Walleyes Are Always Prettier At Closing Time

Want one more shot at Ol' Google-Eyes? Here are eight icy places at which to end the walleye season. (February 2009)

Minnesota angler Terry Tuma pulled a small walleye from the ice. Photo by Ron Hustvedt Jr.

February is the best of times and the worst of times for walleye anglers for a wide variety of reasons. Some consider late ice to be some of the best fishing around, while others say that the walleyes just are too tough to find and too tough to make bite for it to be worthwhile.

Both are actually good reasons to head out to the local walleye lake to drop a line through the ice. The number of ice-anglers is generally way down and walleyes are there if you are willing to search for them. That's what you must do most of the time anyway.

There are a handful of waters that actually get going really hot in February with Lake of the Woods topping the list. Many anglers won't even venture to the northern border until February, but the urgency isn't quite there since the walleye season closes Feb. 22 throughout most of the state but is open until April 14 on Lake of the Woods.

It's a good thing there are plenty of other quality walleye waters elsewhere around the state where anglers can expect a good bite in those waning days of walleye season. A few of them get a lot of attention because they are just too good to ignore. When this scribe asked several walleye pros why they only gave big lakes as their top spots, they said it wasn't to protect some little honeyhole, it's because those big lakes have big fish and plenty of fish.

"When you have a lot of water, you have a lot of forage and walleyes seem to respond to that better than other species, such as bass which can actually get bigger on a small body of water," said Jon Thelen, professional walleye angler and outdoor media personality.

Call him a member of those who aren't huge fans of the late season, Thelen said it doesn't mean you should put the ice gear away early and call it quits until the ice melts.

"It's not my favorite time of the year, but I like to fish for walleyes until the absolute last day of the season," he said.

Whatever your thoughts on the "walleyeness" of February, being on the ice is much better than sitting around the house. Here are a few spots to try these final days of the walleye season that began last May.

LAKE OF THE WOODS

Lakes of the Woods County

Lake of the Woods absolutely has to top the list because it is the best choice for late-season walleyes. Thelen said it's his top pick for late-ice walleye fishing, even though it's a healthy drive from his home in the Twin Cities.

When the bite is steady, anglers can catch dozens in a day. When the bite is hot, anglers can catch numbers in the hundreds. Even a cold bite on a frigid February night yields a few good eaters. No matter what the weather, there's always a solid chance at a trophy.

Walleyes are found in 14 to 17 feet of water and out in the depths in water 30 to 40 feet deep.

"Find some structure, cut a hole, and use your electronics to check if there are fish down there. Keep moving until you find them," said frequent Lake of the Woods angler Terry Tuma. While he tends to recommend that anglers find their own ice rather than follow the crowds, there's plenty of ice out there, so use the crowds as a starting point.

For more information on Lake of the Woods, contact the Lake of the Woods Chamber of Commerce at (800) 382-FISH or find them online at www.lakeofthewoodsmn.com.

DETROIT LAKE

Becker County

No matter what lake in the state you are fishing, the best places to find walleyes this time of the year are transition areas and midlake structures. Points, turns and breaklines are good places as well, but anglers have targeted most of them all winter long and most walleyes have been driven away by fishing pressure. Detroit Lake has plenty of transition areas and midlake humps making it a great February location, said John Store, owner of Quality Bait and Tackle, located on Washington Avenue in Detroit Lakes.

The lake is easy to access and right next to the town of Detroit Lakes, which makes it a popular walleye destination. By the time the calendar flips to February, however, Store said the tourists have lost interest and the locals get their lakes back. "There's a good bite if you work at it — if you can find them, they'll usually be biting," he added.

Store said the east side of the lake is one of the best areas to target for those transition areas.

"The best February fishing happens in the 25- to 30-foot range on Detroit, but midlake humps, dropoffs and points are good places to check as well," he said.

According to DNR's Detroit Lakes fisheries office, walleye test net catches have been remarkably stable since 1970, but have declined in 2007. There remains a strong 1999 year-class with numerous fish over 20 inches. There are also strong year-classes from 2003 and 2005.

For more information on Detroit Lake and the rest of the Detroit Lakes area, contact John Store at Quality Bait and Tackle at (218) 844-2248 or the Regional Chamber of Commerce at www.visitdetroitlakes.com or (800) 542-3992.

