Minnesota'™s Banker'™s-Hours Walleyes
September 30, 2010
So you don't like ice-fishing at night? Well then, you are in luck because these lakes produce walleyes during the daylight hours.
I don’t think Dave Genz even owns a lantern. A heater, yes; but a lantern, doubtful.
Genz, the guru of Ice Team, rarely needs artificial after-hours illumination. He simply doesn’t fish into darkness. And not because of his age or hatred for the shadows, either. He prefers lakes that produce by day. And such bodies of water are more commonplace than you may think.
It was Genz who taught us how to comb deep, sticky-bottomed flats and basins for bluegills, crappies and perch. His patterns center on finding and catching fish by day. Not, as he says, “the golden hour at dusk when the sun touches the tops of the trees.” Usually by then, he’s sliding the Fish Trap into the back of his truck and deciding on whether he’ll hit McDonald’s or Taco Bell.
The magical dusk bite, as well as the corresponding breakfast buffet, can be furious but generally short-lived. There’s no way Genz can get his fix of ice-fishing in an hour. So he angles by day, tracking quarry in unique environs, and developing methods for coaxing fish that are lethargic to downright melancholy.
Genz’s name is largely associated with panfish tactics. That’s his trademark. He breaks from the stereotype, however, when day-bite walleyes are on the radar. Who could deny the throb of a 20-inch-plus walleye at high noon? Certainly not Genz.
Pat Smith, an ice-fishing expert at Thorne Bros. Custom Rod & Tackle in Fridley (763-572-3782), rides side-saddle with Genz on panfish outings. When pressured, however, he might rank walleyes higher on the depth chart. It’s a tough call.
Smith appreciates the significance of dawn and dusk in the regimen of a walleye. But he, like Genz, capitalizes on any opportunity to spank a marble-eye during the warmest part of the day.
“Walleyes bite during the day on every lake, somewhere, and at some level,” Smith said. “And it’s usually super deep or somewhere along the weeds.”
Oxygen often calls the shots. Smith, a veteran Ice Team power stick, likes a good deep weedline on a clear lake. Clarity exonerates weeds. They’re given the gift of life, allowed to survive — to varying degrees — through the winter.
A deep weedline in translucent water might establish in 12 to 16 feet of water or more. That’s the sort of salad and depth combination Smith desires. In conjunction, though, he requires a hard bottom and preferably some type of point or bar with inside corners. Smith might sound demanding, but to settle for less dampens his odds of hooking daytime walleyes. A quick pan with an Aqua-Vu camera will reveal bottom composition and the condition of the weeds.
Besides the ideal conditions, there’s a method to his madness. Smith says aquatic weeds only manufacture oxygen when sunlight is in play. In the winter, the window of opportunity is moderated. Daylight hours are shorter and the angle of the sun is lower.
Smith says the weeds reach peak activity between late morning and early afternoon. And when the oxygen is flowing, the fish get recharged and occasionally feed when the clock says to act listlessly. Granted, even Smith acknowledges that on a clear lake your odds are bettered at dawn and dusk. But it’s a fleeting flurry. So why not hit the ice earlier and try your luck at the daytime gig? There’s often a spare pike or two rummaging around as well.
Weeds aren’t the only place that holds walleyes. In fact, on an exceptionally clear piece of water, Smith usually explores the chasms first. Walleyes will gather over 30- to 60-foot deep flats. These flats are generally soft- to sticky-bottomed, promoting waterlife like bloodworms and mayfly larvae. Baitfish and perch are next in the food chain. Walleyes close the deal.
Historically, the best flats sprawl from the base of major structure, like a point or reef. In my own sheltered world, there’s a lake where a monstrous shoreline point collapses to 50 feet and then rolls around in the mid- to upper 50s. By day, I can flick on the Vexilar FL-18’s zoom and spy walleyes tight to the floor. Some bite, others point their fins and laugh. Toward dusk, the same fish race up the rock and gravel incline, scraping the paint off jigging spoons and turning shiner minnows into freefalling scales.
Current areas provide another opportunity. Inflowing and out-flowing tributaries are natural attractants. Walleyes, inherently, gravitate toward moving water. It’s in their genes. And by late winter, nature’s friskiness kicks in and fish start heading inward to spawn. It’s all good, aside from the questionable ice. Current and ice don’t mix, so choose locations wisely.
That’s the sunshine show, when walleyes feed by day in crystalline conditions. I’ve saved the best for last, however. Dark or stained lakes put another ace in your hand. Colored water is its own nighttime. Drop below the snow, ice and column of tea-colored water, and dimness and eventually total blackness ensue. Now there’s a day bite.
On a murky lake, the outside weedline may form in only 3, 4 or 5 feet of water. The weeds are toast, but remnants remain. Some shallow rock is probably exposed as well, and that’s another good spot.
