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The Middle Ground…

| March 19, 2020 1:00 AM

As we approach the end of March, and don’t forget you need a new 2020 license, fishing can become a bit of a challenge as the transition from ice fishing to open water begins.

While there are plenty of opportunities to continue to ice fish, with most lakes still holding onto substantial ice, many lakes are losing the shoreline ice.

Getting out onto the lakes becomes the challenge, and we are almost back to walking out onto lakes because warm afternoons can prevent machines from safely exiting the ice.

Even a couple of weeks ago, I found a couple of lakes that had lost enough shoreline ice where we couldn’t have gotten on the ice anywhere.

With temperatures getting back to normal, and especially after last week’s sub-zero nights, the ability to continue to ice fish remains high, but precautions must be taken.

Let’s look at some things to consider before we get into some open water opportunities.

First and foremost, I would try and avoid any accesses that face West. Sunny skies and longer days, with the sun higher in the sky can really create problems getting off the ice in the afternoon.

Have a plan for an alternate exit strategy. Next, pay attention to the ice that you drill. Is it soft and honeycombed? Do your holes enlarge as the day goes one?

These are indicators that, even though there may still be a lot of ice, it could be rotting and becoming unsafe.

Just like in early ice, wearing your flotation suits, PFDs, ice cleats and bringing a buddy and some rope on the ice are all good precautions as the conditions become almost day to day, especially on the lower elevation, valley floor lakes.

After one of the mildest winters on record, the calendar does not matter, every body of water has to be judged closely every day and safety must come first.

As for the bodies of water that are beginning to open up, well this can change from day to day as well.

Last week, a couple of small lakes had enough open edges that small boats and kayaks, along with some shore fishing, allowed anglers to get some lures in the water.

This is one of my favorite times to shake the rust off and make some casts! Of course, cool nights can still ice these edges over, so waiting for the afternoon time is usually the norm.

Almost all the fish will be a bit lethargic, and your reflexes might be a tad behind as well, so give those fish just a touch longer before setting the hook!

Flathead Lake has been fishing very well for lake trout, for those that have been getting out.

One thing I will plead for is to make sure your boat and equipment is in tip-top shape, as the big lake is not a place to be careless, especially with water temperatures still in the 30s and a lake that is almost deserted.

The lake is also incredibly low this year, within one foot of LOW pool, and hazards are real when this low.

As of March 18, the ramp at West Shore State Park is temporarily closed, as one of the concrete pads has separated from the other, the dock at Yellow Bay was on the shore and Somers Bay is presenting challenges with larger boats grounding the stern upon launch.

It is a challenging time of year to fish Flathead but the fishing can be fantastic. The Mack Days contest will be kicking off here this weekend, and the word is it will be unaffected by the current restrictions surrounding the Coronavirus.

Be safe, whether you are fishing hard water or soft.

  • Howe is the owner/outfitter at Howe’s Fishing, A Able and Mo Fisch Charters. Call 406-257-5214 or at www.howesfishing.com