New Life on the Prairie (2002)

March 30, 2009 by  

By Jason Phillips

 Just when it seemed like it’s over, the action on the prairie potholes continues….on perch and northern pike that is. Well it looks like old man winter decided to get the last laugh this year and brought us some of the coldest weather of the season…in March. While it is tough to lose sight of snow geese migration that has been put on hold, the cold weather has provided some great late season ice fishing opportunities. These have been on bodies of water that ducks and geese will using as staging areas and breading grounds before we know it, but in the mean time these waters continue to produce the chance to use a variety of tactics to catch fish, if you do your homework.

A decade ago many of these areas were nothing more than cattails, cropland and pastures. Although the height of the wet years may be behind us, there is no doubt that the wet cycle has revived many of these areas into to first class fisheries. The opportunities seem endless, but finding the bodies of water that hold fish can be challenging and sometimes a little bit surprising. With all the bodies of water that have popped up during this wet cycle finding the fish can be the most exciting part or your trip.

For starters, size and accessibility are not real good indicators of where fish can be found. I have caught fish on bodies of water that cover less than a few acres and are in the middle of a couple of sections of pasture land and almost non existent in terms of practical places to fish. However these are sometimes the best places to get into the action, but how did the fish get to these isolated areas? During the peak of the drought in many areas of the state, there were only a handful of bodies of water that held fish. These bodies of water have been the source of an explosion of fishing opportunities. I had the opportunity to witness a great example of this exodus a few years ago while watching the spring waterfowl migration.

Runoff from a cattail slough was going across the highway into an established lake. There wasn’t more than a few inches of water crossing the road but reminiscent of the Alaskan salmon swimming upstream to spawn, northern pike battled the rushing water, elevated ditch and oncoming traffic to cross into their promise land. Once they completed their journey the water receded and they were landlocked in their new home. The greatest thing about this whole scenario is that this has been taking place almost every year over the past decade.

This has brought different classes of fish to a wide variety of water in the state. You can talk about the jumbo perch fisheries all over the world, but pound for pound some of these “cattail sloughs” have kicked out unbelievable numbers of world class yellow perch and great northern pike. With liberal limits and relatively small bodies of water keeping ahead of the competition is sometimes the most exciting part of the pursuit. It is not unusual to see 50 pickups on a 10 acre slough, with 5 gallon buckets full of perch. That is why you need to do your homework and stay ahead of the rest of the fisherman.

To do this you need to determine which areas had fish 12 years ago, when we were in the height of the drought. Take some time to study topographical maps and determine where fish could have traveled, remember the example from earlier where there is a will there is a way for these fish. The next lesson is never over estimate what types of water can hold fish. Take a chance, drill a few holes, and spend some time fishing in uncharted waters. When you get into the action it will be well worth it. It will be your own treasure, at least until word of your success hits to local cafes, elevators and taverns. That’s what makes it great, the challenge of keeping ahead of the rest of the field. And if things aren’t going so well with your personal pursuit of great fishing, the answer to the latest hotspot is easy to find as word spreads quickly through the local communities. Spring will be here before we know it and with spring the waterfowl will return to these prairie potholes, but in the mean time get out there and explore the depths of these waters for some great late season ice fishing action.


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