John Peterson recently caught this 31-inch walleye on Lake of the Woods, while fishing from a permanent fish house. Peterson, the President of Northland Fishing Tackle, caught this and several other fish that day on the new Moxie Minnow, a new ice-fishing lure of his own design. “Spoons and blade-baits vibrate and call fish to the area, which is key when ice fishing, especially from the confines of a permanent shelter,” says Peterson.
The modern-day ice angler has tools, and portable or permanent ice fishing houses available which allow him to fish different areas and “cover water” like never before. A run-and-gun approach is generally promoted as the secret to success on the ice. In a world that likes instant and constant reward, and with the ability to be mobile, ice anglers move around on the ice like men with a mission.
In contrast to moving about with or without a portable shelter, angling from a permanent fish house can also be productive. Certain bodies of water lend themselves to a “sit-tight” approach.
So which is better, portable or permanent? Again, many will argue that portability is the only way to go. My Frabill flip-over style portable certainly gets a workout each winter. However, I will argue that at times, camping in one location in my permanent shack or portable, has proven just as effective as a search-and-destroy strategy. I guess then, it depends on the situation.
The walleye bite on most of the clear lakes near my home occurs during a very short window right about sundown. It’s a short bite that does not lend itself to relocating. Fish are also spooky in the clear water. I keep my permanent shelter set up on a perennial “sweet spot”, an obvious piece of structure. I can zip out to my house, by ATV or snowmobile at early ice, and with my truck much of the winter, and be fishing in a few minutes. I only auger two holes in the house when I’m fishing solo, and four when I have one of the kids or a buddy along. Noise is kept to a minimum. I’ll only fish for an hour or so because that’s about how long the bite lasts. A permanent shack works for me in this situation.
Of course, when my “sweet spot” turns sour, it’s time to hook up the portable. If I take a shut-out on back-to-back trips to the permanent, I’ll give it a rest for a week. For my next couple of trips, I’ll set the Frabill up on other key structures. I’ll approach it much the same, however, cutting a few holes, getting set up as quickly and quietly as possible, and sitting tight.
Bodies of water in which walleyes tend to roam deeper sand or mud basins can also call for a sit-tight approach. Lake of the Woods on the Ontario – Minnesota border is a prime example. Large permanent shelters are very common, especially near the southern shore. Many are available for rent from resorts. Here, walleyes roam large featureless flats. With few real contact points, finding a “sweet spot” is difficult and not necessary. A group of anglers might climb into a fish house at dawn, fish all day, and never cut a hole outside. It’s a waiting game, but rewards, often a bucketful of walleye and sauger, come to those who wait.
Call ‘em In
When sitting tight in a permanent portable shelter, certain lures can be used to get the attention of and attract nearby fish. A struggling minnow impaled on a hook or jig emits vibration. Other lures, however, have increased “drawing power”. At the top of the list are rattling spoons. Northland Tackle’s Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon, tipped with a minnow head, has accounted for over half of the winter walleyes I’ve caught over the last several years. When jigged aggressively, it emits a “click” that walleyes want to investigate. For a jigging motion, I use short, quick snaps with my wrist. When a walleye shows itself on my Marcum flasher, however, I’ve found that a dead-stick approach will generally seal the deal. Big walleyes will inhale the whole spoon while smaller fish nip just the minnow head.
Spoons that flutter and tumble on the fall also send out sound waves that attract walleyes. A new spoon that walleyes may not have yet seen is the Moxie Minnow, another Northland creation. It’s a member of the company’s Live-Forage line-up of lures that look like the real thing. The slow but erratic action of the spoon will bring walleyes in for a closer look, while the real-life appearance makes them bite.
Another attention-getting ice lure in the Live-Forage family is the Fish-Fry Minnow-Trap. It’s a blade-style bait that hangs horizontally and vibrates when pulled upward, sending out vibrations that will bring fish in from a wider radius than subtle lures.
Keep it Wet
When I’m targeting winter walleyes or any species for that matter, five minutes in a hole without a bite and I’m as itchy to move as the next guy. With my Frabill in tow, and StrikeMaster auger eager to chew up some ice, “let’s move” is often the theme. However, my father and fishing mentor taught me long ago that, “you can’t catch ‘em if your line isn’t wet.” Over thirty years of fishing, I’ve found that to be an absolute truth. Call it old school but ice-angling from permanent fish houses, or just setting up camp with the portable, still works . . . given the right situation. Good luck on the ice this winter.