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Hitting the Bottle for Walleye
By Jason Mitchell

There are many ways to target walleyes at last ice but across the board, areas that have some kind of current are usually productive. Any kind of area that bottlenecks or narrows down is an area that often coincides with some sort of current. Bridges are another obvious bottleneck. The problem for the ice angler however is that current often means bad ice or no ice. I wouldn’t recommend any angler to fish right next to open water or take chances on bad ice. There are times however when anglers can play with the flame without getting burned. Deeper troughs that run into the bottleneck area that has current are sometimes safer as this current disperses and slows down. Ice thickness should be checked frequently however and I would advise you to not take chances. This is not a scenario where you want to leave a permanent house because good ice can deteriorate quickly where there is current. As the days get longer, some of the first open water often forms around bridges and other areas that force current through a smaller channel. Other areas that often see some sort of current come last ice are feeder creeks. Again, stay away from the main channel where the current is going to be the strongest and keep your self positioned on safe ice.

Hitting the Bottle for Walleye Usually, there is enough safe ice close enough to where you have to fish where you can fish safely and productively. Regardless of bottom content or even depth, current will usually attract walleye during this time of year. Perhaps coincidence, these types of areas that have current also seem to have the right kind of bottom substrate for walleye to spawn. As the winter days become longer, fish begin to arrive on the scene. Typically, males begin to arrive in force before the females but most of the time, most winters… the females are somewhere close by. There are times where the males for example might be shallower or more aggressive right at sunset while the females seem to be holding deeper or move in shallow to bite later. Sometimes both males and females are mixed together on the same program. Often however, both sexes are doing a similar drill but some minor differences might exist. Often, the males are just more aggressive while the females might have to be coaxed a little more.

Fishing current is a slightly different ball game in the sense that you have to make some adjustments and compensate for the current. When the water is moving, getting big fish up through the hole can be extremely difficult. Often, seasoned anglers will drill their holes at an almost 45 degree angle pointing downstream. This enables anglers to turn and get decent sized fish up the hole much easier. Another factor to keep in mind is that current will sometimes pull your jig or lure out of the cone angle of your Vexilar. Often, anglers have to compensate by drilling a second hole down stream from your lure in which the transducer is placed. Generally, fish that are using moving water are very bottom orientated. These fish are usually pinned right on the bottom. Often, the only indication of a fish sliding in is just flickering or movement within the red zone of the bottom itself.

Lure selection can become more complicated in current as well. The wrong lure profile may have a tendency to swing off the bottom. From my experiences, strong current keeps the presentation very simple and straightforward. Get something that will drop as straight down as possible and keep this presentation as close to the bottom as possible. Often, swimming lures and thin diameter jigging spoons won’t fit this bill. Simple ball head jig heads are one popular presentation for pinning a minnow close to the bottom while fishing current.

Some current situations like described above are fairly obvious but fish location relating to current can sometimes seem not so obvious. Narrows or necked down areas between two lakes might not have an obvious or strong current flow but the current might be evident by the bad ice or lack of ice in the narrow. Many narrows are spanned by either embankments or bridges where the ice is almost always bad. Despite this constant movement of water and bad ice, there is usually good ice a short distance away and while this current might not be noticible, the bad ice near by gives away its presence. In these types of situations, we don’t have to make any adjustments to how we fish because the current isn’t strong enough to alter our presentation.

There doesn’t have to be much current to attract fish and the steadier this current, the better. Discharges that pump for a few days might be a feast and famine scenario but the steady movement of water that occurs between a bottleneck happens all season. These kinds of locations are often good fall walleye locations and this current can be attractive to fish during other seasons as well but the use of these spots often picks up in intensity from last ice all the way through to the beginning of May. You can just about bet where some walleyes will be at last ice. The question arises as to whether or not you can reach these fish by ice.

Editors Note: The author, Jason Mitchell is a legendary guide on North Dakota’s Devils Lake and designer or Jason Mitchell Guide Series Ice Rods, www.jasonmitchellrods.com.

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