Banish The Blahs SAYING GOODBYE TO WINTER

Sometimes a trout is so much more than just a fish. I learned this on a certain February day a couple of winters ago, while fishing with my father on the Whitewater River. This well-known stream in southeastern Minnesota is one of many waters open during the state's catch-and-release winter trout season. I'd roped Dad into hitting the river for a few hours on a sunny, mild day. He's in his 70s and is still my favorite sporting companion.

I am not one of those trout addicts who elevates those admittedly gorgeous fish to the status of a religious icon. Browns, brooks and rainbows are incredible, but no more so than a chunky smallmouth or even a bull-faced bluegill.

But on that warm, enjoyable day, the Whitewater's browns let Dad and me catch a break from the winter blues. Open-water fishing can do that to a person, even if he doesn't catch anything. Dad and I didn't, so I know.

Of course, there are plenty of cabin-fever remedies for the creative Midwestern sportsman.

Naturally, icefishing is the main show in Northern states right now. Michigan hardwater anglers should visit Tawas Bay (on the northern end of Saginaw Bay) for an icefishing triple play of perch, walleyes and northern pike. As you jig for perch and walleyes (hit the 'eyes in morning and evening, focus on perch midday) slide out a tip-up armed with Dacron line and a golden shiner for pike. Northerns weighing more than 20 pounds are caught here.

OPEN-WATER OPS

Though icefishing and the Midwest are a natural midwinter combination, there are several great open-water opportunities in the region right now. Among them is a fine crappie bite in extreme southern Illinois. In Crab Orchard Lake, crappies are moving into the shallows and good fishing can be had near the many fish-attracting habitat structures the DNR has placed there. Conveniently, the fisheries guys also mark the location of these attractors with orange buoys. Good early-season crappie action is also found on Lake of Egypt (near Marion) and Mermet Lake (near Metropolis).

On the Ohio river, walleye and sauger anglers enjoy good action below the Willow Island Dam near Marietta, Ohio. Timing is the key; once the snow melts and the water rises, saugers disperse into backwater spawning areas.

In Missouri, some fine pre-spawn walleye fishing can be had in March below the Harry S. Truman Dam near Warsaw. Use hair jigs or other crappie jigs, but expect to lose a bunch in the rocky riprap near shore.

THE SNOWS ARE MELTING

Finally, Midwestern waterfowlers who aren't content to stow their gear quite yet can worry snow geese. March is usually the start of the annual spring migration. The most successful goose hunters scout relentlessly for active feeding fields, set vast decoy spreads and use electronic callers (where legal) to entice these prolific birds. On a Nebraska hunt a few years ago, two hunters from our group "cow-boarded" them. Hiding behind a large plywood silhouette of a cow, these guys snuck up on geese feeding in a field.

That's an extreme way to beat the midwinter doldrums, but from the looks on those hunters' faces, it was well worth the effort!

For more regional information, go to www.outdoorlife.com/regional