Edge Mille Lacs Mud Flats for Ice Walleyes

If you’re looking for a hot ice fishing bite for walleyes, aim for Minnesota’s Lake Mille Lacs right now and you won’t be disappointed. The 2016-2017 ice fishing season has been excellent on this legendary walleye factory with good numbers of eater-sized walleyes and plenty of bigger fish to stretch your line. Armed with the right tackle, you can plan to put plenty of nice fish on the ice.

February marks the last month of the winter for walleyes on all non-border Minnesota lakes. This year, the season runs through Sunday, February 26, before closing until the opener on May 13. This means anglers have four solid weeks now to explore the winter bounty of Lake Mille Lacs. Choose to access the lake via snow machine or ATV and pull your portable gear with you, or rent an on-ice fish house from the resorts that cater to ice fishing.

Tactics for walleyes this month will vary by location and by the time of day. The most consistent late- winter bites occur in the main basin of the lake—a featureless, 35-foot expanse, except for the 60-plus mudflats that dot the basin, providing fish-attracting structure for roaming walleyes. The mudflats, which are mapped in accurate detail on LakeMaster GPS chips, typically rise 10 feet from the basin and top out at 24 feet. The sharp edges of the flats are the best locations to drill your holes and set up for ice jigging.

Noted Mille Lacs fishing guide Tony Roach calls it “ice trolling.” Using your map chip as your signpost, punch a series of holes along the contour edge and place holes both on the high side and low side of the break. Venture out 20 to 30 yards into the 35-foot basin and at 20 to 30 yards up on the top of the flats to make sure you have all possible walleye locations covered. Next, grab a jigging rod with a 1/8-ounce rattling spoon tipped with a minnow head, use your electronics, and then start hole-hopping to locate walleyes. The advantage of mobility in this scenario is two-fold: one, you’re covering as much structure as you can to locate fish and second, you can discover little hot spots that consistently produce bites. Walleyes will use little underwater highways as they hug the bottom, following the same general twists and turns in the bottom contours as their brethren. When you punch a hole above one of these turnpikes, you start catching more fish.

Presentations are basic: While a 1/8-ounce spoon generally is an ideal choice, on days with cold fronts or during midday lulls in the action, you may need to downsize to 1/16 ounce to trigger finicky fish. Mille Lacs has excellent water clarity, and while natural color patterns such as perch or silver/black catch fish, you might be surprised how often glow lures and UV paint schemes become go-to choices. (Tip: Change your minnow head frequently to keep fresh scent in the water.)

The resorts on Lake Mille Lacs maintain a series of plowed lake roads that provide access to miles upon miles of fishing spots on this water. For a daily “road pass” fee (usually $10), you can access the lake in your vehicle and set up to fish the hot spots in your portable ice house. Or, rent a comfortable heated fish house from the resort with propane heat and lights and holes that are pre-drilled and positioned over the best structure. Sleeper fish houses are available for overnight stays on the ice, and are another fun way to enjoy Mille Lacs. Rental fish houses are a perfect option for folks wanting to fish together in comfort.

Besides the main-lake mudflats, another key area to target winter walleyes are numerous rock reefs and the deep gravel bars located primarily on the east and south sides of the lake. Here, walleyes will move up and down the breaklines, holding along the deeper edges during daylight hours and cruising shallower during low-light conditions. Adjust your location according to conditions and keep moving until you contact fish. If your goal is to target feeding walleyes as their activity levels increase in late afternoon or at dusk, be sure to set up shallow and plan to drill your holes at least 45 minutes prior to diminishing light. If you’re punching holes at dusk over rocky structure that’s shallow, you’ll risk spooking any walleyes in the area and ruin good fishing. While the shallow bite is more affected by light penetration, the mudflats typically produce walleyes all day long. Many mobile anglers fish the shallower structure at dawn and dusk, but roam the basin mudflats during daytime.

If you’re aiming to catch walleyes through the ice in February, Minnesota’s Lake Mille Lacs is a perfect option as this winter so far has offered excellent opportunities for anglers.