Implications Of An Early Ice Out
By Craig Sandell © 20

I am pretty sure that most of you have noticed that there is an abundance of ‘soft water’ out there. Indeed, many folks have commented that this is the earliest ice out in recent memory.

So what, if anything, does it mean for Musky fishing?

In A Normal Year

Normally, the ice will go out in the waning days of April. The water will then begin its warming cycle giving rise to the spawning of a progression of fish species. Musky will spawn after Northern Pike when the water temperature is in the high 40’s to mid 50’s.

Also, weed growth will begin as the sun filters its way into the water column. The clearer the water the faster weeds will begin to become apparent.

Rain during the period when there is still ice on the water will not be able to penetrate the ice and provides little or no oxygenation. Also, runoff will not have a pronounced effect on the turbidity of the water and the mixing of the water column.

Early Ice Out

With relatively few instances of early ice out events, There is very little in the way of actual observations and implications of an early ice out. The folks at the DNR will likely have some thoughts on the matter, however such thoughts will either not be backed up by actual observation or will be mired in long winded technical postulations…in other words, they will be guessing.

So what are we likely to see as the calendar plods its way toward the opening of the season?

We are likely to get a fair amount of rain this spring and with the ice already out what can we expect?

During rainy seasons, oxygen concentrations tend to be higher in the water because the rain interacts with oxygen in the air as it falls. Also, runoff tends to mix the water column as it enters a body of water adding to the overall distribution of oxygen in the water. It should also be noted that the colder the water, the more oxygen can be dissolved in the water.

Bottom line here is that the early ice out should give rise to well oxygenated water making the likelihood of a fish kill minimal this year. It also bears noting that because they are cold blooded, fish need less oxygen when the water is cold. Aquatic plants also contribute to oxygen in the water. Since there is likely to be an early weed growth, additional oxygen will be dissolved in the water.

Obviously, the effect on a fishery of high oxygen content should support some aggressive early fish activity.

The other side of this coin is water temperature. With the early ice out, water temperatures will begin to rise quickly especially in darker water. What this means is that, as the water warms, fish and other aquatic life will use more of the oxygen in the water. You can begin to see that there is a tenuous balance between the amount of oxygen in the water and the amount of oxygen needed to support an active fish population.

This year, we are likely to see earlier algae blooms and early migrations of Musky into the cooler water of a lake or flowage. This will likely mean that our fishing approach will need to, more than usual, be in tune with the water temperature.

Early weed growth will also affect our approach on the water. It may be more difficult to find those areas where weeds are far enough below the surface to be able to pass a lure over them and trigger a strike. Your productivity on the water will require some good scouting of weed growth and dictate an approach that has you fishing the weed edges more often. There are a few lures out there that bill themselves as "weed free" and which could be candidates for fishing in the weeds…but, beware the hype.

Since the warmer water is likely to encourage Musky to find a cooler water comfort zone where they need less oxygen, the use of deeper diving crank baits and deeper running bucktails and jigging lures may be more effective during the day. Remember however that when the Musky are in the deeper water they are widely distributed and therefore, harder to locate.

As in years past, weather will play a large role in our fishing approach. Cooler evenings and moderate day time temperatures should make early morning a prime time to fish. The evenings may also be a productive time. Whether a night bite will be in effect will likely be unique to a body of water, so talk to as many folks as you can regarding late night productivity.

Rain and stormy weather will help to replenish oxygen and mix the water column a bit. Rain, if it is a cold rain, will help to cool down the water that is higher in the water column, making it more ‘attractive’ to Musky.

A Closing Comment

This year, more than in years past, it will be important to ‘keep you finger on the pulse’ of the waters that you plan to fish. Fishing patterns will likely change quickly as water temperature and oxygen levels change. Also, increased weed growth may give rise to abundant growth areas on lakes and flowages that make it almost impossible to fish them.

If you are an accomplished Musky angler, it may be worth your time to get a guide for half a day. If you are new to the Musky fishing cult, hire a guide for a whole day and be sure to have him mark up you map when the day is done.

I am looking forward to an exciting Musky season this year. This year will challenge us Musky anglers to put into practice much of the information that we have acquired from years of Musky fishing. I hope to see you on the water.

Tight Lines