Minnesota's Winter Walleye Waters
September 30, 2010
There's just something about catching a big walleye through the ice. Your chances will be greatly enhanced by ice-fishing on these lakes this season.
By Noel Vick
There's reward in sinking steel into fish through the ice. Reeling down, seeing the last limpness of line go tight, and then sweeping up and into the maw of something from the underwater world.
For me, consciousness elevates further when there's chance of it being a walleye. Not that the ensuing fight will be great, but it'll try to stay down, maintain its place on the lake floor, likely shake its head and flare its gills. And if she's mammoth enough, she might strip line, cause me to backreel, perhaps oblige partners to take up their lines for fear of entanglement.
They're just so mysterious, and majestic, too. Anything that can prosper in water's darkest bowels and still come to surface beaming hues and shades that trump even the boldest bluegill merits my adoration. Before filleting your next one - or more fittingly, turning her back - tilt her side to the setting sun and watch the colors glisten.
With that said, your chances of icing such a fish - possibly numbers of them - will be greatly enhanced by fishing on these lakes this winter.
LAKE ANDRUSIA At a comparatively modest 1,510 acres, Lake Andrusia is overshadowed by neighboring Cass Lake. This can be advantageous to the winter angler. Guide Brian Brosdahl drills plenty of holes on Cass, too, but when he doesn't want to fish with the crowds, he goes to Andrusia, where "pressure is marginal," he says.
Brosdahl describes Andrusia as a "relatively clear lake with good numbers of walleyes and a healthy average size. Lots of 14- to 17-inchers." He says its finest hours are in the early morning and evening, and historically, the period from first ice through early to mid-January is best.
Pine County's Pokegama Lake produces good walleye fishing every winter. Photo by Noel Vick
Despite its lowlight stature, Brosdahl says daytime fish can be duped in 22 to 24 feet of water. At dawn and dusk, he favors depths of 12 to 14 feet next to 20s and 30s.
Specifically, Brosdahl recommends the succession of lengthy bars protruding at midlake. Here, features are various and the breaks distinct. As a bonus, jumbo perch - 9- to 12-inchers - frequently intermingle with walleyes.
The southeast shore offers a long and wide shelf that collapses nicely, too. Brosdahl likes this area as well but cautions of possible bad ice near the outlet. The same goes for areas around the nearby Mississippi River inlet.
Brosdahl arms himself with gold Northland Buck-Shot Rattle Spoons and a bucket of fatheads. A deadstick or setline is mandatory, too. His is fixed with a No. 6 red-glow Northland Bro Bug and small to medium shiner minnow. Bigger walleyes lean toward the innocent and unobtrusive setline approach, Brosdahl says.
The Department of Natural Resources' most recently published data indicates that Andrusia's walleyes are in great shape. Samplings revealed an all-time high catch rate, including an average of 11 walleyes per netting.
BIG TURTLE LAKE North of Bemidji, Brosdahl selects 1,436-acre Big Turtle Lake - the one connected to Little Turtle and Movil lakes. This splendid lake is "full of structure, bars and humps," says Brosdahl.
In general, he suggests fishing the bigger stuff, too, like interesting features on larger hunks of rock, gravel or sand formations. Big Turtle, which is clear, yields more fish by twilight than daylight. But if you're willing to invest the time, he says to jig in 18 to 22 feet when the sun is high, moving nearer the tops of structure during peak feeds.
The primary bar jutting from southwest shore - the boat landing area - is a fine pick, as is the east side of the big island where a great bar reaches toward deeper water. Up on the north end, look for a succession of points and related saddles. Stick to the deeper and steeper material, too.
"There is a lot of room and plenty of good spots, so move around," said Brosdahl. Icing 16- to 20-inch walleyes isn't rare either, he says, nor is plucking a few "nice pike."
His top Andrusia walleye catcher is Northland's Mini Air-Plane Jig, namely one with perch-colored sides. He tips it with a whole lip-hooked fathead, too. "The lure's circling action can't be denied," he says. "It just covers so much water."
However, as a supplement, he sets a tip-up and large golden shiner. "I like to place it in 15 to 18 feet of water. That's deeper than my jigging area during the witching hour, but right in the pikes' faces by day."
The DNR pumps walleye fry into Turtle every other year to enhance natural reproduction. Statistics illustrate a fluctuating walleye population, too, but one that's superior, on average, when compared to similar lakes in the area. Note also that large walleyes frequently appear during DNR assessments.
The Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce can assist with your plans to visit the previously mentioned lakes. Try them at 1-800-458-2223 or www.bemidji.org.
