Great things could be happening right below your feet right now, if only your feet were in the right place at the right time. The “right place at the right time” is the key and isn’t all that hard to pin down, especially if you understand a couple of the basics to early season walleye behavior.
The basics include shallow water rocks or even weeds, depending on what’s available. Rocky reefs and bars can be the hot ticket in cold water and may be your best bet for finding active first ice walleyes. Deciding on a starting spot can be as easy as picking up where the night trollers of late fall left off. The reason’s that a reef or bar attracted enough walleyes to be fishable probably haven’t changed (at least not yet), and there should still be enough of them hanging around to have a little fun.
The night trollers like long rocky reefs that top out in five to ten feet of water and is exactly what you’re looking for. The key is finding the most suitable structure in areas that can be safely reached. Smaller wind protected bays are the first to freeze up and where you’ll likely find the first of the safe ice. Main lake reefs and bars may have to wait, and will depend on the size of the lake and the conditions surrounding freeze-up.
Finding structure through the ice can be as easy as taking a look at a good map and then using a depth finder to locate the reef or bar. The handheld model LX-I from Marcum Technologies is designed for just that and can do so fast. Simply pour a little water on the ice or use a torch to melt a small puddle and push the face of the LX-I to the surface and get an instant read. The first reading you get will be the depth and the next will be anything holding off the bottom which could very well be your target species. With the LX-I you can take a bunch of readings in short order which will give a better idea of just exactly how things are laid out.
If you can’t get to the good stuff safely you may have to settle for secondary rocky bars and reefs. You may even have to settle on nothing more than a small patch of rock or gravel. In that case forget about what you can’t have and concentrate on what you have at hand, right now. Worrying about what you can’t have may send you home early and keep you from getting the most out of what could be a terrific situation.
If you’re working a reef or bar try to find the edge where it drops into deeper water. An edge creates a concentration point and provides some cover where walleyes can sneak in and stack up before they move up on top and bust unsuspecting schools of bait. A good plan of attack would include setting up on the break along the deep edge where you can work a jigging bait like a Northland Tackle Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon, and then setting a tip-up or two on top of the reef. Early season walleyes are generally pretty darn active, enough so that they’re attracted to a hard thumping bait. Not only does the Buck-Shot come in some fantastic colors including plenty of glow, it also has a built in sound chamber that can help to attract fish from greater distances. If you’re working a spoon don’t be afraid to get a little aggressive, especially if you’re not hooking up with ol’ marble eyes. A couple of hard thumps followed by a dead stop can be extremely effective at times. The idea is to mix it up until you find out exactly what they want.
If you’re serious about catching walleyes you better plan on staying late as most of the action will happen at sunset and just after dark. You probably won’t have to stick it out all night but you might want to be prepared to spend at least a couple of hours on the ice after dark. To help shed some light on the subject Clamcorp has developed a new rope lighting system that will illuminate your house, is easily installed, and comes with gator clips that can be attached to a flasher battery or it’s own 12volt power supply.
Team Crestliner Member Danny Plautz of Muskego, Wisconsin hit’s the ice hard and likes to get out as early as he can. He offers some advice in regards to safety and says: ” Never, ever, go alone. You just don’t know what kind of trouble you can get into and it’s best to have some help along in case you have a problem. Another good idea is to bring along at least seventy-five feet of rope with a few overhand knots tied into the end of it. The knots give the end of the rope some weight which makes it easier to throw and gives you something to hang on to if you’re trying to pull yourself out.”
A few of the lakes Danny keys on at first ice are loaded with weeds during the summer and are not unlike a lot of the Midwest’s better walleye lakes. He targets first ice walleyes by first locating the greenest weeds he can find in smaller bays off the main lake, but as close to the main lake as he can get. ” It’s not even a matter of finding green weeds, but rather those that are the least brown”. Danny has found that the some of the most productive bays have a creek running in or out them. He’ll drill a bunch of holes in a likely area and then set up as many tip-ups as he and his partners can and wait them out. “The areas we fish are really shallow, say maybe five to six feet deep and the water is gin clear. You simply can’t get over the top and fish without spooking too many of them. We’ll set out tip-ups exclusively and then wait for the flags. It’s fun to watch as a school of walleyes move through and all of the flags trip up. We like to use medium to large sized golden shiners and set the depth so that the bait is a couple of feet or more off the bottom.”
Danny feels the bait is more readily seen by holding it up high and likes the extra flash of a golden shiner. He too will hang in there late and will stay until dark because the hottest action usually occurs just as the sun is going down and can be well worth the wait.
See you on the ice.