LAKE SALLIE

Becker County

Another Detroit Lakes-area lake worth its weight in walleyes is Lake Sallie located just south of the city. Store said Sallie produces every winter, but mild winters with less snow tend to be best.

"A lot of times the weeds on Sallie stay green giving walleyes a great place to hang out and anglers a great place to fish. We've been pretty lucky in the last few years," Store said.

Even if the weeds have gone away for the winter, the area where the weedline was located is still a good place to fish. This natural transition zone holds walleyes throughout the winter.

Like the other lakes in his area, walleyes tend to go after minnows on a jig or a pinched-off minnow head on a jigging spoon. Anglers can try wax worms in a tough bite, but with so many panfish in the lake, Store said good luck keeping the bait on the hook.

There are two accesses on the lake, one on the south shore and the other on the northeast shore. The DNR reports that test net catches of walleyes declined from the lake's historic high in 2000 of 26.3 per gill net to 4.3 per net in 2004. This oc

curred despite annual stocking of both fry and fingerlings.

The 2004 catch rate is similar to those found in the 1960s through the 1980s when water quality was poorer than at present. A strong 1997 year-class was responsible for the majority of the walleyes sampled in 2000 and those fish are up there in size. Despite the less than spectacular numbers, Store said anglers just seem to catch plenty of walleyes on Sallie.

For more information on Lake Sallie and the rest of the Detroit Lakes Area, contact John Store at Quality Bait and Tackle at (218) 844-2248 or the Regional Chamber of Commerce at www.visitdetroitlakes.com or (800) 542-3992.

LAKE MELISSA

Becker County

If the action on Sallie is too busy or too slow on nearby Detroit, Store recommended cruising to nearby Lake Melissa.

"The 25-foot range on Melissa is good usually out in front of the access on the northeast shore," he said.

Other good locations include the many breaklines found around the shoreline. A large flat in the middle of the lake is a good location as well, and don't be afraid to cruise around the nearby basin for roaming walleyes.

Catch a walleye in Lake Sallie and it's most likely a DNR transplant from Lake Melissa. The DNR fisheries office reports that Lake Melissa has been very consistent over the years and that water quality is actually improving. The re-emergence of tulibees is an example of the good news for walleye anglers.

"Around here, if a lake has walleyes in it, then it's worth fishing in February — there are more than 400 to choose from and plenty of them that nobody talks about but have a pretty good bite if you work at it," Store said.

For more information on Lake Melissa and the rest of the Detroit Lakes Area, contact John Store at Quality Bait and Tackle at (218) 844-2248 or the Regional Chamber of Commerce at www.visitdetroitlakes.com or (800) 542-3992.

SOUTH LINDSTROM

Chisago County

South Lindstrom is another excellent late-ice walleye lake located right in a city. With the town of Lindstrom nearby on Highway 8 and the famous Swedish Coffee Pot water tower, it's more than a good fishing destination.

Water tower tours is not what this article is about however, so it's a good thing that walleye abundance on South Lindstrom was high with an average size of almost 18 inches and over 2 pounds. The DNR fisheries office in Hinckley reports that the walleye population has remained fairly consistent since 1990 and maintained through stocking.

"There is an abundance of nice-sized walleyes in the lake, but there are some big ones as well," said Brad Dusenka of Frankie's Live Bait & Marine in nearby Chisago City. Frankie's maintains plowed roads on area lakes, including South Lindstrom. A destination all to itself, Frankie's is a good stop for anglers going to South Lindstrom for information on the best hotspots and ice conditions.

"Other lakes in the area are good for late-ice walleyes like South Center or Green, but I've had the best luck and the biggest walleyes come out of South Lindstrom," Dusenka said.

His favorite hotspot in the entire area is a transition zone where the bottom turns from sand to silt and mud. This spot is close to the road and the best landmark is the hospital in town. "The big walleyes are out there putting their feedbag on and the females are getting fat with eggs — you'll get big ones out there, but make sure you release them," he said.

Walleyes upwards of 30 inches have been caught in this location, but there are plenty of eaters in there as well. The depth of this location begins at 17 feet and drops down into the depths. Jigging spoons and minnows are the best tactic for both the eater-sized as well as the trophy walleyes on all the area lakes.

