IT WAS hard to believe last Sunday morning that just six days before the open water fishing season officially opens, the scribbler was standing on 27 inches of ice catching crappies.

And that was on the dark waters of the Three Lakes Chain, pretty much the second type of lake to thaw behind the really shallow waterbodies.

The ice would be thicker and will last longer on those deep, clear lakes, which include North Twin, Trout, Lake Tomahawk, Butternut, Big Arbor Vitae and probably Big St. Germain.

That list of lakes is probably where you have the best chance of seeing ice anglers when the game-fishing season for walleyes, northern pike and bass opens this Saturday, May 5. They certainly will be ice-covered.

To put it all in perspective, in an average year I’m forced to stop ice fishing on the world’s largest chain of lakes around April 5. That’s something I’ve been doing consistently for 40 years.

And the average date for total ice-out on the chain, according to records that the late Bob Satran started keeping in the early 1950s, is April 20.

So with normal April weather, it takes about two weeks to clear the chain of ice after the last safe ice-fishing occurs. That could go faster, of course, if temperatures are above average or the sun shines more than normal. High winds can also play a big factor when the ice gets down to less than 10 inches.

That pretty much means there is little chance that any significant portion of the Eagle Chain will be free of ice come opening day, though some lake channels, Eagle Creek, the Eagle River and Watersmeet Lake are likely to be open.

It would appear that we are actually three weeks behind schedule, but using average ice-out dates in April can be deceiving. Higher average temperatures in early May could melt the ice much faster than the two-week normal.

I remember a spring more than two decades ago when it appeared we were going to have ice on the lakes come opening day, and several days with high temperatures in the 70s and low 80s took the ice out in half of the normal time. How fast it went was a shocker.

But I don’t see a long spell of 70s in the forecast this week. In fact the outlook after a 66-degree day on Wednesday is dropping temperatures, from the 50s on Thursday and Friday to the 60s on the weekend. So ice-out by Saturday is very unlikely.

The walleyes are getting more active because they are hitting small minnows intended for crappies, especially during the last couple of low-light hours each day. But it’s not likely there will be enough good shorelines left on most lakes for ice anglers to get out.

The good news of my late-April outing is that the crappies were still hovering over and around the deepest holes you could find — and they were hitting. We were fishing in anywhere from 21 to 33 feet of water, depending on the lake.

Many of them were suspended as high as 10 feet off the bottom, which occurs more often when fresh, oxygenated water from melting snow finds its way into the lakes. It’s also a time when the fish are more active and seem to feed more aggressively.

One clear sign of suspended fish occurs when your line is slowly disappearing down the hole and then suddenly stops. When you see that, reel up and set the hook. A suspended crappie grabbed the bait on the way down.

Opening weekend is going to be a strange one. My choices will be going to one of those deep, clear lakes with tip-ups in tow, or trying my luck on the Wisconsin or some other river where walleyes might be running upstream in anticipation of the spawn.

Anywhere that you can find a bridge or culvert with a good current, upstream of a decent walleye fishery, might contain walleyes. Below a dam might be another good option.

The big hope now is that most lakes will be clear of ice by the second weekend of the season, which is Mother’s Day weekend. And if so, you’ll find the walleyes in extremely shallow gravel and rocky shorelines, for they will be spawning.

We have fished perch on the Eagle Chain right after ice-out for years, for they are the second fish to spawn behind the northerns. And quite often we run into schools of nice walleyes that are on a feeding frenzy prior to their spawn, which occurs when waters temperatures rise to between 44 and 48 degrees.

The only good news about the late ice-out is the rare opportunity to fish walleyes that are in pre-spawn, spawn and post-spawn periods. We get the whole cycle this year, and historically, that doesn’t happen very often.

It’s a little scary that we were able to do the same thing in 2013 and 2014, when ice-out occurred after opening weekend in back to back years. After this weekend, we’ll be able to say that the ice went out late in three of the past six years.

In contrast, do you remember the spring of 2012? That’s the year when the North Woods recorded what might be the only total ice-out in the month of March. Old-timers couldn’t remember any other time in their lives that a March ice-out occurred here.

Checking back through our files, we got very close in 2000 when several of the small, shallow lakes went out in March. But not all of the lakes were out by the end of the month.

The irony of this late ice-out is that it was not a harsh winter, but one with average snowfall and no lingering periods of sub-zero weather. Winter just lingered longer than expected, including several large snowfalls and too many freezing nights. Heck, just two weeks ago, we had an overnight low of five degrees below zero.

So here we are again, in too familiar territory, wondering whether to grab the tip-ups or head to a river system for opening day.