End your hardwater season with an exclamation point on one of these walleye factories!
Cold water temperatures keep February walleyes from entering their pre-spawn feeding craze, but even the most sluggish fish are starting to bite a bit more readily now.
Photo by Mike Gnatkowski.
February is always a slap in the face for walleye anglers. Seemingly brand new back in May and June, the fishing season is now nearing its end. When the calendar flips over to March, it will be time for the vast majority of Minnesota walleye fans to hang it up until the May 15 opener.
If you are the kind of angler who craves walleye action, February is your last real chance. February is "do-or-die."
Cold water temperatures have prevented walleyes from entering their pre-spawn feeding frenzy, but the inevitability of the springtime ritual will often tempt even the most sluggish of 'eyes to obtain a few additional calories. The feedbags are still in storage, but anglers who are able to find where the walleyes are located can have a successful outing, thanks to those first hunger pangs.
"A jigging spoon with a minnow head is pretty standard walleye tackle, and if that doesn't work, most anglers go down to a smaller jig or spoon and use wax worms," Bryan Sathre of Fathead Guide Service said. "If that downsize approach doesn't work, try dead-sticking a large minnow below a slip-bobber. Better yet, use this method as your second line while you work to find the right tactic with your main line."
Terry Tuma speaks with thousands of ice-anglers each year through his angling seminars, and he's excited about the reports he's hearing from Leech Lake regarding both the open-water and ice-fishing seasons. "The lake is definitely one of the hottest around the state for walleye fishing," Tuma said. "The great thing is there are multiple year-classes showing up, meaning anglers can catch some fish for the pan, as well as a few big ones to photograph and release."
Sathre does a healthy amount of guiding on Leech Lake but has also found himself wandering that way even when he doesn't have clients. Living 45 to 60 minutes away in Bemidji means driving by a lot of tremendous walleye waters, but Sathre said it's worth it: "I drive right by Cass and Pike Bay (lakes), which are two of my favorite lakes to ice-fish, not to mention Lake Bemidji right in town."
Sathre's favorite aspect of Leech is that although there are plenty of traditional walleye holes, there is a lot of ice that anglers simply aren't targeting. "If you can effectively employ the run-and-gun (strategy) on Leech, you are going to find a lot of walleyes that nobody is targeting and have a good time catching them."
Walker Bay is a great place to fish over humps and bumps, and the rock humps in Sucker Bay are also productive on the main lake, though pressure ridges can make this area difficult to access, according to Sathre. The areas around Onigum Road and Federal Dam are also great, but be wary of the ice around the river.
Sathre fishes that 18- to 25-foot range throughout the wintertime, and in February he likes to put down a deadstick line with a minnow and a jigging line. "On my deadstick with a bobber, I'll use an eye dropper and tip it with the biggest golden shiner I can find, drop it down and watch it on the Marcum.
"On my jigging line, I'll put down either a Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon with a minnow head for an aggressive bite, or a Hexi-Fly with a wax worm or two for a negative bite," he said.
For more information, go to www.leech-lake.com, or call the Leech Lake Chamber at (800) 833-1118.
Found just west of the Twin Cities in the town of Buffalo, this is a tremendous walleye fishery with some unique fishing opportunities. The deep edges around the sandbars are great throughout the day, with the shallow portions being best in the evening. Don't be afraid to fish higher up the sandbars in February or move to shoreline breaks and points immediately adjacent to those spots that offered the hottest January walleye action, said John House, a promotional angler from Yum Baits.
"I fish a lot of big walleye lakes like Mille Lacs and Lake of the Woods, but I love fishing Buffalo throughout the winter because the walleyes are easy to find, and I can use plastics with a high rate of success," House said.
House likes to use small plastic tubes, such as a 2-inch Yum Vibra King Tube with a 1/16-ounce jig or larger if the walleyes are deeper. He'll fish it with 4- or 5-pound-test SilverThread trout line and work the outside weed edges and deep outside corners.
"Pink and white is always my starting color, but plain white or chartreuse are good backups," House said. "Work the jig along any of those transition areas where you are marking fish, and if they are neutral or aggressive, you'll have tremendous luck."
His favorite advantage of fishing plastics is that when the walleyes are biting, he can fish fast. Without having to put bait on the hook, he can catch a fish and get back down there right away while others are fussing with a minnow head.
For more information, contact the Buffalo Chamber of Commerce at www.buffalochamber.org or call (763) 682-4902.
While he does find himself driving by Cass to fish Leech Lake on occasion, Sathre said he can't stay away from Cass too long in the wintertime. "There are just so many great locations on Cass where you'll consistently find walleyes, not to mention some great numbers of jumbo perch," he said.
As on Leech Lake, Sathre likes using a Hexi-Fly while doing the run-and-gun from his favorite locations throughout the lake. In February, Allen's Bay can really turn on along the breaklines on the north shore. If the walleyes aren't up there, Sathre will keep checking turns and bumps along the breakline until he marks fish.
One of the reasons he begins on Allen's Bay is that it receives a good early-ice bite but then slows down for walleye fishing in January.
"There will be anglers in there all winter, but the walleye action picks up in February right around the time a lot of walleye anglers are hanging it up for the winter," Sathre said. "No matter what, you have to be willing and able to move around a lake in order to find the fish. "
For more information, contact the Cass Lake Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-356-8615 or www.casslake. com. Contact Bryan "Beef" Sathre at (218) 766-5017 or his Web site at www.fatheadguideservice.com.
Often overlooked by its heavily fished neighbor to the west, Rainy Lake is an excellent alternative to Lake of the Woods. Rainy is full of walleyes and is a great opportunity for anglers who don't want to deal with the often-crowded ice-fishing conditions on Lake of the Woods.
