be 20-25 guys out there. Without a boat to use, I reached out to club board members Terry Thomsen and Dean Jacobson to see if there might be a spot in one of those boats.

Sure enough, they found a boat captain, Dave Hennings from Hartley, who spends the summer in Chamberlain and is one of Allen’s top guides. He was heading out early in the week and had room for not only myself but also Bill Borchers, of Sheldon. We were both really excited about this fishing opportunity.

So, as you read this column, I just might be setting the hook on a nice ‘eye! I will let you know how things went in next week’s column.

As I prepare for the trip, I do believe the fishing will be good, but even if the weather and the fish throw us a curve or two, I do know we will have a lot of fun. Hopefully, I will have a good report and some photos to share.

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