Icing winter walleyes on Lake Erie’s Western Basin in January and February provides an excellent opportunity to not only land a trophy or two, but also to sooth winter doldrums. A case in point:
It was mid January. My boat had been in storage since the end of October. I was reciting lines from past and current issues of my favorite fishing and boating magazines, and had spent hours cleaning and servicing rods, reels and boating paraphernalia. I was anxious to do some serious fishing. But, I had a problem: the ice on local ponds and reservoirs was a bit iffy.
Salvation, however, can be strange and mysterious. So when long-time fishing partner Dick Martin – grinning from ear to ear -- rapped on my door very, very early one morning I hustled him invited him in for breakfast.
By the time we polished off plates of sausage patties, eggs, home fries and a pot of coffee, he’d made my day by telling me the ice was good and they were catching nice walleyes off South Bass Island.
Our favorite tunes played on the truck’s radio as I loaded rods, reels, ice auger, and boxes of jigging spoons into the back. An hour later, island ice guide Pat Chrysler was hauling us out to a heated shanty. The ice was thick and clear. "With any luck at all, we should have good fishing from now until ice out in late February or, perhaps, early March", I thought to myself.
The thing to remember here is that if you are going out on your own, don’t do like so many ice anglers who just pick a spot and hope for the best. A better approach involves splashing a little water from the minnow bucket and setting up a portable fish finder over clean ice. If nothing shows up, move on. It shouldn’t take more than then or fifteen minutes to locate a school of fish.
Icing limits of eating- or trophy-sized walleyes involves a little more than locating fish and dropping a lure down a dark hole. Odds are that if you stick to one bait or one tactic you'll be hard pressed to limit out in a short period of time, especially when the action is slow. Experiment with different jigs and action, and always use lively minnows.
Settling into the shanty, I lowered a half-ounce Swedish Pimple with a wiggling minnow dangling from each hook. Martin opted for a jigging Rapala loaded with lively shiners. Other popular jig baits include Crippled Herrings, Jig-A-Whoppers, Cicadas, and Cleos in various colors.
As luck would have it, Martin connected hooked the first fish—a chunky 5-pounder. Quickly changing from a Little Cleo to a Rapala tipped with active minnows, I confirmed that that was the best bait at the time by taking a twin Martin’s first fish.
Winter walleyes are susceptible to vertical presentations, and a day on the ice often times means a lesson or two in just how effective a vertically fished lure can be when it comes to catching this popular game fish.
Sometimes the 'eyes respond to a vigorous lift-and-drop technique, taking the bait as it falls. Other times, they prefer a tight jiggle. An effective combination involves dropping the lure to the bottom, raising it a few inches, jiggling it four or five times, then quickly lifting it 18 to 24 inches and dropping it back on a tight line. When the bite is on--like the morning of our first trip, this tactic can be deadly, especially when two rods are fished simultaneously.
There are, however, times when walleyes are sluggish, and prefer baits having little or no movement. When this happens, proven tactics include long pauses between jigging motions, and/or fishing a "dead" rod. In either case, a well-designed jigging spoon will waver back and forth or roll around in place. This is--more often than not--the best action to trigger a strike.
When the weather cooperates and Lake Erie becomes a solid mass of crystal, there is little doubt that droves of Ohio and visiting anglers can and will enjoy the excitement that comes from jigging for winter walleyes. Hot spots near Catawba and Mouse islands can be reached from the mainland.
A trip to the islands is a worthwhile experience, once the ice locks in. To schedule a flight to South Bass Island--a real hot spot, call Dairy Air Airlines (419-285-5057) or Griffings Airport
(800-368-37430). Both airlines fly to Put-In-Bay daily from Erie-Ottawa Regional airport located at 3255 E. State Rd., Port Clinton, OH. Located on Cleveland Road, just east of Sandusky, Griffing Airport (419-626-5161) also provides daily flights to and from South Bass, between 7:30 a.m. and 4:45 p.m. The cost from the Cleveland Rd. location is $66.00 per person, roundtrip.
For a listing of ice guides and accommodations available on South Bass during the winter months, contact the Put-in-Bay Chamber of Commerce, at (419) 285-2832. You’ll also find useful information on ice fishing and accommodations by logging on to www.Put-In-Bay.com. For up-to-the-minute information on hard water angling around South Bass, call veteran ice guide Captain Pat Chrysler at 419-285-4631. His heated shanties make for a pleasant day on the ice.
Icing winter walleyes on a cold winter day can provide some hot fishing action. It’s an excellent time to haul in a trophy or some nice eating size fish.