Riege: Ice Time Walleyes

Published 6:03 pm Wednesday, December 1, 2010


According to Sportsman’s Lodge on Lake of the Woods; “The Lake is now all sealed up and we currently have 2-4 inches of ice on the bay and lake. The forecast is calling for cool temperatures so a Dec. 4 start date with 10-12 inches of ice is very possible. For those of you who plan to venture out on your own, please make sure you know where you are going. 5-6 inches of ice in one place can be 1-2 inches in the next step if you don’t stay on marked trails. We have a nice blanket of snow in the area and we are looking forward to a fun winter season.”

Words of caution have also been issued by DNR, ” snow is a bonus for snowmobiles.” “But it also poses risks for those who cross lakes and other bodies of water. Snow is an insulator and slows the ice-making process. In many areas, there is deep heavy snow on fairly thin ice.”

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The best time to catch walleyes is just after the ice becomes thick enough for safe fishing. In shallow lakes, walleyes continue to bite for three to four weeks with good eaters taken in the shallow waters. Don’t be surprised to see a lot of perch mixed in with walleyes. In fact, Mille Lacs Lake, where I like to open the season, is full of those plump perch and as table fare they taste as good as a mess of those walleyes.

A good lake to start on is where ice forms first and is safe to venture out on. On Mille Lacs I usually wait until the ice has formed on the southern end of the lake. Here also is the shallowest part of the lake and ice forms quickly along the weedbeds and rock piles.

When I am looking for a lake for early ice I like to go to a lake that I am familiar with. For example, I spend a great deal of my summer on Mille Lacs Lake. I know where the drop offs are and the weedbeds, but probably the most important structure are the rock piles. The early winter pattern will have the fish moving around in the shallower water and they are still aggressive and feeding, but it’s not like you can just drill a hole anywhere and catch fish. Therefore, I also use a handheld GPS to find the location during the summer and fall months and mark these areas so that I can return to them during the wintertime.

Effective scouting may require drilling a lot of holes. If you fish a weedline early in the year it might take several holes to find the right area the walleyes are in, and of course they move along the weedline so it is important to stay with the fish as they cruise the shallows in search of food.

Jigging early walleyes is the most deadly method of all, if done properly. Proper size, color selection and action all come into play. Early season fishing I like to use a Jigging Rapala in chartreuse or silver and black and this past year I really liked using the rainbow trout color. I also spend a little extra time to put on the next size bigger treble hook. This additional size hook allows me to put the head of a fathead minnow on and still have plenty of play in the hook to jig a natural action and increase hookups with additional space between the shank and the barb of the hook.

It is a good idea to keep your jigging action down to a minimum. But, you also have to respond to the mood of the fish. If I find that the fish prefer to have a tempting morsel just quiver in front of their face then I will do that. Other times the fish might be attracted to the jig slamming into the sand and making a “poofing action” that stirs up the floor of the lake. The later is usually a method to use when you are fishing transitional areas where sand meets rock or mud.

Jigs don’t have to have live bait on either. For example the whole line of jigs from Northland Fishing Tackle “Bro’s Bugs.” His bloodworm and Slug Bug teamed up with the Hexi-fly are fish catching jigs that entice finicky walleyes and panfish to strike. Always remember these walleyes want an easy meal.

Light conditions and weather are two over looked aspects of early ice fishing. Weather and time of day affect walleye activity in winter much the same way they do at other times of the year. As you probably already know, in the summer time most walleyes feed during low light conditions. The light gathering qualities of the walleyes eyes are far superior to that of the baitfish they prey upon. Naturally the walleyes use this as an advantage and feed during the dim light periods. Likewise, during overcast days they tend to bite more than during high skies and bright sunshine.

Weather is just as much a factor as it is in the summer time. When a storm is hitting the surface of the frozen lake the fish will turn off and usually will go through a “cold front” condition after the storm stops. The walleye likes to feed during stable weather and if you are planning that early ice-time walleye trip check the weather before and during your stay. Sometimes the approach of a winter storm will trigger a feeding frenzy because of the advancement of low light conditions.

By far the best winter angling on Mille Lacs, Lake of the Woods, Rainy, Leech and countless other Minnesota lakes occurs from first ice through mid to late January. Just like summer seasons, some winter seasons produce faster action than others. Usually the fall is a predictor of what might come in the winter. And of course the winter action might also predict the summer bite.

The first ice is the time to turn off the TV and put on your snowmobile suit and stocking cap and head out to do some jigging early ice-time walleyes. Hope to see you on that “frozen” lake soon.