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Last Ice Walleye

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Last Ice Walleye

Circle on a map all of the prominent structures that block the walleye's path to the spawning areas and you will undoubtedly rope in many mother lodes. • Credit: Gord Pyzer

Gord Pyzer has good advice for fishing walleye on last ice in Northern Ontario

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Walleyes are the most sought-after sport fish in Northern Ontario, by resident and non-resident anglers alike. And as winter wanes and spring sunshine spreads across the North Country, now is the time to be out on the ice. The fish are waking up from their lengthy winter siestas, shaking off the cold water cobwebs and foraging for a festive feast.

So, the conditions couldn't be better, right?

Well, yes, but last ice throws a wrinkle into the equation and it is the fact that the fish will soon be spawning, and as a result, they're starting to get antsy and preparing to move. So if you keep going back to the same locations, structures and cover that have been producing all winter long, you could suddenly find no one at home.

On the other hand, if you adjust, remain mobile and move with the fish, you can stay on top of them until the season closes. But, how far should you move and where should you go?

The general answer is not nearly as far as you might think.

As winter wanes across Northern Ontario, walleyes shake off the cold water cobwebs and forage heavily under the ice in advance of the spring spawn
As winter wanes across Northern Ontario, Walleyes shake off the cold water cobwebs and forage heavily under the ice in advance of the spring spawn.

Indeed, most walleye anglers are under the mistaken impression that their favourite fish migrate huge distances to reach far-flung spawning sites. And while it can be the case in some bigger bodies of water in Northern Ontario, like the North Shore of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay, Lake Nipissing, Lake Superior, Lac de Mille Lacs, Eagle Lake, Rainy Lake and Lake of the Woods, the fact remains that most walleyes are short sprinters not long distance marathoners.

Even in big basin waters, like my home Lake of the Woods, where large schools of walleye ascend the Rainy River in the spring to spawn, the fish completed most of the migration late last fall, and staged out off the river mouth during the winter.

Never forget, too, that fish rarely put all of their eggs into one basket.

So, while a substantial number of walleyes may swim up a popular river, creek or stream to spawn, other groups of fish are quite content to seek out nearby shallow rock and cobble shorelines and shoals on which to lay their eggs.

In fact, radio telemetry tracking studies show that the majority of walleye populations moves no further than 5 km or 3 miles to reach their spawning grounds.

What this means, of course, is that if you've been catching fish at one or more spots this winter, you can likely look over your shoulder and see where the fish are now heading.

By the same token, if you've been patiently waiting to savour these ideal spring conditions for your first Northern Ontario ice fishing foray and you know where the fish will be spawning in mid- to late April, then draw a three mile circle around any and every ideal spawning site and you've undoubtedly roped in many Walleye mother lodes.

To fine tune the search even further, I like to circle all of the prominent structures – especially long finger-like underwater points and shallow shoals – that block the Walleye's path to the spawning areas. The structures serve a very useful purpose insofar as they block the movement of prey species like ciscoes, smelts, shiners and perch, causing the dinner fish to mill about in a somewhat surreal state of confusion.

A lipless crankbait like the Kamooki Smartfish is a great walleye lure to use at last ice because it emits a strong vibration and rattles, attracting the fish
A lipless crankbait like the Kamooki Smartfish is a great Walleye lure to use at last ice because it emits a strong vibration and rattles, attracting the fish.

The structures do the same thing to the walleyes, only in their case it is like strolling down a sunny boulevard when you're hungry and having your path blocked by a sidewalk cafe filled with diners munching on Black Forest Cake and drinking steaming cups of espresso.

In fact, it is why finding these restaurants filled with walleyes at this time of year is so much more important than fretting about how to catch them.

Indeed, the catching is the easy part, and believe it or not, you only require a few different lure types.

For starters, I always have a rattling lipless crankbait like the 3-inch long Kamooki Smartfish (my favourite is the glow tiger model) tied on one rod. Because it emits a strong vibration and rattles when you lift it up smartly and let it fall to the bottom, it is perfect for attracting walleyes from a distance, piquing their curiosity and calling them in.

If they don't actually smack the Smartfish once I spot them on my sonar, I can usually entice them to bite either a Rapala Jigging Rap (bottom treble tipped with a minnow head) or a ReelBait Flasher Jig.

Another favourite spring walleye trick is to remove the treble hook from a W30 or W40 Williams Wabler spoon (my favourite is the half gold/half silver Nu-wrinkle model) and attach a 6- to 8-inch length of 8-pound test Maxima leader material to the O-ring. Then, finish off the rig by tying on a #2 or #4 Gamakatsu Octopus Walleye hook. Finally, add a lively minnow by very lightly running the hook under the skin along the back, from just behind the dorsal fin, so that the point is directed toward the head of the bait fish.

Now, when you place this offering in a nearby second hole, you can call the fish in with the rattling lipless crankbait and if they don't whack it immediately, they usually spot the struggling minnow and suck it in with glee.

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