Recipe for Icing Monster Walleyes

“In order to catch trophy walleyes, you must fish in trophy walleye lakes.” Throughout the years, I have learned about playing the odds when it comes to fishing. I guess its wisdom, realizing that by putting myself on the right lake to begin with is half the battle. There are a number of things you can do to increase your odds to catch a walleye of a lifetime.

Start out by picking a lake that has the right fish. It really is a numbers game. There are a few criterion needed to have a trophy walleye lake.

  1. The right gene pool. Not every lake has the gene pool to produce walleyes 28 to 32 inches. In some bodies of water, a trophy is 26 inches. In other lakes, those fish are quite common and attention is paid when we start talking about the really big girls.
  1. Size of the lake. Larger lakes tend to have the ability to produce consistent big fish. Again, a pure numbers game with a variety of areas, food and spawning options leading to sustainability.
  1. Big fish forage. Big walleyes start out eating the normal walleye food of minnows, crayfish, various hatches and a myriad of other convenient food sources. Having a variety of food sources leads to a healthier lake, as some years the shiners might not do as well but another food source is available and walleye bellies are full. As walleyes become big, their diet changes. They start relating to a common fish in the larger waters—the tullibee. This bait is large and a high protein forage that allows walleyes to grow big.

Once you have chosen a lake where the big girls live, there are some commonalities to big fish success.

Overall, most big walleyes live in deeper water most of the time. “Deep” is relative to the lake, but on a lake such as Lake of the Woods, the main basin called Big Traverse Bay is about 34 feet deep. Will walleyes at times during a feeding window or spawning activity be shallow? Absolutely. Walleyes, however, tend to live near their food sources and in particular tullibees. Tullibees spend most of their life in deeper water.

Play the odds. In Minnesota waters, anglers are allowed to use two lines while ice fishing. Use one jigging line and one deadstick. This combo will catch both the active and neutral walleyes. The active walleyes will typically go after the jigging line. The jigging line also attracts even the neutral walleyes. The neutral fish will be interested in the deadstick, which is usually a live minnow on a plain hook or type of walleye ice jig set close to the bottom.

It amazes me how many big walleyes I have caught on a deadstick. A struggling minnow set in front of a walleye is tough for them to resist. Increase your success with a deadstick by keeping your minnow moving. Don’t hook the minnow too deep. Jig your line once in a while. This not only can provoke a walleye to eat but also keeps the minnow active, producing more fish.

Try larger baits. Just like when you are trolling in the open water months and you alternate sizes, colors and wobbles until you find out what they like that particular day, do the same with your jigging lures. Big baits will attract big walleyes. Try using larger minnow swimbaits, a jigging spoon tipped with a minnow head or a section of the body or a vibrating blade lure that is detected by the walleye’s lateral line such as a Cicada.

Ripping a vibrating blade lure can be effective. I have noticed the vibrations really will pull fish in from a long distance. Early on, I would rip a blade bait aggressively in an effort to attract more walleyes to my second line. To my surprise, many of the walleyes would attack the blade bait.

I also have had success being aggressive with a blade bait when fish are docile. It goes against reason in some ways, but much like the reaction strike on a crankbait, at times is super-effective. It’s a rush when there are no fish on your Vexilar and instantly a big red mark comes flying in. This fish is hot. Place your lure in front of her, twitch it and hang on.

Using electronics is a huge advantage. Big fish will certainly cruise the bottom, but on big fish lakes like Lake of the Woods, monster walleyes will often come through suspended. The thought is they are cruising around up high, looking for a meal. It is no coincidence that is often where tullibees are living as well. Very often when these fish are caught, they are bigger fish.

When you spot a suspended fish on your electronics, you need to act fast, but there are some tips. Reel up fast before the fish swims through, but a couple of feet below the fish. Slow your reeling so you don’t spook the fish. That last couple of feet, reel slowly until in front of or just above the fish. When in position, jig it twice and pause.

If the fish doesn’t react, shake the lure for a few seconds as fast as you can.

Next, start reeling up the lure to imitate an escaping baitfish. If the fish follows, don’t stop. It’s the thrill of the chase. Keep it moving up until it is decision time and normally the walleye will eat. If it doesn’t, let the lure free-fall to below the mark.

Finally, try jigging very aggressively and erratically. Usually, one of these methods will trigger a strike.

When positioning your bait above the fish, be ready for that fish to fly up and hit your offering, causing slack in your line. One thing I do now that I never used to is when pulling the lure up to the fish, I use the reel more than my arms, keeping my arms lower to the hole. If I lift the lure up with my arms and the fish hits, I have nothing left to set the hook. This is also effective when fishing in collapsible houses with a lower roof clearance.

There is nothing like setting the hook into a big walleye and eventually seeing those two big marble eyes at the bottom of your hole. Ice anglers can spend years, even a lifetime in search of a true trophy. If icing big walleyes sounds like a good hobby to pick up, change the game. This year, put the odds in your favor.