By Jason Mitchell
Catching walleye through the ice consistently often means finding the point of contact. The edge or structural element that funnels and pinches fish movements so that when fish move through a particular location, they pass through or over a location. Amazingly, these fish movements are often very precise where most of the fish will come through a location passing along the same route often from the same direction.
The beauty of fishing walleyes is that walleyes love structure and when you have structure, the fish movements and locations are seldom random. With the accuracy of map chips and lake contours, finding and understanding structure is no longer a guessing game and our ice fishing can be amazingly accurate.
On so many lakes, walleyes can really roam during low light periods or after dark. On some locations, fish will loaf and lay off the structure over the deep transition or bottom of the break and than slide up on to the structure when they get active. This shift or movement when walleyes slide up or through a piece of structure is an opportunity. Identify this contact point where these fish travel and you are on the fast tract to catching more walleye this winter.
To visualize these locations, picture a deer stand for bow hunting. You know where the deer are bedding and you know the cut alfalfa field that the deer will walk out into after dark. Now picture the travel routes and pinch points that deer will use to get from point A to point B… walleyes operate very similarly. Both critters are very edge orientated.
On many lakes and reservoirs, this prime time movement is often near or around sunrise and sunset. Some bites happen well after dark. With that being said, if the fish are moving… you can set up over a good spot and contact fish. When the fish are not moving, the only way you are going to catch fish is to keep moving.
This winter of 2015-16 has been somewhat unique in that we haven’t had a lot of ice. As I right this, we are still hanging on 6 inches of ice on many locations across Devils Lake and what has made this winter somewhat different than past winters besides the fact that we have less ice than most winters is that the fish have been much more spookier.
Much banging around right now or walking around and the fish just seem to shut down. The best program I have found so far this winter for catching nice walleye has been to get to a spot, pick the “x” and set up over that one hole waiting out fish movements without doing anything to disturb the spot by excess walking, driving or drilling.
There are times when the fish seem oblivious to what is going on above them and there are other times when some activity seems to stir them up and gets them swimming around where they become catchable. This winter, these fish have been much spookier than normal so the program has been to drill and fish a few holes on a prime spot and wait out the fish where the activity comes in pulses as schools of fish cruise through.
When walleyes shut down from activity, sitting on the sweet spot becomes crucial but the spook factor can vary from water to water. We have seen situations on the Fox River Chain for example in northern Illinois where anglers used tip ups in four or five feet of water over large sand flats and waited on shore because walking on the ice shut the fish down.
We have seen situations with panfish where the fish wouldn’t swim under an ice shelter and we had to use long rods to effectively catch fish. On other water, anglers routinely use dead sticks deployed with Arctic Fisherman or tip ups just to spread lines and fish water remotely. Every body of water will have its own nuances and less ice seems to heighten some of these nuances because the ice not only serves as a buffer from human activity above but also enables much more light penetration.
Regardless of ice conditions, however, there is a lesson to be learned. Spend some time to really study contour maps and learn how walleyes are using that particular piece of structure. The only sure way to really get an understanding of a location is to put in some time on the spot but the key is to identify where the fish lay or scatter when they are inactive and where the fish roam when they become active. Find the edges and contours that walleye follow and ambush them this winter.