On many lakes across the Ice Belt, January and February usher in a bit tougher sledding for walleye fans than we enjoyed at first ice. The fish have shifted into their deep-water, mid-winter haunts, and are largely less active and aggressive than when winter’s icy cloak first covered the surface.
That’s not to say fine fishing can’t be had. Far from it. Armed with the right mindset and tactical tricks, you can still put the spurs to winter ’eyes.
One of my favorite presentations this time of year is a rattling jigging spoon. Veteran guide and “Fish Ed” television host Jon Thelen taught be the merits of animated, heavy-metal tactics years ago on the hallowed waters of Lake of the Woods. Wielding a Lindy Rattl’n Flyer Spoon tipped with a minnow head, he snapped, banged and rattled nearby fish into striking distance.
“Walleyes aren’t cruising around on their own as much as they were at first ice,” he explained. “You have to work harder to get them to move.” That’s where the Rattl’n Flyer’s pronounced flutters and high-volume rattling come into play. And actually, Thelen includes hard-bodied swimming lures like the Lindy Darter in the mix as well. With its sonic stylings and trademark downward swimming motions, the Darter also helps roust sleepy ’eyes from their mid-winter slumber.
It’s worth noting that, while walleyes often attack rattling jigging spoons, swimming lures and other noisemakers on the initial charge, some fish swoop in, only to run out of steam and hang there, eyeballing the bait. As a result, you should always be prepared to tone down your presentation to tempt hesitant fish into hitting.
Thelen leans on Lindy’s silent but ever-deadly Frostee Jigging Spoon, and dainty panfish jigs tipped with waxworms can also turn lookers into strikers. On fisheries offering saugers as well as walleyes, like Lake of the Woods, such tactics often yield a fine mixed bag on both species.
As for location, depths of 20 to 35 feet offering some type of structural feeding grounds rising from the abyss are hard to beat. Of course, where healthy weedbeds hold abundant baitfish, playing the green card can often be your best bet. For Thelen’s part, he drills more holes and hops from one to another at a faster pace than at any other time in the hardwater season. Follow his lead and you can put more ’eyes on ice while other anglers are scratching their heads and lamenting the mid-winter doldrums.