Get Down Deep Winter Walleye
By Daniel Kiazyk
OK we’ve all been out there in January and we’ve got thinking:”Where did the walleye go that we were catching less than a month ago?” It seems this is the case with many walleye fishermen who start out the ice season with walleye on the chew for a few weeks and then things go slow for most of the rest of the winter ice fishing season. But aren’t the fish still there and biting? The answer here is positive but it means changing the way we look at the fish we’re after and what the colder temperatures does to them when winter really sets in.
Well to state everything in a nutshell once the shallower early ice season holes start to dry up there appears to be a migration by winter walleyes from shallow to deep. Where they run to will definitely depend on the body of water you’re fishing. In the Red River for example you’re more likely to find walleye in spots with 20 feet or more of water. On Lake Dauphin you’re likely to find walleye in spots 1 or 2 feet deeper. It’s all relative to the body of water you’re fishing.
So it goes with this knowledge of walleyes going deeper that all you need to do is go those deeper spots. But therein lies the “rub” of this whole idea: Where do you go?
Well, if I haven’t fished an area before I’ll do my best to get a hold of the depth charts for that body of water. With those charts I’ll try to establish a game plan with a few other considerations in mind. Current, structure, and proximity to the early season hotspots are all worthy considerations. The game plan will also involve periods of time, morning, day long and evening. Each of these time periods will dictate “how deep” and in what progression I’ll move from spot to spot.
Secondly, if I’ve fished a body of water prior to the hard water period I’ve got a good look at the world below in a larger scale. This view is also on occasion backed up with some GPS points. If I haven’t or don’t fish the particular body of water with much regularity the latter will get me to “the” spot a lot faster. If I don’t find fish I’ll move out to the next spot. Having corresponding notes can also be helpful. Eventually I’ll move into something that’ll bite. If not I can change and not have to drill myself to death.
If previous experience isn’t available and/or if accuracy is specifically sought when tracking down deeper winter walleye a good sonar unit is a requirement. Many good units exist out there but I’ve grown accustomed to work my Vexilar FL8-SLT to get a good feel for what’s below. This last component is what makes the real difference on most of those mid winter days when the action tends to slow down. Not only do you have an idea of what’s below, but perhaps as important you can see whether fish are present and how they are reacting to what you’ve got to offer. And on a slow day to fish “smart” might mean changing the game plan as the game goes on and an odd walleye does show up interested or at a depth I might not have thought of……
So it was once late January I took a ride down to the float plane base north of Selkirk. We went out to an area where the water dropped of into the 20 foot range. I drilled two holes. One was for my Vex and the other for myself. I had to put the Vex away from myself as the bait was moving down away from the hole I was fishing. Perhaps a little more explanation is required here. On the Red you cannot put down your ‘ducer and expect to pick up your lure. On the contrary the river’s current will carry your bait out of the ‘ducer’s cone of coverage. To solve this problem it is necessary to drill a hole further down river to allow the ‘ducer to pick up your lure. So it was that day that I put down one of favorite baits and worked my hole. In a matter of time a fish did come into the Vex’s cone of coverage. This was a fish that was on a hunt. It paused and probably watched my bait moving up and down. I didn’t change my cadence that day as the fish did not seem afraid of what it saw. On the contrary he completed the deal with an aggressive take and a resultant hard hook set would bring a nice fish up from the depths.
So it goes without saying that the right kind of preparedness and equipment an angler can get out there and find where those winter walleyes have disappeared to. Of course having the right stuff means you’re going to feel more confident about what your doing and confidence as we all know makes a difference. And it’s this last component that can let the ice angler really get down to the business of icing some deep winter walleye.