High Percentage Spots for Early Ice 'Eyes

By Noel Vick (c) 2001

 

Like a puppy staring out the window yearning for its owner, so it goes with walleye anglers awaiting first ice. They're weepy eyed, salivating, possibly drooling, and giddy when walkable ice finally forms. There's no secret as to why, either. The fishing's just that darn good.

Walleyes are aggressive, sustaining the binge, which propelled them through October and into November. Big fish are on the prowl, intermixed with eaters. And you don't need doctored lures and sophisticated approaches to dupe these feeders. Theyre hot, white hot, and fortunately, corralled in predictable locations.  Ice fishing guru and ON ICE TOUR contributor, Brian "Bro" Brosdahl, a known panfish hound   disregards slabs and bulls at first ice in favor of cherry picking 'eyes.

"Early ice walleyes are easy," Bro says almost conceitedly. "At first ice I look for prime walleye habitat that's within walking distance of shore, usually a public landing. These spots are good for a few weeks, burning out when motorized vehicles hit."

Bro continues, "I travel light, but well outfitted, carrying a hand auger and bucket of gear, and if it's cold, I'll pull a lightweight one man shelter. Stealth is important because walleyes are edgy and the ice is so clear. And my best spots are in shallow water, next to sharp breaks and deep retreats."

These shallow water venues, which fuse with surmountable depths, are high percentage places. Since late fall, on natural lakes, walleyes have been clustering off steep shoreline breaks and the rims of offshore structure, loitering at their bases by day and firing up their slopes at dawn and dusk. The blueprint goes for early ice as well.

Picture a bulbous and spacious shoreline flat sand or gravel that sees its midsection press toward the main lake while its ends taper, pinching closer to shore; a teardrop that drips from both ends. Steep breaks often form at the juncture where the flat's tails merge with shore, creating a corner or curl. Walleyes eat these spots up. Fish congregate beneath the break, rising up and onto the flat during feeding climaxes.

Attacking such a bend is elementary. Spread a handful of holes over the break; at the base of the break and over the adjacent flat. Not too many punctures, because commotion is unwelcome. The smattering of openings affords access to incoming and outgoing fish, as well as providing multiplicity to both jig and monitor flags.

A sharp shoreline break needn't be connected to a flat to be attractive either, especially on lakes wrought with gradual, featureless shoreline tapers look for fish stacked against the wall. In bowl-like lakes walleyes will show interest in outwardly insignificant two, three, and four foot dips.

Stridently plunging points and bars are other high profit places. Check your map, scanning for the wickedest and sheerest fall, even points sliding into 40, 50, and 60-feet of water. In the post-turnover period temperatures are uniform and oxygen is well distributed. Day bite walleyes linger over deep basins and flats, which are adjacent to abruptly breaking points. Flats and shallow hard-bottomed areas across such points are prime morning, evening, and nighttime targets. The crest, like a shoreline flat, acts like a buffet or food shelf for walleyes foraging under low light.

ON ICE TOUR cofounder, Chip Leer also likes quick breaks falling from shoreline flats. As winter progresses, he goes deeper and deeper searching for walleyes, and he stresses the importance of locating solid bottoms, such as rock and gravel.

Isolated offshore humps and rock piles also draw eyes at first ice. Stick to their steepest sides and related food shelves. And dont neglect tiny pushups, because even the smallest rock, gravel, or weed cloaked structure potentially yields fish. Small structures expire quickly, so don't waste time on one that's not producing, and be terrifically cautious if you tramp far on winter's maiden glaze. Fish with a buddy, wear a lifejacket, and carry a rope and spikes.

Deep saddles between structures also bear fruits. For instance, you'll likely engage walleyes in a dip between a shoreline point and where the bottom ramps back up to a nearby rock pile. Also look for saddles linking one hump to another.

Narrows or bottlenecks deserve attention. Walleye utilize neck-downed sections between lake segments, and between a bay and the main lake. Deeper thoroughfares are better, particularly ones featuring quick shoreline breaks with relating flats oftentimes form where narrows greet connecting waters. Explore both ends. A word of caution, narrows commonly support current, so play it smart, and don't challenge unfamiliar waters.

To early winter walleyes, weeds are another tie that binds. Greenery, which survived autumn's wrath, makes fine residence for walleyes. Towering outside weededges are high percentage spots, especially ones formed off points, bars, and offshore structure. Look for fish along the perimeter as well as inside the bed. The deeper the weeds sprout the better. Weeded bars varieties sporting fingers, turns, and clear cut edges are phenomenal producers. I've nailed numerous and large walleyes off the periphery of thick, green coontail and cabbage bars.

As you can see, locating early winter walleyes isn't laborious if you stick to proven areas.

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