As a resident of Northern Ontario, I get the opportunity to fish on exceptional walleye waters whenever I feel the urge. Although my hometown of Sault Ste. Marie offers respectable opportunities just outside the city, nothing beats fishing the pristine lakes up near my in-laws camp just north of Hornepayne, Ontario. This is where I first discovered the effectiveness of targeting winter weed bed walleye. Since then, I have incorporated this into my walleye style of fishing around the Soo and the fish have responded quite well. The Canadian Shield lakes of the north offer anglers a ton of rocky structure such as your typical mid lake reefs, rock faces, points and scattered boulders. Although fishing rocks for walleye is never a bad idea, weed beds offer walleye angler’s large areas relatively untouched during the winter months. The following are a few tips to help you locate and catch weedy winter walleye!
Walleyes love weeds. Why wouldn’t they. Healthy weeds offer cover from bigger predators, the sensitive eyes of walleye are blocked from the rays of sun that penetrate the ice and weeds offer a ton of microscopic food for baitfish. Weeds are just an all around great spot for walleye but they can be especially good during the day when the sun is at its brightest.
Electronics are mentioned countless times in every outdoor magazine each winter. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve read articles explaining the importance of electronics on the ice. There is a reason for this. It’s true! Outdoor writers have been continuously trying to beat this concept into the readers minds for years now and it seems most are listening!
When I venture out into the ice, I will always have my handheld Garmin GPS for not only fishing but safety. As far as the flasher goes I started out with a used Fl-12 SLT. I’ve since upgraded to a unit with zoom and there are few occasions you won’t find me armed with my Vexilar FL-18. With these two units, I can pinpoint and fish the exact same spots as I do in the summer. Once I get on the waypoint, I can probe the depths with my jigging rod and flasher and search the area thoroughly for active walleye. If I am marking fish on my flasher that don’t commit, the walleye are telling me to start changing up my presentation such as different jigging strokes, colours, size or even a complete lure change. If I don’t feel there is enough action on my screen then it’s off to the next hole.
On the ice there are very few things I enjoy more than jigging up walleyes on my flasher. I’m a through and through aggressive jigger. I would much rather trick aggressive fish into striking first instead of finessing a few fish on other presentations. Probably my best producing winter walleye jigging lure has been a Jigging Rapala or Shad Rap tipped with a minnow head. Colour and size has varied from lake to lake but aggressive jigging has always been a big factor.
A key ingredient for successful jigging is making the fish chase your lure. Once you mark that bar (fish) on your flasher around your lure lift your rod tip up a foot or so to see what kind of reaction you receive from the fish. If you see any sign of the fish following, drop your tip back down and reel up a few feet and continue jigging. If you get the fish to follow that you’re going to hook up. The trick is to get that walleye honed in on your presentation and make them put that extra effort into chasing you offering. If you can achieve this your “golden” nine times out of ten!
If the aggressive stroke just isn’t getting the fish to hit, I tend to switch over to a slender spoon such as a Northland Buckshot Spoon or Swedish Pimple. I like to fish these spoons on the bottom 2 feet of the water column and I’m often in contact with the bottom.
Plastics can work wonders too. I’m all about tipping lures with a minnow head or even a lively, full minnow but sometimes plastics are all that you need. On one of the “local” walleye lakes a 3-4” white tube jig has accounted for a ton of walleyes. A jig tipped with a Gulp minnow or fluke style plastic can also be deadly on walleye when the bite is fast and furious.
As mentioned, I would much rather catch walleye or any fish for that matter on my jig rod. That being said, anytime I plan to spend an extended amount of time on one weed bed, I will always have a dead stick or tip-up out. If I am dead sticking with a rod in a holder, I keep it within twenty feet of me. I don’t want to give that walleye too much time before they feel the rods pressure. If I’m running a tip-up it is usually a fair distance away; often 50-60+ feet away with a suspended minnow above a pocket in the weeds or on the edge of the weed bed where there is a drop-off. I’ve caught walleyes by simply dead sticking a bare minnow on bottom or on a motionless suspended Jigging Rap which is quite unorthodox. With that said when the jig bite is on. I will quite frequently dead stick another Jigging Rap with a live minnow hooked onto the treble through the lips keeping it alive. It works great when the action is fast and multiple fish are on your sonar unit. It also gives you the option of jigging if needed. Give it a try you won’t be disappointed.
Now go get yourself a GPS, a flasher and a quality jig rod and you can do battle with weedy winter walleyes on the ice anywhere in Ontario!