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Minnesota Fishing Reports
Articles : Finding Big-Water Walleyes Now by Dan Johnson
Posted by LSF on Dec 15, 2009 (1534 reads) News by the same author

First ice means fast walleye action on Minnesota’s major walleye factories, but the action is all the sweeter for anglers who know where to look and how to fish these marble-eyed beauties.

Given the sheer amount of water to cover on lakes topping 50,000 to 100,000 acres in size, having an edge in knowing where to start can make a huge difference in your success rates. On mighty Mille Lacs, guide Mike Christensen of Hunter Winfield’s Resort in Isle follows the developing icepack from near-shore hotspots early out to deep-water structure as the season progresses.
Lindy Darter
“The action starts for weed walleyes and perch in the bays, then quickly moves to close-in rocky reefs and out to deep gravel and mud flats,” he says. “You’re basically fishing areas as fast as you can safely reach them by foot, ATV or snowmobile.” Christensen explains that first-ice hotspots near shore turn cold as vehicle traffic and other surface commotion heat up.

Christensen favors rattling lures for attracting strikes, particularly from larger fish. “Lindy’s Rattl’n Flyer Spoon is one of my favorites,” he says, noting that the 1/8- and 1/16-ounce weights in Techni-Glo Perch pattern are hard to beat. “Perch are predominant forage, so any finishes that match—especially with a little orange, chartreuse and gold—are hot.” Tipping options include a skull-hooked minnow head or “big gob” of waxworms. “I really like waxies because a lot of times a fish will hit a minnow head, knock it off the bait, and not get hooked. When the fish comes back, the scent attraction of the head is gone,” he says.

While Christensen dances the spoon, a bobber rod guards a second hole. “I lightly hook a fathead or small shiner under the dorsal on a size 4 Frostee spoon,” he says. “You can also hook the minnow just ahead of the tail.” Many times, walleyes drawn to the jigging zero in on the live bait.

“Another trick, best when there’s insect activity on a mud bottom, is fishing a dropper rig under a spoon,” he adds. To pull it off, he removes the spoon’s treble, ties on a 6- to 8-inch mono or fluorocarbon dropper, and finishes it off with a size 8 to 10 Genz Bug tipped with a brace of waxworms. “If you only fish one line, you can keep the treble on the spoon and double up on walleyes and perch,” he says.

Border Bounty
Farther north, fellow guide and hardwater ace Jon Thelen follows a similar outward walleye migration on Lake of the Woods. “I start at the mouth of the Rainy River, where walleyes were gorging on shiners right before freeze-up,” he says. “Key areas are just outside the gap areas at the edge of the lake basin. The shoreline down to Zippel Bay and beyond is good, too. There isn’t much offshore vegetation, so you’re not looking for remnant weedgrowth like on other lakes. The walleyes are following baitfish roaming along the bottom.”

Such migrations quickly lead the bite offshore. “It isn’t long before the action is in 25 to 30 feet of water,” he says. “Although some walleyes move shallow at peak feeding times early and late in the day.”

To tap the primetime bite, Thelen augers holes and sets up shop well before the appointed hours of sunrise and sunset. Like Christensen on Mille Lacs, he favors loud baits for drawing hungry walleyes in for the kill. “An aggressive presentation helps me cover more water without a lot of hole-hopping, maximizing my catch during the feeding window,” he explains. Thelen recommends the new Lindy Darter, which he tested extensively on Lake of the Woods last season, for its brazen rattles and erratic moves. “It calls them in all right,” he grins. “Try the 1¾-inch option when the fish are snapping, and the larger 2-incher to call fish in during midday.”

Thelen notes that one of the best big-fish patterns on Lake of the Woods is largely overlooked. “Few fishermen realize the lake has a decent population of tullibees,” he says. “These fish suspend, and big walleyes follow them. Whenever I mark a high-riding blip on my sonar, I reel up and fish it.” If it’s a tullibee, the fish usually flares off. But often as not, Thelen gets a strike from a beefy walleye.

Rather than jig his second line, Thelen fishes a live minnow under pencil-style float like a Thill Bubb’L Gum. “The thin profile is important, because it’s easy for the fish to pull under,” he says. A size 6 gold Frostee and dorsal-hooked fathead get the nod for maximum flash and action.

From the Canadian border southward, Thelen and Christensen’s tips hold water on Minnesota’s largest walleye fisheries—as well as lakes of all sizes. Following their inshore-out patterns can put you on more fish from the golden first-ice period well into winter.

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