Minnesota's Winter Walleye Waters

Minnesota's Winter Walleye Waters

With the fast pace of life nowadays, your time is valuable. You can make the most of it by catching walleyes on these lakes this winter.

By Noel Vick

Bigger, faster, more. In a nutshell, that's how we want it, actually demand it. It's the American way.

This "lust" seeps into the sporting world, too. The merit of a good gun was once whether or not it could fold game. Now, velocities range into the thousands of feet per second, lead launched from firearms costing more than a month's mortgage. Outboards are tailored to reach tear-drying speeds, growling on the backs of glittered boats.

Ice-anglers are equally culpable. We're fishing faster than ever before, saddled on snow machines with fleet power augers and portable shelters that turn into circus tents in seconds. Everything's better, and easier, than just 10 and 20 years ago.

The constitution of a hotspot hasn't changed, though. Reefs are still reefs. The glaciers are history and there's no indication that we'll be walled with ice anytime soon, either. Basically, walleyes swim the same structures they did last year, and the decade before that.

It still comes down to hotspots and knowledge of them. Gingerbread electronics and a lightning ride don't guarantee fish. Nope. That's a function of homework, skill, observation, and a little intuition and good old-fashioned luck.

Assuming you've kept up with the trends in gadgetry, here's a graded list of lakes that are loaded with walleyes.

BIG LAKE

Beltrami County's Big Lake is big in stature, as well as in yield. Ice Team power stick Brian "Bro" Brosdahl pioneered Big because of its bluegills, but he now also returns for the walleyes.

Big is largely fertile, with modest clarity and an equal number of deeps and shallows. Size-wise, 18- to 20-inch fish are widespread, with reasonable tallies of 25-inch-plus walleyes in the system.

"Big is full of promise," Brosdahl said. "There's walleye structure everywhere - rockpiles, sand and gravel breaks, deep weeds and super huge flats."

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Rocks rank highest in Brosdahl's mind, and the best batches lie to the west. "I start on the west side of the main lake in 14 to 22 feet of water," he elaborated. A couple of prominent rocky bars are the first to get drilled out, too.

The north shore of the main lake features an intriguing blend of rock, sand and cabbage weed. Here, Brosdahl leans toward 18 to 24 feet. From there, the seasoned guide slides either east or west and peppers the bars, using 14 to 18 feet as a guideline.

His failsafe spot is the deeper southern basin. Visibly boring, the deep flats have a reputation for holding large walleyes through winter's worst weather.

Brosdahl's top presentation is a Lindy Frostee Jigging Spoon with a whole or partial shiner, native run if available.

Contact the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-458-2223 or visit www.bemidji.org.

JESSIE LAKE

You can drive from Grand Rapids to Bemidji, stopping at bait store after bait store, and never hear whisper of its name. Same goes for scuttlebutt on the Internet - almost nil. Truth is, the local literates and those baptized by Jessie know, but don't tell.

Brosdahl is spilling the beans.

Jessie is a 1,782-acre underdog that produces eye-popping catches of jumbo perch, crappies and, yes, walleyes. The freshest Department of Natural Resources assessment reveals walleye populations that are at an all-time high. Combine that with an active watershed association and tri-annual stocking, and the future looks bright.

Currently, Jessie teems with 18- and 19-inch fish. They're supported by a strong representation of 20- to 22-inchers.

Through the ice, Brosdahl likes a series of humps to the southeast. He fishes them in 16 to 24 feet. The steeply crashing north shore is another battleground, especially in December and early January. Here, Brosdahl sticks to the primary break in the 20-foot range, starting on the main midshore bar and working east or west.

Jessie's southern verge offers other opportunities. Fish the north face of the principle bar, clinging to 18 to 24 feet by day and 14 to 18 feet nearer dawn and dusk. Dividend crappies are a real possibility.

Nearby Bowstring Lake makes for a masterful alternative. The nearly 9,000-acre blob is a powder keg of walleyes and crappies. Check the well-traveled north shore and symphony of humps and bars to the southeast.

SHAKOPEE LAKE

Anonymity is the key to Shakopee's success. Well, that and some well-nourished waters. Shakopee Lake, at 675 acres, is member of a chain of lakes fed by the Rum River, and largely discounted because of neighboring Mille Lacs.

Clam Corporation's Paul Fabian isn't blinded, however. He'll skip Mille Lacs in a heartbeat to plug holes in Shakopee. In fact, it's his favorite stop for early-winter walleyes.

Shakopee is predominantly shallow - maxing out at only 15 feet - and fertile as manure. Winterkill occasionally capitalizes on the shallowness. But due to its fertility and re-energizing from the Rum and Mille Lacs, Shakopee recovers quickly. Fish tagged in Mille Lacs are frequently caught by Shakopee anglers.

