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Hot and Cold Reservoir Walleyes
By Rick Olsen
The “hot” is the level of intensity at first ice and the “cold” is well, first ice. First ice action on big reservoirs can be white hot early on, and the big impoundments can offer some fantastic ice fishing opportunities. That’s the good news. The bad news is the fact that they are massive in size, and there are so darn many places for walleyes to hide. However, anglers armed with a little understanding of seasonal migrations and the right gear can get in on the very best the hard water season has to offer.
The most important key to catching big reservoir walleyes is finding them, without a doubt. If you can find them, you will catch them. With so much water and miles and miles of potential fish holding areas, the first question that needs to answered is: Where in the world do you start? Fortunately for ice fisherman, it’s not all that difficult.
During much of the summer period walleyes spread out on deeper main lake structure like deep points, humps, and even flats. However by early fall things begin to change ( like falling water levels and temperatures ), that signal walleyes that it might be time to move. That move can lead to destinations miles away from their summer home. The real reason behind the big move can be most likely be attributed to a moving food source. Walleyes make a living by being opportunists and the fall period can create one of the season’s best opportunities for ‘eyes with an appetite.
Quite often, the new bounty can be found toward the back of major feeder creeks and river arms. Those arms are giant nurseries, for perch, white bass, and baitfish. By late fall, schools of baitfish that have been living and growing in the very back ends of the aforementioned areas leave the nest and head out into the great unknown. As baitfish move out hungry ’eyes move in, and cash in on the easy pickings.
By narrowing your search down to major creek and river arms, you can eliminate a lot of water, but chances are it’s not enough. River arms can still be enormous and there may not be enough time in a day ( or even a week ), to fish it all. To refine it even further, look as far back in the arm as you can, where there remains access to deep water. Deep water is defined by depths in the twenty to thirty foot range, and beyond.
By now, you have perhaps eliminated over ninety percent of the available water, which can definitely save you some time. However, you can whittle it down even further, by looking for outside bends, where the main channel pulls tight to the banks. Outside bends, tight to the bank, create sheer drop offs. Walleyes will stack up in these outside bends, where they can ambush schools of bait, and pin them against the wall created by a quick drop.
Now that you’ve narrowed your search down to a bare minimum, it’s time to get busy and put a few ‘eyes on ice. The first thing to do is drill enough holes to be able to work up and down the break. By drilling holes now you can save yourself some time later on, when you might be better off with a bait in the water. When reservoir walleyes decide to feed the action can be fast and furious, and something you definitely don’t want to miss. A gas powered auger like the Eskimo Shark can punch a bunch of hoes in short order, which allows more time for drilling more holes, and ultimately finding and catching more fish.
Although a walleye is a walleye, reservoir ’eyes are more aggressive by nature than their lake run relatives. It’s that aggressive nature that anglers should adjust to, especially when it comes to putting together a winning presentation.
Day in and day out one of the most productive techniques includes jigging with a spoon tipped with live bait. Early season walleyes are particularly susceptible to a jigging spoon presentation, although they will fall for them all season long.
One of the keys to early season spooning, is to forget the finesse, and snap the bait hard. Winter fishing means colder water temps and lower metabolisms, but don’t let that stop you from getting downright crazy with your spooning technique. Hard core spooning can attract walleyes from greater distances, and can be the trigger for nailing early season ‘eyes.
Jigging spoons, like the Blue Fox Pixee, in the 1/4 to 1/2 oz range, tipped with part of a large minnow or
all of a small minnow, are the way to go, and the first bait to drop down the hole. Drop the bait to the bottom and pickup the slack until you have a tight line with the rod tip near the hole. From their you can snap the rod tip up hard, let’s say from the eight o’clock position to about the eleven. You can then follow the slack line back down the hole with the rod tip, and see if the bait gets stopped short of reaching the bottom position. It doesn’t quite make it, set the hook. After the bait comes to rest, give it a moment to sit stationary, before you snap it again. When you start the next snap, and feel a little extra weight, set the hook. Quite often you won’t feel the strike; They’ll just be there.
Another great first ice presentation utilizes a jigging Rapala, tipped with a piece of a minnow. The technique is a little more subdued than spooning, as the hard snap is replaced with an upward sweep. Start with the rod tip in the same position and lift the tip up quickly, with out the snap, and follow the slack line back down the hole. Keep your eye on the line on the surface of the water, and watch for a twitch. It you see it twitch or suddenly stop, set the hook. Strikes will often come as the bait falls, or comes to rest. Like with the spoon, give the bait a chance to settle for a moment before starting the next stroke. You may even try giving the bait a slight upward nudge between full lifts. That little nudge will often turn lookers into takers, and can make a huge difference in the amount of fish caught over the course of a day.
Although reservoir walleyes can be caught all day, peak activity can be expected at dusk and dawn. If you’ve been working a good looking spot without success you may have to stick it out until the day is just about gone, to know if fish are using the area. The key is not giving up and realizing the fact that you can quickly put a bunch of fish on ice, when you do finally get on ‘em.
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