Icing March Walleyes on Lake of the Woods

It is well known amongst ice anglers why March is such a great month. The days are longer, the sun is stronger and melting snow and ice oxygenates the water. The walleyes instincts begin to kick in, which means the spawning season is approaching and it is time to bulk up. With all of these factors, fishing can be very good.

There is often not a lot of talk about March walleye fishing in lakes throughout the Midwest as the season is closed or there is no ice. On Lake of the Woods, however, because it is border water, different rules apply and the walleye season is open until April 14. This opens up a window of walleye fishing that many wait for all year long.

There are a few key spots that are absolute magnets for March ‘eyes.

Night and bridges
With Big Traverse Bay primarily made up of mud bottom, reefs that pop up can be absolute magnets for walleyes. This area hugs the eastern side of Big Traverse and is located about 20 miles north of Wheeler’s Point, which is the mouth of the Rainy River. The west edges of these islands are loaded with a variety of reefs, gravel and mud transitions. Set up on the deep transitions from rock to mud, in 27 to 32 feet of water. This is a good place to start. During low-light periods, walleyes will go up shallower to feed, but the deep transitions are good bets.

Long Point to Rocky Point
Again, this section of the lake is loaded with reefs that come out of miles and miles of mud. Not only do the walleyes and saugers hang on these reefs, this time of year jumbo perch will show up as well. When the jumbos, or humpbacks show up, they will often exceed 13 inches.

The Northwest Angle
This area north of Garden Island is where the 14,552 islands of the lake begin. Islands, reefs and underwater points decorate the mud as the lake transitions to more of a rocky landscape. There are literally dozens of spots to fish. It is not uncommon to hear of an evening bite on the top of a reef yielding fish after fish as these aggressive feeders take advantage of low light periods.

Pine Island
The south shore can also yield some excellent March fishing. Some of the walleyes in the system are beginning to stage for the spawn up the Rainy River. These walleyes are setting up in the mud just outside of the Lighthouse Gap and Morris Point Gap on the south end of the lake, adjacent to Pine Island. With increased water flows coming from the Rainy River and Bostic Creek, walleyes start to hone in on their spawning areas, and these areas can get stacked with fish. Another strong area is just to the west of Zippel Bay. This area transitions to smaller rocks that also attract walleyes this time of year.

Walleyes are commonplace when fishing in March on Lake of the Woods.
Walleyes are commonplace when fishing in March on Lake of the Woods.

With resort houses not having to be off of the lake until March 31, both south end and Northwest Angle resorts will have fish houses on many of the spots mentioned. Life can sure easy when you are shuttled right to the door of your heated fish house.

Some choose to drive on the plowed ice roads provided by the resorts. Whether you bring the collapsible fish house or fish in the open, these roads can take you to some very productive fishing.

The other option certainly is a snowmobile and collapsible fish house. There are snowmobile trails that go from the mouth of the Rainy River past Knight and Bridges, all the way up to the Northwest Angle. These trails are marked and groomed and make it easy to get around. They allow anglers to access a good part of the lake, including the areas discussed.

The weather this time of year can be winter-like or that of a warm, sunny day. On the nicer days, it is a treat to fish out in the open and welcome the warm breezes. Don’t forget sunscreen as the sun is strong and reflects off of the ice.

Methods
Catching March walleyes does not have to be rocket science. Typically, with the two lines per angler allowed ice fishing in Minnesota, jig with one line and use a dead stick in the second hole. Jig with your favorite spoon tipped with a frozen shiner head or body. Vary your jigging motion until you get the fish dialed in that specific day. Electronics like a Vexilar are helpful, as they not only tell you when and where the fish are coming through, but they help educate you on how the fish want the presentation that day.

In the deadstick hole, set a live minnow on a hook or your favorite ice jig 6 to 12 inches off of the bottom. Most anglers use a bobber. Many of the ice guides will not use a bobber, but rather set their rod on a bucket so the rod is sideways to them and they can see the slightest movement on the tip of the rod. If that rod tip goes down at all, it’s time to set the hook. The thought is that this method will pick up some fish that the bobber line would not have indicated.

With the walleyes bulking up, this is a good time to try your favorite swimming minnow bait, such as a Chubby Darter, Lindy Darter or Rapala Rippin’ Rap. All can be effective as larger profile baits that get the fish’s attention looking for larger forage.

Colors
Every year can be different; in fact, every day can be different. There are some known go-to colors that seem to stand the test of time. Gold is a staple on Lake of the Woods primarily due to the slightly “stained” water that comes from the bogs, releasing tannins into the water. This stained water coaxes the walleyes to eat during the day rather than the middle of the night, which is the liking to most anglers with normal sleep patterns.

Other colors that are strong are glow colors. My go-to color is glow red, with glow pink a close second. Some days when the fish are aggressive, you could probably catch one on just about any color, but when conditions are more challenging, experiment with colors.

There is a lot of excitement in March as Midwesterners are looking for a reprieve from the grasp of winter. Basketball and hockey tournaments are in full gear, days are longer and 40 degrees feels like a heat wave. If you are a walleye angler, don’t put your ice fishing gear away just yet, as some of the largest fish and best memories of the ice fishing season are yet to be made.