The Rum River inlet and outlet yield obvious potential, but be careful of suspicious ice. Faster dips along the north shore's emergent vegetation also deserve attention. In short, walleye spots aren't easily distinguishable. The auger might get a workout, but the potential rewards outweigh the labor.

These are fairly sullied waters, granting promise of daytime activity. Darker conditions also call for brighter lures such as Lindy's techni-glo baits.

Contact Meleen's Holiday Sports in Onamia for additional information, (320) 532-3717.

PINE MOUNTAIN LAKE

It's a wolf in sheep's clothing. A hydrological map of Cass County's Pine Mountain Lake reveals a chiefly shallow body of water that should cater more to panfish than walleyes. True, Pine Mountain harbors ample numbers of crappies and bluegills, but that's not what causes Brosdahl to drive past Leech, Winnie and Cass to go there. It's the marb

le eyes.

According to Brosdahl, it's rife with 17- to 20-inch walleyes. DNR data suggests that Pine Mountain maintains several healthy year-classes.

Brosdahl's conquests begin on the north end, off the edges of the weed-cloaked humps in 12 to 18 feet of water. Plan B takes him to the east side, where the spotlight switches to rocky shoreline points, with 14 to 16 feet being best, and the strongest bite definitely unfolds at sunup and sundown. By day, though, it's probable to snare 'eyes from within the weeds.

Larger rainbow and fathead minnows are his preferred live-bait offerings. Typically, he hangs a seductive rainbow on a deadstick while jigging with a spoon and minnow head.

Brosdahl recommends angling for bluegills when skies are high. He says they tend to run large and live in the thickets.

Contact the Pine River Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-728-6926 or www.pinerivermn.com.

BIRCH LAKE

Hackensack's Birch Lake is an amoebic creature featuring walleyes galore and plenty of places to hide them. In fact, selecting an area to fish is a crapshoot. That is, unless you're Brosdahl. He heads right for the gut.

"Birch is swarming with bays and cool-looking structure," he explains. "A lot of it's good, too. But time in and time out, I end up near the center of things, fishing the humps and bumps."

Brosdahl refers to the unmistakable midlake island and its associated features, including points, bars and rises. Once in the vicinity, he pounds holes in 12 to 22 feet of water, concentrating on the sharpest edges.

Walleyes in the 17- to 18-inch range are common quarry, says Brosdahl. Fish measuring 28 inches and beyond also ply the waters. Natural walleye production is good. And what nature can't manufacture, the DNR furnishes in the form of bi-annual stocking.

Contact the Hackensack Chamber of Commerce at www.hackensackchamber.com or 1-800-279-6932.

TROUT LAKE

The Coleraine area has a secret. It goes by the name Trout Lake. Its tag suggests a fishery headlined by salmonids, such as rainbows or splake. Its plummeting depths and eyeglass clarity implies that lake trout live there. Paradoxically, Trout has no trout. But it's one heck of a walleye fishery.

The nearly 1,900-acre spectacle slips to a whopping 135 feet deep. Its shoreline breaks are generally cliffs, aside from acres within the bays and parts of the north end. And it's on the northern tip near the boat landing where Brosdahl establishes himself. He fishes the bar and related breaklines in 14 to 24 feet by day and 14 to 18 feet when skies grow dark.

A massive shoal sprawling from a nearby peninsula gets attacked next. Here, walleyes school in 24 to 29 feet. Another boat landing - this one to the southeast - holds fish off the edges of weedflats and bars in 18 to 24 feet. By the way, Trout Lake has weeds beyond the 20-foot mark. A survey of a topographical map demonstrates the amount of fishable water in that 14- to 24-foot zone. Use it. Set up the Fish Trap, work a spot and move along if the screen on the Vexilar flasher is clear.

Walleyes aren't native to Trout Lake. The DNR didn't trap or net a single one until 1946, and that was years before any official stocking began. Nowadays, Trout Lake absorbs pond-reared fish on an annual basis. Nonetheless, over 70 percent of the adult fish sampled are believed to be naturally reproduced, which is a good thing.

Beyond the walleyes, there's a notable population of northern pike, smallmouth bass and even largemouth bass.

Contact the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-472-6366 or www.grandmn.com.

PELICAN LAKE

Overlooked for walleyes is the theme. Incredibly, even at 11,000 acres, Orr's Pelican Lake is often disregarded by walleye chasers, who favor notables such as Lake of the Woods, Kabetogama and Rainy.

Pelican has been on the shortlist for bluegills and crappies for years, though. Tattered Polaroids in bait shops speak of a time when 1-pound-plus bluegills governed. They're still present, too, but not in mobs.

Nowadays, it's the walleyes that occupy center stage. Brosdahl credits the phenomenon to the available volume of useable space, breeding habitat, forage and lush vegetation. Each is a key ingredient in the proliferation of native walleyes.

