BEMIDJI, Minn. – There are two exceptional times to catch walleyes – sunup and sundown. Sure, there are tinged water ‘daytime lakes’ that potentially produce any ‘ol time. And the most crystalline of the clear lakes generally promote overnight activity. But regardless of the color of the water, to stack the deck in your favor, set your sights on the openings and ends of the day.
Suck it up and get up early if you want to tap the morning bite. My old creaky bones move at a slow pace, but mentally I’m prepared to take flight because I want to be setup and fishing before sunrise. And that includes prepping my gear the night before, so it’s turn the ignition, warm up the truck, fill the coffee mug, and roll.
Get out there early and settle on a spot. This isn’t a time to explore. I’ll drill two or three holes with the stealth silence of an electric auger. It’s more about timing than finding fish. Concentrate on tried-and-true spots, even bucking your desire to fish away from the masses. Community holes aren’t there by accident. You can beat the regulars at their own game, though, by hooking a walleye before the first light flickers in a hard-house window.
Realize, too, that there are two types of morning bites. One version is where fish move up on key structure during peak feeding times. They move up, eat, and exit stage right…or left. Elsewhere, fish are in the general area all day, and the feeding switch flips at dawn and dusk.
I prefer the first scenario, readying for a preemptive strike, getting out in front of incoming walleyes. This requires that you identify the lanes or entry-points fish use during feeding runs. Think of a catcher waiting on a pitch that’s coming right down the pipe.
One such spot is a significant weed-edge that drops off into deep water. Find the sheerest, weeded break and you’re onto a primo opening spot. Typically, on northern natural lakes, it’ll be in 12- to 20-feet of water, specific depth dictated by water clarity – the clearer the lake, the deeper the weeds.
Weed-edges are easily diagnosed on my Humminbird Helix 7 Ice unit and new LakeMaster VX Premium map cards. The combination of cartography, flasher, and 2D graph (with zoom) shows me the exact edges of the green weeds.
Another low-hanging-fruit-location is an abrupt shoreline break, weeded or not, especially when it’s associated with a point – rocks making it even a stronger candidate. Specifically, rocks the size of human heads or smaller, like red-stitched softballs. (Gigantic boulders are visually appealing, but not preferred structure of winter walleyes.)
For reasons I honestly can’t explain, morning walleyes tend to be bigger fish. You might not get bit as often, but the rewards are greater. So put your eggs in the morning basket if it’s trophies you’re after.
Assuming I’m sitting over high percentage holes, there’s no reason to mess around with untried baits. Out comes my Northland Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon or my go to Buck-Shot Flutter Spoon. These classic lures are responsible for uncountable numbers of walleyes, and their effectiveness never wanes. Fish simply can’t smart up to a lure that’s so realistic in looks and attraction. Another new contender is the Glass Buck-Shot Spoon. It has a different rattle design and an increased, higher-pitched sound to call ‘em in from afar.
Color-wise, I’m a big fan of Super Glow Redfish, Clown, Pink Tiger and Silver Shiner on the Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon – long-established producers – which are the real deal in clear water. Northland’s UV patterns get the job done in darker water. The radiant colors simply pop the brightest and grab the attention of walleyes that are conditioned to feed more by feel and silhouette.
My jigging motion consists of a one-foot lift followed by a brief freefall. Then I keep the bait still for a couple seconds and repeat the process. In between, I impart a subtle, nervous jiggle, if a fish or two come into view on my Helix 7. This motion can entice sniffers into biters. Attach a chub or shiner head and you have set the table for hungry walleyes.
Pairing your baits with the right fishing line is critical. For the sake of sensitivity and strength, I jig with braided superline.
Now, as much as I embrace the feel of a superline, I also respect the need for intentional stretch and invisibility in a line. Consequently, I factor in a 24- to 36-inch span of fluorocarbon between the main-line and lure. The extra tether is transparent in the water and yields just the right amount of shock absorption to properly penetrate a walleye’s jaw. Connecting the two lines is the smallest barrel swivel you can find or a double-uni knot. Keep in mind that a rotating swivel also serves to eliminate line-twist, which unattended to, can adversely affect a spoon’s intended action.
Jigging and managing the bait and line is a 28- to 32-inch St. Croix CCI 32-inch medium-light or medium power, extra-fast action ice rod with a tip soft enough to let a walleye self-set before I give it the serious hurt. Stiff rods set too hard, and too abruptly, so either the lure snaps free or the fish spits out the bait on account of abnormal resistence.
Daiwa produces reels that perform like champs on the ice. For walleyes the Fuego LT 1000 is a good choice. Its air spool is matchless in cold conditions. At under $100, it’ll impress the pants off you.
I’ve beaten the morning drum to death, but for good reasons. First, it’s the best bite of the day. Secondly, the same principles apply to late-in-the-day walleyes: choose a high-percentage spot; drill just enough holes to be dangerous; operate with a favorite spoon with a minnow head; and man, you’re stationed well before the sun smooches the tops of the trees…
ABOUT Northland® Fishing Tackle
In 1975, a young Northwoods fishing guide named John Peterson started pouring jigs and tying tackle for his clients in a small remote cabin in northern Minnesota. The lures were innovative, made with high quality components, and most importantly, were catching fish when no other baits were working! Word spread like wildfire, the phone started ringing… and the Northland Fishing Tackle® brand was in hot demand! For 40 years now, John and the Northland® team have been designing, testing and perfecting an exclusive line of products that catch fish like no other brand on the market today. Manufactured in the heart of Minnesota’s finest fishing waters, Northland® is one of the country’s leading producers of premium quality jigs, live bait rigs, spinnerbaits and spoons for crappies, bluegills, perch, walleyes, bass, trout, northern pike and muskies.