In stained water, Smith gets down and dirty. He operates with two packages: jigging and deadsticking. His jigging outfit consists of a 28- to 32-inch Walleye Sweet Heart rod by Thorne Bros. teamed with a Tica Cetus spinning reel and 5- to 8-pound-test PLine Flouroice. That’s a nasty combo. On the business end, Smith uses a W-5 or W-7 Rapala Jigging Rap. Color choice is a function of experimentation. He upsizes the Rap’s dangling treble and places it through a minnow head. Beforehand, Smith cuts off the lure’s nose and tail hooks. Smith says he can’t remember hooking a walleye on the spent barbs, so why keep them around just to snag the bottom of the hole, perhaps throw a fish?
In his second hole you’ll find a Thorne Bros. deadstick rod suspending a lone minnow on a Lindy Frostee Jig in either techni-glo blue or red.
Different strokes for different folks. Genz, in panfish mode, hounds daytime walleyes with a Lindy Frostee Spoon and maggots, not a minnow. His thinking is that a lackluster walleye is more apt to hit the mini-spoon and maggots. As a kid, he recalls days
on Mille Lacs spent walleye fishing with his Dad. Even then, before the discovery of maggots, Genz’s Dad would see that one jigging stick was always fixed with a Russian spoon and wax worms. Typically, too, the waxies out-walleyed the minnows.
So be it dirty or pure, there are ways to steal the darkness. Chronicle the following lakes and maybe you can give the lantern a rest. I’m sure you’re sick of replacing mantles, anyway.
Here’s a lake that’s marked for its panfish, mainly bluegills. Smith won’t snub the ’gills, either. They’re plump and plentiful. But Minnewaska’s walleyes are what he really covets.
Pope County’s Lake Minnewaska, at 7,110 acres, is shaped like a kidney and colored like a prairie lake. Its shorelines undulate with points and bars, and the predominance of the midlake is flat but sassy.
Smith focuses on the north and west ends. Both zones offer a blend of useable weeds and classic flats. Typically, he works the outer weeds in 12 to 17 feet of water. The fishing is best in 22 to 25 feet.
Most of Minnewaska’s floor is composed of sand. So with that in mind, Smith searches for deviations in the sand, be they weeds, rocks or in the case of the deeper flats, where the sand turns to mud (what Smith calls “sub-sand”). Sub-sand is a rich mixture of sand and clay. Edible invertebrates are partial to sub-sand.
Recent Department of Natural Resources statistics tell the kind of story we like to hear. Catch rates are at their highest since 1989. Adding to the pot, the average fish is 17 inches long, or approximately 2 pounds.
Contact the Cedar Bait & Tackle and Cedar Inn (320-239-4300) in Starbuck for lodging and current fishing information.
BIG STONE LAKE
There’s a lot of fishing waiting out west on Big Stone Lake. Its 12,610 acres form part of the border between Minnesota and South Dakota. It looks like a fattened and deadened river because it is one. The strangeness becomes apparent in its water column. Ninety-nine percent of Big Stone is within the littoral zone, meaning less than 15 feet. Accentuating the weirdness is the fact that clarity reigns, but so does a daytime walleye bite. Go figure.
Smith says the key to Big Stone is the old river channel, the deepest sphere of the lake. On a map, you’ll see that it runs through most of Big Stone, but the serious 10- to 14-foot section spans more to the south. Besides the crevice, Smith suggests finding the planted fish cribs on the South Dakota side. The right mixture of weeds can dispense daytime walleyes, too.
Moves are big on Big Stone. Due to its expansiveness and relative featurelessness, Smith explores in 100-yard progressions. Big Stone walleyes are a blend of naturally produced and planted fish. Current DNR data suggests that the walleyes are on par, not off the charts. Jumbo perch populations are skyrocketing, however.
The Big Stone Lake Area Chamber of Commerce can field your questions about lodging, entertainment and fishing. Contact them at 1-800-568-5722 or www.bigstonelake.com.
Here’s another case where sunlight struggles to pierce the water by summer. Lake Osakis, at 6,270 acres, has a Secchi disk reading of only 3.5 feet. That’s hazy, actually, hazy green from the algae.
It clears in the winter, however. But that doesn’t matter much to the weeds. Deep weeds aren’t part of Osakis’ battle cry, or Smith’s. He goes deep, plumbing depths of 25 to nearly 40 feet of water. Banana Bar is a fine pick, as are Johnsons Bar, Center Bar, and various features between Moon Bar and Crow Point.
If there are weeds to whack, they’re to the north in Manthey’s Bay, and out near Half Mile Bar and Bower’s Bar to the south.
Osakis gets stocked with walleyes. It takes 6 or 7 million fry a year. The overall population is down a smidgen since the late 1990s, though. On the upbeat, the size structure sticks out. Most fish are over 15 inches. Perhaps the 15-inch minimum harvest size has bettered overall sizes?
