HOW TO CATCH WALLEYES & SAUGERS
Winter walleye and sauger presentation can be tricky, as both species are known for their odd, light-biting feeding habits.
Tip-Ups. Experienced ice anglers usually use 15- to 20-pound braided dacron for backing, then attach monofilament or thin, wire leaders graced with just enough split shot to lower a hooked minnow to the desired depth.
The most popular walleye tip-up rig involves a strong, thin-diameter wire or monofilament leader, split shot and minnow-tipped hook. Experts have also learned that adding small, metal or plastic spinners to the leader and painting the hook with bright or glow colors adds fish-attracting color and flash. Colorful beads, bits of yarn, pork rind and plastic trailers offer similar benefits.
The popularity of wind-activated tip-ups and tip-downs has grown tremendously in recent years. Since such tip-ups are capable of jigging your bait, standard minnow rigs are effective because the additional movement draws attention and inspires strikes.
Since wind tip-ups such as the HT Windlass can be adjusted to move with varying motion, the use of grub-tipped jigs and minnow-rigged spoons has also caught on. Simply adjust the tip-up to your desired jigging action, lower the lure and wait for a flag.
Ice anglers are also realizing the benefit of using hole cover thermal tip-ups to reduce shafts of unnatural light from penetrating the hole. Tip-up hole covers home-made from cardboard, carpet or wood can be used, or you can purchase commercially produced models.
Jigging. Basic jigging strategies may vary from something simple as a standard bobber or slip-bobber rig, comprised of 6- to 8-pound monofilament line, split shot and a hooked minnow, to more elaborate jigging systems involving a variety of specialized jigs and spoons.
Modern ice-fishing experts contend that during the day or times when walleyes and saugers aren't as active and must be teased into biting, modern jigging methodology is vastly superior to the standard technique of bobber-watching. A variety of equipment, lines, jigs and spoons can be used to attain quality catches, even during the day, but using a sensitive, fast-tipped, medium-heavy action ice rod, thin diameter line and specialized lures gives you the capability to work these fish efficiently, quickly sense strikes, and promote solid, immediate hook sets.
Regardless of whether you choose to use a tip-up or rod and reel, the importance of live bait can not be emphasized enough. The natural scent, consistency and taste provided by a minnow or grub help inspire more strikes and will increase your number of solid hook-ups.
Productive Jigging Methods. While jigging walleyes and saugers at night is relatively easy because most standard bobber and twitch-jigging approaches will tease fish into striking, jigging during the day is more complex. The process can be easy as packing a heavy bodied jig with maggots, lowering it, tapping the bait on bottom to attract a fish's attention, then employing an aggressive "pounding" method as you gradually work the water column from the bottom up or as challenging as trying to trigger seemingly comatose fish.
When possible, avoid fishing clear water or shallow walleyes and saugers, especially during the day, because these daytime fish aren't as active as evening ones or fish in deep or colored water. But forced to fish in such conditions, a more aggressive, fast-moving approach is best, as this strategy doesn't allow a walleye or sauger to casually come to inspect a slow-moving bait. If they want to check out the fast-moving bait, they must strike it.
Given such conditions, ice pro Dave Genz likes to fish a Normark Jigging Rapala, or similar lure, to employ this aggressive motion.
His technique involves what he describes as a snap-jigging technique, rather than a traditional lift-drop. Snap jigging is accomplished by using a relatively stiff, medium-heavy ice rod, lowering your jig to the desired depth, then snapping the rod upward with a sharp, sudden twist of the wrist and allowing the loaded stiff rod to snap the lure up. Dave repeats this process three times, then pauses a few seconds before repeating the process. Most strikes occur on the drop or pause.
To increase your odds of making this technique work, focus your jigging along depth breaks or weedlines, drill lots of holes, and move often. The trick is turning a few neutral fish into biters and, with the odds against you, the more fish you can present your bait to, the more likely you are to trigger a few into hitting.
Heavy-bodied spoons can be used to attain similar success, and tipped with a small minnow to add natural scent and taste, their flashy, crippled minnow-imitating appearance often draws tremendous response. The addition of soft plastic, feather or hair dressings to a spoon's hook often improves the fish-attracting qualities of the lure, draw strikes to the hook, and may increase the frequency of strikes.
Most jigging spoons feature a hook attached right to the lure body. An increasing number of anglers have found that the use of a small wire clip, chain or short piece of monofilament line linking the hook to the lure body provides a distinct hooking advantage, simply because less aggressive fish can approach the hook and effortlessly suck the bait into their mouth. Just keep a needlenose pliers handy, as even short-striking fish have a tendency to swallow these dropper hooks.
Jigging minnows also work well during low-light periods. Use a simple lift of your rod tip followed by a sudden drop. The resulting slack line allows the lure to glide in a sideways, circular motion, then return. The motion attracts fish; the pause instigates most strikes.
With any of these methods, the importance of using global positioning systems (GPS) to move efficiently from structure to structure and sonar to locate specific areas and depths walleyes and saugers are holding is critical to success, as winter schools are highly mobile. As they move, you'll want to move with them, and sonar allows you to find them efficiently.
Deadsticking for Walleyes
While most walleye anglers present live minnows below a set float or slip-bobber, a few innovative fishermen have found "deadsticking" to be a simplier and better system. Deadsticking is a means of presenting live minnows without the aid of bobbers or floats. The key to the system is a custom-made 32-inch Thorne Brothers Dead Stick (right). This solid-glass ice rod features a limber tip that allows anglers to visually check the action of a minnow and detect the lightest strike. In addition, the flexible tip produces very little resistance to fish so they won't immediately drop the minnow.
To deadstick, simply set the rod in a rod holder or across the top of a bucket, lower the jig with live minnow to the bottom, then wind up enough line so the minnow hangs only a few inches off of the bottom. Close the bail on the spinning reel and watch the tip for a strike.
Since most states allow fishermen to use at least two lines during the winter season, the Dead Stick shines as a stationary rod while an angler jigs actively with another ice rod.