Greater Expectations

 Ice anglers have a lot to be excited about this season, especially if they’re chasing walleyes. Here in Minnesota it looks like the stars have lined up for what should be a lot of serious pole bending and a good chance for stinking up the pan. Our biggest and best walleye lakes like Mille Lacs, Leech, Winnie, and Lake of the Woods are prime examples and are chock full of fish (big and small) and have been red hot all year which is an indication of what’s to come.
When trying to predict a winter bite you look for trends, and the trends have been good (real good). Spring and summer can peak one’s interest but it’s the fall bite that is the leading indicator. Hot summer action that dries up come fall could mean a big bump in the available forage (like young of the year perch) and that doesn’t bode well for hard water anglers. A good fall bite on the other hand suggests plenty of predators (walleyes) and a manageable amount of forage. Uncovering trends can be as easy as logging on to one of the numerous websites that exist and include fishing reports and forums. The bigger more popular lakes get plenty of attention and the good or bad news is readily available to anyone with a computer and a connection. Smaller less popular lakes may take a little more investigation including your own experience but a hot fall is still the key.
With that in mind you can look at Mille Lacs, Leech, Winnie and LOW and really get pumped up. The open water season on Mille Lacs was rock solid with the action lasting late into the fall. Same thing goes for Leech and Winnie. Lake of the Woods is always good but this year was just plain nuts and the ice fishing could be exceptional and why I have three LOW trips already planned. Mille Lacs, Leech, and Winnie will also be seeing plenty of red (my new Eskimo) and there is going to be a lot of quality time spent on the ice.

Finding the biters on Mille Lacs, Leech, and Winnie is similar in that the shoreline breaks and close in reefs and bars are where you’re likely to find the early season action. Lake of the Woods isn’t that much different in that the shoreline breaks will hold big numbers of walleyes, it’s just that the break might be miles from shore and includes the main lake side of Pine Island in front of Wheeler’s Point. Timing is another key and might include getting out early and staying late to get in on the best of the best. The clear water of Mille Lacs demands that you work low light periods, especially early in the season when the first spots you can get too are relatively shallow. Although Winnie, LOW, and much of Leech can be considered dark, it could still pay off big to get on the ice at sunup or be there when the sun is going down to get in on the hottest action.
Top early season presentations always include a good dose of jigging spoons and it’s the Northland Buckshot and the Macho Minnow that are the first baits down the hole. In fact; dropping a Buckshot down one hole and a Macho Minnow down another is the perfect one/two punch for loading up on aggressive fish. Walleyes tend to move in schools or packs and when one comes and busts a spoon he’ll probably have some followers who want it just as bad. About all you have to do is have a bait holding at the right depth to double up and why I like to set a second rod with a spoon tipped with a minnow in a rod holder. Quite often by the time the first fight is over the set rod will be doubled over by another victim. That’s when it really gets fun and is likely to happen during the lowlight periods already mentioned. With a good depth finder like the Humminbird Ice 55 you can see it all happening including the bait, the fish that couldn’t resist, and the followers that can still be caught. The thing is they’re usually on the move and by the time you get re-baited and back down the hole the pack will probably be gone so be prepared and have a second bait down and dirty. See you on the ice.

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