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March Madness

Editor's note: John Kolinski is an eight-time championship qualifier during
his seven years of professional fishing on the Professional Walleye Trail and
Masters Walleye Circuit. His articles can be read in a number of publications
and at top walleye-fishing sites on-line.

For many angling enthusiasts, March Madness is a time between the ice-fishing
and open-water seasons when the call of the wild simply isn't as strong as it
was back in December and cabin fever gets a firm grip.
   There's not some magical change that suddenly turns fish into prodigious pigs
as the hard-water season winds down, but there are still plenty of fish to be
caught for those willing to put in the time and effort.  Location becomes more predictable as most species begin moving toward traditional spawning grounds.
   Pike will likely be migrating into positions near shallow, marshy backwater
areas where they'll spawn. Walleyes in systems fed by a river will begin working
toward moving water. In lake and reservoir environments without river influence, they'll be sliding into deep water around traditional spawning reefs or
hard-bottomed humps.
   Crappies can often be found suspended over deeper water near the shallow bays where they'll move when the ice goes out. Sometimes, they'll be tight to the bottom, too, so a good sonar unit is a must. Bluegills and sunfish usually take up residence in the decayed weed growth from the open-water season where food is plentiful. Perch tend to move from deep-water structure into shallower bays.
   I've also found that it's a good time to explore smaller lakes. In general,
they'll maintain safe ice a little longer than big lakes, but they also offer a
population of fish that don't get beat up in the summertime because of extensive
weed growth. No matter where you find these late-season fish, finesse is still the key to making them bite. By March, we're working on educated fish that have been able to avoid making a mistake that would land them in a frying pan.
Berkley's Fire Line Micro Ice
Berkley Fire Line 
Micro Ice
Start with light, clear line. Berkley's 2-pound Micro Ice is a low-stretch variety that provides plenty of
strength. Most importantly, it allows the tiny ice jigs and spoons to flutter naturally as you work them, much like the tiny organisms that panfish feed upon
in the winter. Whenever possible, avoid using any weight on the line other than the lure. The slower and more enticing the fall, the better.
Clear line is another key consideration because the water clarity will never
be better than it is in the winter when it's not subject to wind and weather. I like flashy baits, as well, and have become a big fan of glow-style lures. It's amazing how quickly you can attract a crowd of bluegills when you drop a bait down the hole. They obviously see well. It follows that we'll catch more fish by putting a high-visability bait down there.
Lindys New Techni-Glo Tazer
Lindy Little Joe 
Techni-Glo Tazer
Lindy has developed a great system with its Techni Glo Fat Boy Jigs  and its
Tazer recharger, which emits a strong beam of light that recharges the Fat Boy's
in seconds. I'm a firm believer in changing my bait often, too, when it gets late in the
season. We know by watching our electronics when a fish is eyeballing our bait. Many times, something about our presentation causes them to pass up the
opportunity for an easy meal, even when it's right in their face. We may not be
able to affect or control that attitude, but we can at least make our offering
as attractive as possible.
Lndy Techni glo Fat Boy Jigs
Lindy Techni Glo
Fat Boy Jig
If it's panfish I'm after, I'll set the waxworms aside for Euro larvae, which
are far livelier and more colorful.
John Kolinski the author

The Author John Kolinski with a
huge late ice "gill"

Expect light bites. In my opinion, spring bobbers are a must for these
finicky panfish, and it helps to open up the gap of the hook slightly for easier hooksets. A quality sonar unit is another tool I wouldn't be without whenever I'm fishing deeper than about 5 feet. It's a definite advantage to know when a
fish is moving on your lure, and many times I will see the strike before it transmits up the line to the spring bobber. Presentation comes down to three basic options. Always try the slow lift-drop method. It's tried and true. The only variation
I make is to "feel" my lure back down on the fall. It allows me to control the rate of fall, and if you simply let it free-fall, you'll never know if a fish grabs it on the way down.
Dead-sticking can be the way to go late in the season, too. In areas where
two rods are legal, I often set up one with a hook and minnow or a micro-jig and wiggler and leave it alone.The final late-ice method that's coaxed a lot of fish into biting for me is an ever-so-slight wiggle of the lure. When I know there's a fish staring my bait down but it won't bite, a little twitch often does the trick.  So don't give up on the ice-fishing quite yet. There are still plenty of fish
to be caught while your friends and neighbors are watching fishing shows on
television and waiting for the open-water season.   Just be careful. Avoid lakes where the ice is breaking away from shore. Always carry a life preserver and 100 feet of rope. And if you have any doubts, stay off. It's hard to catch any fish from the hospital or cemetery.
E-mail John Kolinski

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