BIRCH LAKE Some people might consider Hackensack's Birch Lake a "sleeper" considering its proximity to famed Ten Mile Lake. Brosdahl, however, wakes and stirs when its name is mentioned.
The 1,284-acre lake supports a ripe walleye population with most year-classes represented. And in general, Brosdahl says to "focus on its bays, points and deep weedlines, which are nice and thick."
His leading vicinity, however, is the cluster of humps next to the massive midlake island. Here, prime weedlines cascade into gorgeous hard-bottomed breaks. By day, Brosdahl advocates fishing in 18 to 22 feet and then climbing to 12 to 14 feet during "walleye time."
"Birch is full of bluegills, too, so you've got a great alternative species to chase under bluebird skies," he says.
A glow red Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon, he says, is "the way to go on Birch. But you'll also want to hang a big shiner on a deadstick for trophy action."
Birch is regularly stocked with walleye fingerlings and natural reproduction is good, too. Growth rates for both are exceptional.
Contact the Hackensack Chamber of Commerce at 1-
800-297-6932 or www.hackensackchamber.com to learn more about the area, its lodging and other fishing opportunities.
LAKE LIDA Our next escort into Minnesota's wealth of walleyes is ice-fishing expert Dave Genz. He's traveled the entire "Ice-Fishing Belt." But despite Genz's nomad-like reputation, he holds a special place in his heart for Minnesota's western parts, areas like Detroit Lakes, Vergas and Alexandria.
Otter Tail County
And out west, 5,564-acre Lake Lida is Genz's first draw for winter walleyes. It, he says, is a clear lake that fishes best in the morning and evening, but has its moments on stormy days, too.
A quick map survey tells a tale of a lake with boundless structure and rollercoaster ride of depths. But according to Genz, the labyrinth can be managed by sticking to major points and bars and offshore rockpiles.
One section he sanctions specifically is the Clay Banks on Lida's north shore. Here, a premium shoreline shelf breaks hard then pours into the 30-foot depths. Genz says to work the sheerest and firmest terrain available, too.
Lida contains a diverse blend of year-classes, including fish in the whopper class, too. For those, Genz offers a stocky golden shiner or sucker on a No. 2 Kahle hook and situates the parcel 3 feet off the bottom.
His principal line, however, features a red Techni-Glo Lindy Flyer with a whole fathead. "The aggressive circling action really triggers bites during prime morning and evening hours," says Genz. "And another tip, don't stop swimming it when a fish appears on the Vexilar." Doing so, he contends, actually dissuades bites.
The most current DNR test-net catches were the highest on record and eclipsed comparable lakes in the region. The average walleye measured 14 inches, too, which is impressive when the entire population - fingerlings to wallhangers - is calculated.
SCALP LAKE It's not often an angler reveals a lake that's both hot and workably sized. Well, Mr. Genz is taking care of you with this beauty situated just southwest of Frazee.
Otter Tail County
Scalp Lake, at 243 acres, is also known as Seven Lake. It is concise in dimension but cavernous in depth, reaching 90 feet. Its challenging depths might explain why it's not heavily ice-fished, too.
Genz suggests plumbing the prominent hump on the north side. It crests at around 6 or 7 feet and afterward tumbles into the 30s to the north and 70s to the south. Genz says to work it all, focusing on the 6- to 30-foot range.
The lake's lone island - off the west shore - is a viable target, too. Fish the hard sandbar, which probes off its southeast threshold.
The DNR quite frequently stocks fry into Scalp. Their deeds help to explicate how such a petite waterway can yield 16 walleyes per net-set, which it did during the late 1990s.
LAKE MELISSA This selection hails from the heart of the Detroit Lakes area. And despite its robust 1,830-acre dimension, Lake Melissa isn't hard to fish. Moreover, Genz says that its walleye population is "coming back."
His favorite spot is the shoreline bar on the north end, which projects from the creek inlet. The nearby 20-foot hole is worth investigating, too. Generally speaking, the action mounts in 15 to 18 feet amidst "irregularities in the structure," says Genz.
A hulking bar on the west side - the largest one found along that side - is another prime target. Genz says to converge on its tip, saddle area and related 12-foot hump.
In its current state, Melissa might be better for numbers than sizes. However, Genz says it "still has plenty of big fish, too." Anglers shouldn't ignore Melissa's generous quantities of northern pike and crappies, either, he adds.
DNR reports inform that Melissa boasts big numbers of "keeper-sized" walleyes. The lake welcomes a concoction of fry, fingerlings and a few adult fish on nearly an annual basis. Many of the fry are reintroduced as brood stock from indigenous egg stripping.
