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By Louie Stout

Area fishing opportunities should improve considerably in the coming days with a forecast calling for warmer and more stable weather.

Warmer weather will not only make winter fishing more enticing for anglers, but the warming trend should get the fish more active.

That’s not to say it has been bad in recent weeks. Anglers who have braved the cold temperatures and know where the fish are schooling have been catching panfish.

The biggest problem, say local tackle retailers, is that not many anglers have been going out.

“It’s been dismal the past few days, but that’s weather related,” said Darrin Schaap of Clear H2o Tackle near Edwardsburg. “We all know that the fish will start biting once some of this ice starts to melt and the weather stabilizes.”

Ice fishing action typically picks up with late, thawing ice and a steadier barometer.

One thing for sure – there is plenty of good ice on area lakes. Thicknesses range from as little as 15 inches to nearly three feet on some lakes.

Although not advisable, some people are driving their vehicles onto a few of the larger lakes.

“I saw a guy fishing on the Slip (at Lake Wawasee) out the back of his van today,” said Rick Christner of The Tackle Box in North Webster, Ind.

Christner said perch and crappie have been biting pretty well on the Kosciusko County lake. He’s also heard good reports about the sandbar at Kuhn Lake (Barbee Chain) and throughout Sylvan Lake (Rome City, Ind.)

The best fishing has been in deep water – 20 feet or more and a few feet off the bottom.

“The guys having the most success are using sonar fishing graphs to locate the fish,” said Bonnie Kelley of Kelley’s Bait in Lakeville. “I’m hearing good reports from Potato Creek (crappie) and Maxinkuckee (walleyes on jigging Rapalas). Fishing also has been pretty good here (Pleasant and Riddles lakes) for panfish.”

Bryan Williams at Trailhead Mercantile in Niles said anglers using smaller jigs have been having the best success on lakes around him.

Schaap noted that perch fishing is beginning to pick up on those lakes with good populations. Perch get more active as lakes begin to thaw and remain active during ice out. They are among the first fish to spawn. “Unfortunately, people are getting burned out on ice fishing but it’s still good for those who stay after it,” added Butch Taylor of Lunker’s. “It’s only going to get better over the next few days.”

Steelhead, too

No one welcomes the warming trend more than steelhead anglers, who have been hampered by ice jams on the St. Joseph River.

Dick Parker of Central Park Bait and Tackle in Mishawaka says good fishing will erupt once the ice leaves.

“When that water temperature comes up, the fish will turn on,” he said. “I’d be fishing plugs from a boat or drifting wax worms or spawn under a bobber from the shore.”

Parker said the fish roam a lot before setting up around bridge pilings and drop offs.

“Shore anglers should target eddies close to moving water, out of the main current and close to drop-offs,” he said.

Warming water also should draw more steelhead up river. Approximately 4,000 fish passed through the South Bend ladder last fall and Parker anticipates that many or more will move into the river from Lake Michigan when the ice is gone near the mouth.