Brosdahl's adventures get under way just outside Orr Bay between Indian Point and Lammis Point. Walleyes gravitate to a series of bars, points and islands. Twelve to 14 feet is a preferred range.

Rocks are the next order of business. Brosdahl pounds boulders and heavy gravel in 12 to 18 feet. From there, he journeys to Sugarbush Point and jigs in 14 to 18 feet.

To that lineup he adds the inner-structure of Saunders Bay, where 12 to 18 feet is usually profitable; the west shore's Krollman Point, 12 to 14 feet; and breaklines in 15 to 18 feet off the northwest margin of Strand Island.

Pelican Lake is weedy and colored, advancing the cause of day bites. It's not uncommon to strike gold in vegetated areas when there are blue skies overhead. Possibly big fish, too. Ten-pound-plus fish are caught every winter.

Contact the Orr Tourism Information Center at (218) 757-3932 or the Pelican Lake Resort Association at 1-800-777-4690.

LAKE MARY

The Alexandria area is a shotgun pattern of blue dots. Lakes of every size, shape and persuasion cover the land. In walleye world, one of Alex's finest is 2,371-acre Lake Mary.

There's no plethora of offshore structure or battery of bars. No, fat-bottomed Mary is an elongated bowl with a range of shoreline breaks and a handful of structures you can find on maps. Joe Martin, proprietor of Bigfoot Resort (1-888-239-2512) on Mary, says that walleyes inhabit most of the lake. However, winter anglers focus mainly on a sprinkling of spots.

The northwest shore's primary bar and point is a natural. Martin says that walleyes work up and down the structure, frequenting the 15-foot mark. The narrows at the south end are good, too. Here, fish fin in 12 feet and deeper. A subtle rockpile situated east of the channel - 18 to 20 feet - is another magnet.

According to Martin, 14- to 18-inch fish are common. Moreover, the chance of hooking something over 28 inches is a legitimate possibility.

Contact: Alexandria Hotels & Hospitality, 1-800-245-2539 or www.alexandriamn.org.

SAKATAH LAKE

Don't disregard the south. To fish it, though, you'

ll have to get past the flatness and murkiness. The walleyes have. Take a lake like Le Sueur County's Sakatah Lake. It doesn't get any deeper than 12 feet, or more exciting than an island and couple of narrows. But for what it lacks in features, it compensates for in fish, namely walleyes.

The most current DNR information on Sakatah says walleyes are widespread and average sizes ample. Angler catch rates echo those sentiments.

Finding them through the ice is an exercise in mobility. Without any clearcut structure, you simply need to drill strings of well-spaced holes and fish them all. The east side of the narrows on Upper Sakatah is a nifty area. It puts you in quickest contact with the deepest water. The west side of the opposing narrows, near the island, is deserving of inspection, too. It's not as deep, but does offer structural features.

The key to Sakatah is the Cannon River. It nourishes, replenishes and breathes life into what would otherwise be a duck slough. Current and ice don't mix, though, so embark cautiously.

Lake Tetonka, a larger and deeper venue on the west side of Waterville, warrants equal merit. The 1,336-acre tract offers more structure, but similar clarity - almost none. Points are productive, as are humps and breaklines descending toward the 35-foot hole.

Contact the Waterville Chamber of Commerce at (507) 362-4609 or www.watervillemn.com.

LAKE MINNETONKA

As much as Twin City residents yearn to fish far from humanity, sometimes in order cut a hole and wet a line, you need a handy spot that's fishable in an evening. Lake Minnetonka is that icy salvation.

Incredibly, despite what Minnetonka looks like on a sunny Saturday afternoon, it's a veritable ghost town in the winter. Sure, there's a community here and cluster there, but by and large, there's 14,000 acres of remoteness to embrace.

Suburbia aside, a person can get turned around on Minnetonka. Its acres don't lay out like a sidewalk. It's a hodgepodge of bays, islands, narrows and points.

There are favorites, however. Diamond Reef near Big Island is a classic. Here, walleyes congregate in depths of 16 to 35 feet. Look deep by day, and nearer shallower rocks and weed edges at dawn and dusk.

Brackett's Point is a formidable spot, as is Horseshoe Reef off Lookout Point and Spirit Island. The outer shoreline points of Excelsior Bay justify examination. The long, lean bars and points in Wayzata Bay also hold fish. This is a concise list, too. There are more possibilities than days in the winter.

Travel with caution, however. Minnetonka doesn't always freeze uniformly, and in places, perhaps not at all.

Lodging information is available from the Lake Minnetonka Chamber of Commerce, (952) 471-0768 or www.lakeminnetonkachamber.com.

* * *

So do yourself a favor this winter. Slow down, grab your jigging sticks and go catch some walleyes!



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