There are a lot of places to find walleyes on Rainy Lake, thanks to an abundance of shoreline structure, islands and basins. Chris Granrud of RainyDaze Outdoors said the walleye fishing on Rainy was tremendous last year, with lots of big fish caught. "In a nine-day period, we iced eight walleyes over 27 inches, with the two largest pushing 30 inches," he said.
When there's a heavy snow blanket on Rainy, the walleyes wait for the lights to turn on before they feed, and the best fishing is often between 9 a.m. and noon.
Granrud said late-ice walleye fishing typically translates into moving off the shallow-water haunts and focusing on deeper water breaklines with some current flow.
Bottlenecks, points, island groupings and narrows are the best places to find this current flow. Just be sure to check with one of the guides or bait shops in the area to find out about ice conditions.
For more information, visit www. rainylake.org, or call (800) FALLS-MN. Chris Granrud can be found at www.rainydazeoutdoors.com.
LAKE MILLE LACS
February is the last hurrah for walleye anglers, and if a trip to Lake Mille Lacs has not yet occurred, now is the time to get there. Tony Roach is one of those anglers who loves fishing in February because the crowds have slowed down a bit, but the walleyes are still going strong.
"They are less likely to remain active in one spot for a long time, but all that means is you have to go out and find them, catch them and repeat over and over again," he said.
Roach always hits mid-lake structure in February and starts in high-traffic walleye locations, such as inside turns, points, sharp to flat breaks and structure breaks. He begins in these locations and then works out. "It's basically 'look-fish-move, look-fish-move' until you see them on your electronics."
Walleyes move up and down mid-lake structure based on time of day and feeding preferences. "In the morning, they are up on top of the structure, and they slide back out by 9 a.m. (Drill) a series of holes along the breakline, and vary your depth somewhat."
That much drilling means Roach's Strikemaster gets quite a workout, but he believes the best way to effectively ice-fish is to roam mid-lake structure.
Roach finds the fish on the sides and bottom of structure early in the morning and on top of structure later on in the day, which is the opposite of what many anglers expect.
For more information, contact the Mille Lacs Area Tourism Council at 1-888-350-2692, or visit www.millelacs.com. Tony Roach can be found at www.roachsguideservice.com.
Perhaps one of Minnesota's premier walleye fisheries, Lake Winnibigoshish is located in the heart of Minnesota's walleye country. It is becoming an overlooked fishery by some anglers who head to other destinations, but there are tons of walleyes in Winnibigoshish and tons of places to find them as the season draws to a conclusion.
"As far as numbers are concerned, Winnibigoshish is a hard lake to beat anywhere in the state," said Jason Green of UpNorthInc.com. Green is a fishing guide and promotional angler who spends a lot of his ice time on Winnibigoshish.
"It is the third-largest lake in the state and many of the walleyes stocked around the state came from the walleye egg stripping they do over on Cutfoot (Sioux Lake)," Green said. "A lot of those eggs come back into Winnibigoshish, and with the protected slot from 17 to 26 inches, the fishing is great all year round."
Green started guiding on the ice because most of the other guides in the area took the winter off. His guiding career took off from there. Green has found that summer walleye hotspots and winter walleye hotspots are often eerily similar.
For more information, visit www. lakewinnie.net or www.upnorthinc. com.
Located along the southwestern fringe of the Twin Cities, Waconia is a premier multi-species fishery both in the summertime and winter. With plenty of structure along the shoreline and mid-lake, this fishery offers numerous locations for anglers to try. There is also milfoil in Waconia, presenting additional opportunities for finding walleyes in the weeds throughout the winter.
"I don't go very far from the weeds in the winter, and I work the same areas as I do in early winter and even in the summer," said Swede Peterson of Swede's Guide Service. "The key to fishing Waconia is to be mobile and be willing to search for the fish. If I'm on a reef that transitions to big rocks and it isn't producing, I'll go to a different inside turn and find transitions to sand or mud."
Many anglers begin removing their icehouses this time of the year, and Peterson said this can be helpful for finding walleyes. "Don't fish those formerly busy areas, because if you take so many fish off an area, it takes time for the fish to regroup and find that area or food source that (attracted) the other anglers."
For more information, contact InTowne Marina at (952) 442-2096 or www.intownemarina.com. Swede's Guide Service Web site is at www.swedesguideservice.com.
LAKE OF THE WOODS
So, we've buried this lake deep into the article, but it was done on purpose. Ask any hardcore walleye anglers for their favorite February ice-fishing locations, and 90 percent of them will say Lake of the Woods.
"The other 10 percent hasn't fished the big lake yet and just don't know what they are missing," said Jon Thelen, a promotional angler for Lindy Legendary Fishing Tackle.
"The No. 1 thing for February walleyes on Lake of the Woods is that the bite is more structure-specific, and you have to remember that light levels are at their lowest (point) of the year right now, thanks to the snow pack," Thelen said.
Low-light levels mean fish hold tight to structure, and Thelen will use lures that are attractors rather than just bait holders. "Earlier in the season, I was happy to be on a rock rubble point, but now I want to find something that those fish will follow more stringently, like a finger that comes off of a reef or a break that's steeper than the others around it," he said.
When the bite gets hot, the time to get aggressive is upon you. "They don't eat a lot this time of the year, so lures like (Lindy's) Rattlin Flyer Spoons or the brand new Darter can work really well," Thelen said. "I always keep that deadstick line down too, tipped with a shiner for those more sluggish walle
For more information, contact www.lakeofthewoodsmn.com or 1-800-382-FISH.