For more information on the Lindstrom Area, contact Frankie's Live Bait & Marine at (651) 257-6334 or online at www.frankies.net. Visitors can also contact the city of Lindstrom at www.cityoflindstrom.us or call (651) 257-0620.

CLEARWATER LAKE

Wright County

Many anglers are fished out by the time February rolls around, said Todd Durnin of Little Jim's Bait in Annandale on Highway 55. Those who are tired could be that way from good fishing the previous months, but he said they should rest up because the February bite is good on Clearwater.

"You'll get an abundance of 14- to 22-inch walleyes, though you have a shot at taking one in the upper 20-inch range if you are willing to move around the lake," he said.

The humps and bumps on Clearwater are abundant and you could fish a different one each weekend of the winter and not hit all of them. These are where the walleyes are right now, and Durnin said the best thing to do is isolate a small part of the 3,158-acre lake, and then try to mark fish before fishing there.

There are two basins to the lake, but the west basin is where the best fishing is to be had and home to the only two public landings on the lake. According to the DNR's area fisheries office in Montrose, the walleye catch rate in 2005 was down from a decade before but still in a healthy range. Net catches sampled an average around 16 inches, while angler surveys report an average of 15 inches.

Shiners or fatheads on a jigging spoon are a great tactic, though other anglers who have fished Clearwater say it can be a good lake for experimenting with soft baits and plastics.

For more information, contact Little Jim's Bait at (320) 274-5297 or the city of Annandale online at www.annandale.mn.us.

PLANTAGENET

Hubbard County

Often overlooked by anglers in the Bemidji area, Plantagenet is lucky enough to be a high-quality walleye lake in the middle of big-lake country. Many anglers head to nearby large bodies of water and don't fish smaller lakes like Plantagenet.

At 2,500 acres in size, it's hardly a fishing pond, but compare it with the big lakes of the area and Plantagenet isn't a monster. The Bemidji-area DNR fisheries office said the walleye catch rate in 2004 was consistent with earlier assessments and higher than what you would typically find in other similar lakes. The average was around 14 inches, but there were many fish in the 15-inch range. Four years later, those walleyes are good sized right now.

Mark Cook, of the newly relocated Bluewater Bait and Sports on Washington Avenue in Bemidji, said Plantagenet is usually good for a few walleyes each fishing outing. He doesn't get on Plantagenet himself very often, but said there are always solid reports coming off the lake. Cook spends the majority of his time fishing the larger waters and managing his store including the online store.

The sharp breaks can be good fishing locations, as can the t

ransition areas found throughout the lake. There are also two midlake humps on the north end that feature good fishing. There is only one public access on the lake and it's typically the best access throughout the wintertime.

For more information on Plantagenet, contact Bluewater Bait and Sports at (218) 444-2248 or online at www.bluewater-bait.com. For more information, contact the Bemidji-area Chamber of Commerce at (800) 458-2223 or online at www.bemidji.org.

LAKE BEMIDJI

Beltrami County

Cook said he likes smaller walleye lakes like Plantagenet during the early-ice period and open-water season, but in late ice, he heads to the big waters of Winnibigoshish, Cass and Bemidji.

"Those other lakes have a good bite, but I prefer the bigger lakes because you just seem to do better — in February you have the bonus of a tremendous perch bite in addition to the walleyes," he said.

Bryan "Beef" Sathre of Fathead Guide Service visits Cook a lot at Bluewater because of its proximity to Lake Bemidji. "It's my home lake and it's a fantastic place to catch a lot of walleyes both eating size and some trophies," Sathre said.

There is a ton of structure on Bemidji and almost all of it is good in February, including the rock bar, diamond flats and DNR bar on the north end. "You really have your pick of structures, and while there might be other anglers on those locations, you just have to work your way around and hit some of the good ice other people aren't fishing for the best bite," Sathre added.

This is the time of year when he starts to move shallower, but his top picks are areas with both shallow and deep water immediately adjacent. "If those walleyes aren't in the spot you thought they would be, then it's not as far of a move as you thought it would be and you didn't lose much time in transition," he said.

For more information, contact the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce at (800) 458-2223 or online at www. bemidji.org. To contact Fathead Guide Service, call (218) 766-5017 or online at www.fatheadguideservice.com.

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