Contact the Lake Osakis Resort Association for lodging information, 1-800-422-0785 and www.lakeosakismn.com.
Acreage is the theme. Genz points out that the daytime walleye-feeding phenomenon is largely a function of big lakes. He has experienced it all across the Midwest, thus the foundation of a pattern.
By winter, 132,000-acre Mille Lacs is clear. I’ve personally seen a chip in my lure at over 15 feet, and watched walleyes — painfully — pass by at 20 feet. Regardless, bites change at lunchtime, but you have to go deep or bury in the weeds.
Genz motors for the mud. Mille Lacs’ miles of mudflats offer infinite possibilities, and they hold fish from first ice through the end of the season. By day, Genz drills along the breaklines where the mud’s 20- to 25-foot crests cascade to depths of 30 to 35 feet. Stick to the slope, he says. But if they aren’t there, he takes to the upper-20-foot range and applies it to the adjacent basin. During the day, walleyes will suspend over the basin at the same level as the mud break.
One of my most recent daytime forays on Mille Lacs involved no less than 30 hookups between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Two guys. The mudflats. Overcast skies with low barometric pressure. And an unbelievable bite.
Renowned guide Dick “Griz” Gryzwinski is a guru of the flats, too. But he also champions an inside prototype. By dawn, dusk or day, he’s able to extricate walleyes and alarmingly giant pike from surviving cabbage beds. Nine to 12 feet is his typical range, with favoritism shown toward the southern and western shores.
Gryzwinski will make you tired of catching fish. Try him at (651) 771-6231. For lodging, consider Izaty’s Resort at 1-800-533-1728 or www.izatys.com.
I could retire here. It’s more than a lake; it’s a lifestyle.
By winter, Minnesota’s share of Rainy Lake is in Christmas card form. Log cabins blow billows of smoke through snow-glazed pines. Snowmobilers caravan in the distance. A cluster of Fish Traps pitch over a walleye-laced reef.
Rainy Lake guide Barry “Woody” Woods says crappies, walleyes and no
rthern pike combine to craft Rainy’s wintertime bounty.
In middle to late winter, Woody searches for walleyes on reefs and sharp breaks in 20 to 50 feet, as well as areas with both moving water and useable ice. Reefs are rampant along the Minnesota side. About every point and gap leading into a bay offers associated and productive offshore structure. You’ll run out of weekends and vacation days long before you’ve exhausted potential spots.
Rainy’s tannic-stained water encourages walleyes to forage by day. Woody, like Genz, seldom fishes at night. He doesn’t have to.
Walleye fishing on Rainy has gone gangbusters since the DNR introduced a 17- to 28-inch protected slot.
Winter guiding and lodging are offered by Woody’s Fairly Reliable Guide Service and Resort. Contact him at 1-866-410-5001 or www.fairlyreliable.com.
LAKE OF THE WOODS
Final mention goes to the most obvious candidate, Lake of the Woods.
Well, as a Minnesotan carrying a Minnesota license, there’s nearly 1 million acres of water at your disposal. That should keep you busy. As a bonus, the south shore — Big Traverse Bay — is dotted with resorts that keep their lights on for ice-anglers. Call one and rent an outfitted shack, and fishing is as easy as watching Monday Night Football.
Do-it-your-selfers have it pretty good, too. Walleyes and saugers travel in invasion-sized swarms, moving from depth range to depth range. Get a tip, find the right depth, and walleyes and/or saugers are nearly a given.
The sullied waters of Lake of the Woods afford hot fishing between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., leaving you plenty of time in the morning. In late winter, breaklines in 25 to 35 feet are dependable. It’s mostly saugers, though. Walleyes are more of an early-morning and pre-sundown event in 12 to 18 feet. And one can easily travel between zones.
Contact the Lake of the Woods Tourism at 1-800-382-3474 for details, or go to www.lakeofthewoodsmn.com.
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So even though you may not be a banker, get out there and enjoy these daytime-bite walleye lakes.
Most of Minnewaska’s floor is composed of sand. So with that in mind, Smith searches for deviations in the sand, be they weeds, rocks or in the case of the deeper flats, where sand turns to mud or what Smith calls “sub-sand.” Sub-sand is a rich mixture of sand and clay. Edible invertebrates are partial to sub-sand.
Genz motors for the mud. Mille Lacs’ miles of mudflats offer infinite possibilities, and they hold fish from first ice through the end of the season. By day, Genz drills along the breaklines where the mud’s 20- to 25-foot crests cascade to depths of 30 to 35 feet. Stick to the slope, he says.
In middle to late winter, Woody searches for walleyes on reefs and sharp breaks in 20 to 50 feet, as well as areas with both moving water and useable ice. Reefs are rampant along the Minnesota side.