Finding More Walleyes Below the Ice

February 9, 2009 by  

By Mark Strand

Bro with a nice walleye below the ice

Bro with a nice walleye below the ice

Conduct your own search for walleyes, one of the prized fish of the Ice Belt.

The conversation, for a brief time, sounds like we’re talking about the Internet.

“We’re such an information society,” says Brian Brosdahl.

Believe it or not, he’s talking about how to go out on the ice and find your own walleyes.

His point: despite all the great search tools we now have, most ice anglers are content to go where others lead them, to join the throng at the community spot. If they do venture forth, it’s to another spot somebody told them about, not one they found on their own.

“You should want more than the community spot,” says Bro, a key member of the Ice Team Power Sticks. “You can end up with so much more if you start out with no information at all.”

People who are good at something always make it sound easier than it is, but Bro swears you can go out on the ice and find your own walleyes.

“In my mind,” he says, “the seek-and-search game is the most fun, even though it takes time. In fact, after I find fish and catch them, I don’t need to go back there unless I’m guiding somebody else.”

Makes sense. After all, somebody has to drill the first set of holes. This winter, it might as well be you.

Beware the Advice

Bro warns against relying completely on tips from friends or bait shops. “On large bodies of water, it’s nice to have local tips,” he says, “but if you only fish spots other people tell you about, you’ll only catch a random sample of what might be.”

Bro talks about “making your own report” by striking out on your own.

How to Find Your Own Walleyes

Just because you’re determined to strike off and find your own fish doesn’t make you Daniel Boone, right? Bro realizes that, and offers a set of ideas that will help you conduct your own search… for one of the prized fish throughout the Ice Belt, walleyes.

First, here’s what you can find out before hitting the ice that will help narrow the search. “Everybody talks about lake maps,” says Bro, “and they are nice, especially if they’re detailed. But maps are just a starting point. It can be important to know where the structures, and the deep holes, are. But that still doesn’t tell you where the walleyes are; you still have to drill your own holes and do your own looking.”

Water clarity is an important clue, which is sometimes found on lake maps. But realize clarity is typically improved when the lake is ice covered.

Bro’s walleye tips, based on water clarity:

As winter rolls on, youll want to get away from shore and out towards deeper structure in the middle of the lake

As winter rolls on, you'll want to get away from shore and out towards deeper structure in the middle of the lake

The daytime bite is usually better when the water is stained or otherwise off-colored. “If it’s crystal clear,” he says, “I try to hit that lake early in the morning and at evening. That is, unless there are a lot of weeds. You can catch daytime walleyes in the weeds a lot of times.”

In clear water, walleyes are “generally deeper and spookier,” says Bro. “I like to target deeper fish. If they’re in 5-8 feet, they can be easy to spook. I like to go maybe 10-25 feet in super clear water.”

To make a quick overall assessment of a lake, look at the contour map and see how many structural elements there are, and generally how deep or shallow the lake is.

“Generally, I like a lake that has some depth and a variety of structures,” offers Bro. “Walleyes are creatures of structure. If there isn’t much structure, look for weeds or cover of some kind, like wood.”

When he says ‘structure,’ Bro means classic humps, bars (points), steeper shoreline breaks, rock piles and the like. But reminded that a structure-filled lake can be intimidating to ice anglers not used to ‘finding their own,’ he got specific, revealing exactly what sorts of spots he looks for from first ice to last.

Exactly Where to Look

When hitting the ice, Bro begins with shoreline points, especially if the point is close to a steep shoreline break (dropoff). Walleyes tend to hold in these locations for up to a month, depending on how long the ice remains where you fish.

Later, as winter wears on, walleyes tend to make movements toward deeper structures not necessarily ‘connected’ to shore… in other words, humps, reefs, or deeper water sections. “They progress to deeper bars and humps,” says Bro, “and also flats. Especially flats if the lake has little structure.”

In lakes with lots of structure, and massive structural elements, “fish the ones with the steepest breaks or any curves,” says Bro. “If structures are relatively straight, somewhat featureless for long spans, don’t choose those, because they’re usually areas of fish movement but not places fish stop to feed. But where these meet curves or points it can be fantastic.”

On massive flats, look for changes in bottom composition. A sonar can show you relatively hard bottom, by a wide, bright bottom signal. An underwater camera will let you look the bottom over in each hole, and you can often see for yourself what it’s made of.

Soft-bottom flats that meet humps or other firm-bottom areas “can be great at mid- to late winter,” says Bro. “Minnows group up on these spots, and there can be insect activity, even under the ice. Walleyes gather there to feed.”

Flats can be huge, so it helps to concentrate on the regions near other features, such as hard-bottom humps. “Look for the presence of baitfish,” advises Bro. “If you look down a series of holes and the (sonar) screen is blank, keep moving.”

As we approach late ice, “walleyes tend to return to shoreline structures,” says Bro, “and sometimes show up really shallow. They also head to mouths of inflowing river, drawn to the current to spawn. But I don’t recommend running to those areas, because the ice can be very unsafe.”

Look for “troughs and inshore drop-offs” to find walleyes in “safe-ice areas,” says Bro. “And this is where knowledge of surviving weeds can be important. Not the brown, sogged-out weeds. Use your underwater camera to look over weed beds and you’ll find the key areas. Look in any kind of a scoop-out near shore. They might be natural or caused by something, like ice heaves. They can hold walleyes in good numbers.”

 

Article provided by the Ice Team.


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