Mid-Winter Walleyes

February 9, 2009 by  

By Dave Genz
When the going gets tough, the tough go offshore.

Dave Genz with a giant midwinter walleye

Dave Genz with a giant midwinter walleye

During a recent seminar, a fresh-faced, high-school aged kid asked me to summarize ice fishing in one piece of advice. That’s near impossible to do, of course, but in retrospect, I liked my off-the-cuff response: Avoid the crowds.

I’ve caught a lot of fish through the ice, and if it were all about catching and killing, I’m not sure I’d still maintain my passion for any outdoor activity. For me, like many of you, it’s all about the chase, so why would I hang around a cluster of folks working one piece of structure on massive lake? All that fishing pressure usually turns off the bite anyway. Sure, I like to commiserate as much as anyone at a tournament or other event, but when I’m out fishing just for me, you’d better believe I’m often striking off on my own.

That means avoiding what we Ice Team Power Sticks call community spots. With today’s tools like GPS and map chips, you can spend an entire season working new areas away from the crowds. Everyone asks “Where they bitin’?” at baitshops and hears the same things. Those tips rarely provide the latest and greatest information, and usually end up congregating everyone together. The latest and greatest develops when clever folks like you reading this article use your savvy, wits, and intelligence to find the next the honeyhole. For the purposes of this piece, let’s apply that to midwinter walleyes.

Start with a hydrographic lake map with up-to-date contours. Currents and other factors can alter structure, plus new mapping technology is revealing places we didn’t know existed as recently as a few years ago. For walleyes after the first of the year, look for offshore structure like humps, points, reefs, and drop-offs – those places where the map contours are close together.

Early in the season for ice walleyes, we explored near-shore structure, but by the time you’re reading this, many ’eyes have begun associating with rocks piles, mud flats, and underwater islands farther offshore. Just as bass anglers talk about “spot on the spot” fishing locations during the heat of summer, we can find similar hunks of structure in the winter where walleyes will congregate.

It’s also a time where some scouting and – yes, folks – drilling a fair number of holes can pay off. We’re not just drilling holes to make noise, but I firmly believe that too many people wait around for fish to find them. Sounds like a cold waste of time to me, which perhaps is why I have such a reputation for mobility. All that pre-season scouting via boat, or shooting through the ice with our sonar now is delivering its dividends. Every hole has a purpose, perhaps as we work our way around a hump, or points breaking off an offshore rock pile. Spend a couple minutes at each hole, using your electronics to see if you mark any fish.

Lately I’ve been preaching the need to “fish heavy” and reach those deep fish fast. If you’re marking fish at 30 feet, we don’t want to be putzing around waiting for a tiny lure to drop to those fish. Once you reach them, work it, but if nothing produces, move on. And don’t be afraid to investigate the entire water column, particularly midday when the food chain – beginning at the bottom with insect larvae – is kicking into high gear. Pursuing baitfish may attract walleyes to a broad zone over, around, and to the sides of this key structure. We forget sometimes to think in 3-D. If nothing pans out, proceed to your next hole. Top holes usually combine pieces of structure, say a few weeds, a transition from mud to rocks, a drop-off, or all of the above.

The noise factor is real and it should concern us, so get your drilling completed as early as possible so things calm down a bit before the prime hours at dusk. During the ice fishing season, the twilight-loving walleye travels mostly at dawn and dusk, following the corridors around these humps and other forms of structure that we’ve scouted out. They’ll fan out over them and we usually enjoy 90 minutes of pretty good fishing as this develops.

If the structure doesn’t produce, I don’t hesitate to begin working off into no man’s land. I prefer to work this pattern – drilling and fishing, drilling and fishing – with a partner, simply to cover more ground and increase our efficiency. Particularly in the midseason, when often several inches of snow covers the ice, it’s pretty dark down there, and that means walleyes are a little more willing to pursue prey during daylight, even midday hours. Don’t give up.

After the early ice flurry, too many anglers give up on walleyes until the end of the season. Use more finesse than you would during those seasons, but keep fishing! Yes, the metabolism of these fish slowed down, so they’re not eating as much, but I would argue that this is one of the best times of winter to pattern the foraging habits of these fish. My favorite offshore location this time of year, when lethargic fish are interested in conserving energy and not moving much, is right off a sharp drop-off. If you can find insects rising off the bottom blurring your sonar, you’ve hit pay dirt. Here’s where your sonar and underwater camera really come into play.

On a related note, take advantage of the second line we can use while ice fishing in Minnesota (or three in Wisconsin) to deadstick a hole while investigating other areas. A couple guys working in tandem can become very productive operating this way.

Top baits in my arsenal this time of year start with the Rattl’n Flyer Spoon in multiple sizes depending on the depth of the water. Brings lots of colors, especially Techni-Glo red, perch, and silver shiner. Add lots of live bait, be it a minnow to all your treble hooks, or on a Genz Worm add a bunch of Eurolarvae. The more scent the better this cold, dark time of year.

Yeah, fishing’s a little tougher right now, but hang in there and in another month, the late-ice frenzy will be upon us!

Article provided by the Ice Team.


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