Winter Current Walleye Fishing

January 9, 2012 by  

By Nick Simonson
My prediction from last month – that winter would eventually get colder – was way off; so much for making the safe bet. The ice in most areas hasn’t grown much, and with unprecedented January temperatures crossing the 50- and 60-degree barriers across the upper Midwest in recent days, it has receded or disappeared in others. But like most outdoors enthusiasts in the region, the extended autumn has provided a chance to hone skills in very unique settings, which if this trend continues, may become more and more prevalent in the coming years.
Current Walleye FishingThis weekend found me on the mud-covered shores of my home flow, the Sheyenne River in southeastern North Dakota, current walleye fishing along the edge of the ice-wrapped bank of a river in the middle of a very dry winter. Nevertheless, the fish were present and looking to feed. These ‘eyes weren’t the aggressive specimens of spring, but they did oblige a well-presented jig and minnow slowly drifted along channel breaks and behind obstructions in the current.
I had been in this situation only a few times before, and it has been a while since similar winter conditions have set up such an opportunity for winter open-water fishing. Reaching back into my files from 2004 for that wisdom, and using the information my brother was providing from his previous days on the shore, we went to work. Armed with light monofilament, 1/8 and 1/16 ounce jigs on our jigging rods, we stealthily approached each cast, working those areas that played to the walleyes’ habits and strengths.
The presentation of live fathead minnows on small jigs was key, in part due to the low flow of the river, but also due to the fact that the compact package provided just enough of a meal for the finicky winter and was more maneuverable and natural looking with the light current. The monofilament, as opposed to a superline, was also employed for two reasons; the first being that air temperatures around freezing would have caused more frequent icing issues on the guides of our rods, and secondly the low, clear water may have revealed a solid line to the fish and turned them off to our presentations.
The fish were holding off of an old clam bar with gravel substrate and right along the edge of the ice flow that held up against the bank on the opposite side. The tactic which paid off predominantly was to cast over toward the ice on the other side of the river and either perfectly drop the jig in the first few inches of water, or to cast onto the ice and drag the jig into the flow. Generally, a strike would come within the first foot of that edge – an area that provided walleyes with cover from the sunlight streaming down on the warm weekend day. The hits were more often than not the typical early-season dead-weight sensation, which for me, admittedly, were tough to sense on the slight stretch of the monofilament, as most of my jigging has recently been with a no-stretch superline. Giving the walleyes a count of five or ten before a solid hook set though, was enough to make sure the jig was firmly in place.
The final challenge in the quest for gold was landing these fish. A buffer formed by the six foot sheet of ice at our feet required a high-angle lift of the fish’s head as it neared the shore. It was then that we could slide the fish across the ice and into hand. Just another unique facet in a nearly-surreal situation that had us foregoing ice fishing for yet another weekend.
Time will tell if this weather pattern will break, but odds are that the mercury will dip and the treasure-trove of light-biting current walleye fishing will be sealed up for the season. Taking what we were given, and learning more about situation-specific angling certainly added to our growing knowledge banks, to be tapped the next time we venture out on a warm winter’s day…in our outdoors.


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