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Early Ice Walleyes
By Sam Anderson
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 dropoffs 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
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.
Jigging action combined with sound of blades or propellers has also been
a new innovative method that has really worked well. For this I will
put on the Lindy Li'l Hummer which is designed to be fished in low visibility
waters. The two-bladed propeller creates vibration and flash that turn
on all kinds of gamefish. This added sound and vibration many times attracts
fish when they are turned off by other bait presentations. 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. Or drop me a line at www.samanderson.com
and we can talk over some of your interesting
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