Safety is always paramount when ice-fishing in Nebraska. Safe, fishable ice can disappear quickly during February or March.
Daryl Bauer, fisheries outreach program manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, has the following tips for safe late-season ice-fishing:
— Ice gets thinnest and worse near shore first, especially in areas exposed to the afternoon sun. Be especially careful when you start seeing weak ice in those areas.
— Four-inch-thick ice may be fine for early in the season, but it may not be enough late in the season. Use a spud bar to check ice thickness and hardness.
— Be careful around objects, such as logs, standing trees or rocks. Anything that might absorb more warmth from the sun can result in weaker ice adjacent to it.
— Check ice conditions throughout the day with a spud bar. On a warm day on late ice, conditions can change by the hour, and that especially is true if the wind is blowing.
— Be careful about getting on the ice early in the day, then fishing all day. After a warm day you might find it hard to get off the ice where it was no problem first thing in the morning.
— Other than a spud bar, have other safety gear, such as ice picks, close at hand. Fishing late ice with a partner is recommended.
“There will come a day, maybe even a time during a day, when you just have to walk away from the ice, so be safe,” Bauer said.
On the other hand, Bauer said late-season ice-fishing can be quite productive.
— Water temperatures under late, thawing ice are surprisingly warm. That spurs fish feeding activity as fish often begin moving toward shallow water to find prey.
— Walleyes, northern pike and yellow perch will move toward spawning areas in shallower water at late ice.
— Fish are more likely to suspend under late ice, partly because of warming water but also because of the presence of prey higher in the water column.
— Active fish mean you can use bigger baits, faster, more aggressive presentations and get more bites. But always cover water.