Hardwater’s Home Stretch

Across the Ice Belt, shanty towns clustered over community holes are disbanding as anglers rush to remove their shelters before state-mandated deadlines kick in.

On my home waters of central Minnesota, for example, regulations required all fish houses, dark houses and portable shelters be removed from lakes south of a line from Moorhead to Duluth by March 2. And in Wisconsin, ice fans south of Highway 64 must take similar action by March 8.

The mass exodus of countless colorful permanent shacks dramatically changed the landscape on the waters I fish. And according to veteran iceman Bob Bohland, who also stalks bluegills and crappies on lakes in my stomping grounds, the Great Removal alters more than the scenery.

“It really spreads out the fishing pressure,” he says. Indeed, former shanty-town tenants are now free to explore new territory, unfettered by their permanent houses. And one of the top places Bohland advises the newly mobile masses to focus their attention is on shallow weedbeds.

A lack of snow cover on many lakes has boosted weedgrowth, causing healthy beds offering an abundance of food and shelter to sprout ahead of schedule in many systems. “This past weekend, I caught a nice mix of weed-bound bluegills and crappies in depths from five feet down to mid-range flats in 10 to 12 feet,” he reported.

In the extreme shallows, where sight-fishing is an option, Bohland’s go-to baits include horizontal hangers like a Lindy Bug, tipped with a T-boned waxie. Deeper, he works a small Lindy Frostee Spoon into the mix. “String two waxworms on the treble tines, so you have a nice chunk of meat with nothing dangling for small fish to snap up,” he says.

In both cases, jig strokes are muted. “Don’t overdo it,” he cautions. Jigging is limited to subtle pops during the attraction phase and more muted shaking when curious panzers idle in for a closer look.

Good news is, the weed bite should hold water throughout the rest of the hardwater season. Bohland notes that fish may spread out as more weedbeds pop up. He encourages running and gunning in fair weather and hunkering down over prime lies when foul conditions limit mobility.


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