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March 3, 2013

Cross: Time winding down on ice-fishing season

— Just in case you discover the walleyes in an area lake are on bite this weekend, here’s a gentle reminder: The inland waters fishing season for gamefish closed last Sunday.

And while we’re at it, tomorrow marks the deadline for removing fish houses. Starting Monday, they can be on southern MInnesota lakes between from midnight until one hour before sunrise only if they’re occupied.

Ice anglers in northern Minnesota are given a little more grace — until March 18 — before their shelters need to be pulled. (See the accompanying box for boundaries.)

In many anglers’ minds, those two seasonal milestones signal the end of the fishing season.

The rest of us target panfish during these waning days of the hard water season.

It was clear the other day as the spiraled section of my ice auger disappeared before finally chewing through more than 20 inches of ice that barring some sort of dramatic warm-up, there will be plenty of area ice fishing opportunities for the next several weeks.

Last year at this time, those days were numbered.

March 2012 turned out to be the warmest on record and by midway through the month, some were launching boats in search of ice-out crappies.

But the other day, with the temperature hovering in the single digits, by the time I finally settled into my portable shelter, I was grateful for the warmth radiating from the hissing heater.

Settled in, I baited up and watched as it descended into the depths as a sliver of green on the glowing face of my flasher.

Immediately, a faint mark peeled from the signal denoting lake bottom and transformed into a red bar merging with my offering.

At the nearly imperceptible arch of the spring bobber, I tightened the line and at the hook set, the light action rod arched sharply.

Moments later, a fat, feisty, eight-inch bluegill was flopping in the plastic bucket tucked into a corner of the shelter.

While catching fish is always nice, most of my ice-angling excursions this year have been excuses to share some time with fishing buddies or just spend some quiet time alone.

Last weekend, however, I was bent on catching lunch.

My quick catch hardly set the tone for the rest of the morning.

Three hours later, after releasing several small fish, my catch stood at three fat bluegills, three average crappies.

Not exactly a creel-buster and far short of a limit, but just enough for a light lunch for two, a gut-stuffing meal for one.

Later, with a few cuts of the knife at my work bench, I soon had a dozen slivers of firm fillets stacked neatly in the bowl.

A quick trip through some seasoned flour and a hot oven  (a concession to the triglyceride gods) and the fish, which had been swimming just hours earlier, were stacked neatly, steaming on a plate.

“Want some?” I asked my wife. She declined.

Sweet, white, flaky, the fillets — every last one of them — made a feast fit for a king.

And for a moment, looking at the empty plate fifteen minutes later, I felt a twinge of guilt over my momentary lapse into gluttony.

But for just a moment.

Then I wondered: Just what are the commoners eating for lunch?

John Cross is a Free Press staff writer. Contact him at 344-6376 or by e-mail at jcross@mankatofreepress.com.

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