Contact the Detroit Lakes Regional Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-542-3992 or www.visitdetroitlakes.com to learn more about these lakes and additional fishing opportunities.
RICE LAKE Rice Lake, at 1,639 acres, is nourished by the Crow River and has large population of walleyes.
During early ice, Genz attacks the shallower northeast end of the lake. As the season progresses, he shifts toward the main lake, concentrating on where the 40-foot basin curls into the bay. The sequence of shoreline points routing south deserve attention, too, chiefly the deeper and steeper editions.
Due to its coloration, Genz says day bites aren't unheard of, including perch and crappies, although morning and evening hours still supply superior action.
Despite its turbidity, most of Rice's walleyes occur naturally. The DNR does, however, stuff a few fry in it every now and then. Adult and fingerling northern pike are stocked with frequency. As an aside, a nearly 30-inch walleye was captured during a DNR assessment.
The Paynesville Area Chamber of Commerce can guide you to area dining and lodging. Contact them at 1-800-547-9034 or visit the Web site www.paynesvillechamber.com.
POKEGAMA LAKE Pokegama Lake, like Rice Lake, is member of a river system and greatly benefits from the relationship. The 1,474-acre flowage is fed by Pokegama Creek and nurtured by the Snake River before it flows through Cross Lake and ultimately vanishes at the hands of the St. Croix.
The watershed complexities and constant water renewal seems to benefit its walleyes, too. Pokegama sports a solid residency of walleyes, with most year-classes represented, including a contingent of super sows.
The lake is relatively shallow - dipping only into the 20s - and has satisfactory shoreline structure with a mostly flat interior. Pokegama's western margin has many of its better features. Tuxedo Bar and nearby humps to its north and south are worthy of exploration, as is the lone island and deeper water off Clapp's Bar, a formation stemming from the east bank.
Pokegama's moderately tainted water affords some daytime action, too, but you'll want to fish downwards of 15 feet. Move shallower along the same structures by morning and evening.
Be advised, too, that as a flowage, Pokegama's surfaces may not freeze uniformly, especially around current areas.
Recent DNR tabulations don't show Pokegama to be loaded with walleyes, but
the average size - 16 inches - is rather gaudy. Massive injections of walleye fry in 2000 and 2001 should help improve its overall residency, too.
Another thing to consider is that if you can't buy a bite on Pokegama, its soul mate, Cross Lake, is just across the freeway.
Information about the entire area can be gleaned from the Pine City Chamber of Commerce. Reach them at (320) 629-3861 or online at www.pinecitychamber.com.
SULLIVAN LAKE Being a forgotten satellite of Mille Lacs is a good thing, especially if you're trying to catch walleyes. That's precisely what's happening in the life of 1,221-acre Sullivan Lake.
The DNR has been nurturing and fortifying Sullivan for years, and based on current data, the next few seasons should offer tremendous angling opportunities. This knowledge is complemented by the facts that 30-inchers are present, and the average fish already measures 14 inches.
Deeper areas - 15 to 30 feet - in the southeast corner are promising for winter walleyes, crappies and northerns. Pike, in fact, are widespread. Steep breaklines along the south and southwest banks also hold fish.
She's only a creek apart but a county away. Platte Lake, at 1,674 acres, bonds with Sullivan Lake but actually resides in Crow Wing County. Regardless, though, it too deserves a trial. Platte is far better known for its panfish and pike, but due to extensive stocking efforts and absence of winterkills, it just might contain what you're looking for.
WAUKENABO LAKE Here's one that definitely passes under the radar screen. At a respectable 644 acres, but with a tediously linear terrain, Waukenabo may not draw much attention from the walleye crowds. A closer examination, however, will change that perspective.
Waukenabo is blessed with satisfactory natural reproduction, but to bolster matters, the DNR dumps fish in anyway. The total population, in fact, is at a 30-year peak, with the median fish measuring 19 inches.
It's no enigma to understand Waukenabo, either. Everything pretty much funnels toward the 38-foot hole in its southeast corner. Work the steeper east and southeast banks leading toward the basin. And, because of the marginal water clarity, it's wisest to begin in 10 to 12 feet and spiral downward from there.
Learn more about the area's waterways and lodging opportunities by phoning (218) 927-2316 or going to www.aitkin.com.
* * *
Give these lakes a try this winter and you won't be disappointed.
Discover even more in our monthly magazine,
and have it delivered to your door!
Subscribe to Minnesota Sportsman