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Northern Ontario Walleye - All Winter Long

Walleye fishing in Northern Ontario really is child's play. • Credit: Gord Pyzer
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Northern Ontario Walleye - All Winter Long

Try these jigging tips and tackle on your next ice fishing trip

The torrid Northern Ontario winter walleye bite has continued unabated since Christmas, maybe even shifting into overdrive. I've talked with several fishing friends in the North Bay, Timmins, Kirkland Lake, Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay areas and they all tell me the same thing. Local ice conditions are superb and the walleyes are biting like crazy.

It is what I expected to hear, given how good the ice fishing has been here in Northwestern Ontario's Sunset Country. I have been out several times in the last few days, and to be honest, it was hard keeping the fish off the lines. How I was catching the walleyes, however, was an interesting study in contrast.

One day, for example, we caught more fish on set lines but bigger fish jigging. And then, 24 hours later, the reverse was true. Jigging produced considerably more fish -- with several gorgeous 12- to 14-inch bonus yellow perch thrown in for good measure - but the set lines produced the bigger walleyes, including a gorgeous 7 pound 14-ounce beauty that I quickly released.

Go figure, eh?

Eight-pound walleye caught in Northwestern Ontario's Rainy Lake. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

Double Trouble

Still, it highlights an important winter walleye presentation principle when you're ice fishing in Northern Ontario. Since you're allowed to have two lines in the water, it pays to take advantage of the additional opportunity. Of course, having said that, the devil's in the details.

First, as our recent results indicate, it never pays to do the same thing in both holes. In other words, if there are two, three or four ice anglers in your party, don't set dead-stick rods or tip-ups in all the holes. Be sure to actively jig several of them so you can gauge the day's activity level and determine what the fish want most.

Walleye fishing in Northern Ontario really is child's play, as Liam Whetter proudly displays the walleye he caught in Lake of the Woods. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

As a matter of fact, when I first arrive at a fishing spot I like to drill several holes in the immediate area, at least five or six per angler, spacing them 10, 15, or even 20 feet or more apart, so we can move around and constantly check subtle depth differences and spots on the structure.

On my walleye jigging rods, I rely on three distinct styles of lures: spoons, jigging minnows and lipless crankbaits.

Spoons, or "flash lures" as I call them, like the Blue Fox Tingler and More-Silda, #0 Mepps Syclops and my beloved William’s Ice Spoons that are plated with pure silver and 24-carat gold, quickly catch the attention of big walleyes and draw them over to your ice hole, if for no other reason than to investigate the commotion. The ideal winter walleye spoon, by the way, should measure about 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 inches in length and weigh between 1/4 and 1/2 ounce. Oh, yes, I always tip the treble hook with the head of a fresh or salted emerald shiner.

Rapala Jigging Shads, Snap Raps and Storm Walleye Jigging Minnows, on the other hand, especially in the medium size range complement the spoons perfectly. Indeed, while the spoons display their talents in an up-and-down vertical manner, the jigging minnows strut their stuff by swimming out horizontally below your hole. It is amazing how walleye preference for one or the other will change daily, even over the course of the day.

By the way, I almost always tip the bottom treble hook on these lures with a minnow head as well.

Finally, large, lipless, vibrating lures like the Rapala Rattlin’ Rap and LIVETARGET Golden Shiner and Gizzard Shad are the noise-making party animals in the crowd. I especially like these lures when I am fishing on lakes -- or portions of lakes -- that are relatively flat and featureless and that lack a plethora of structure, such as the Bay of Quinte in Southern Ontario, Lake Nipissing in the Northeast and the flat, basin waters of Lac de Mille Lacs, Eagle Lake, Rainy Lake and Lake of the Woods here in Northwestern Ontario.

When you jig these big, loud, lipless, vibrating lures you can magnetize and draw in walleyes from great distances and then excite them into biting.

Indeed, armed with these three lure types -- spoons, jigging minnows and lipless crankbaits -- there is not a walleye in Northern Ontario that you can't entice up a hole in the ice to visit you on the surface of the lake.

A close-up look at the perfect rod, reel, line and lure -- a Mepps Scylops tipped with a minnow head -- to catch walleye anywhere in Northern Ontario. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

The Coup de Grace

But, let's not forget that second hole you're allowed to use because some days, it is the coup de grace, the clincher, the finishing touch. And it is even easier to decide what to use with a 1/8- to 1/4-ounce jig at the top of the list. My favourites are UV Chartreuse and UV Rocket Red Mister Twister round jigs, or the same weight and colour ReelBait Flasher Jigs with the tiny willow leaf blade below the hook.

But here is the key. Always tip these jigs with a super active live minnow by running the hook lightly under the skin along the back, coming from behind the dorsal fin and exiting in front of it, so the tip of the hook is pointed toward the minnow's head.

When you do this properly, balancing the weight of the jig with the size of the minnow, once you lower it to the bottom, the minnow will struggle to swim away, tire itself out, and be drawn back under your hole by the weight of the jig. Done right, it’s deadly.

Gord Pyzer with a trophy walleye caught on a LIVETARGET Shiner as described in the blog. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

The One-Two Combination

In fact, here is a little secret, honed from fishing for walleyes in Northern Ontario for many years. Drill your holes in groups of three, spaced about 3 feet apart.

Place your sonar unit in the middle hole and then, in one of the other two, drop down your jig and minnow combination, stopping it when it is about a foot above the bottom. Now, lay the rod across the top of a plastic pail, so the tip of the rod is positioned directly over the hole.

The third and final hole is the one you're going to jig with the spoon, swimming minnow or lipless crankbait. Using a simple lift, pause, freefall, pause, and jigging motion, monitor the action of both lures simultaneously on the sonar screen. That is why you placed it in the middle hole.

When you spot a walleye streak across the screen, it is like playing a fast-action video game. If the walleye is aggressive, you'll feel it almost immediately smack your lure. But if it doesn't, watch the tip of your adjacent "deadstick" rod, out of the corner of your eye, and invariably you will see it bend over.

Close-up on a LIVETARGET lipless crankbait use for calling in big Northern Ontario walleye. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

Fish on!

It is an amazingly effective “one-two punch”. But, we better make that a one-two-three punch combination, because when you add in your favourite Northern Ontario walleye water, it is as good as it can possibly get.

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