Submitted by Mitch Eagan
[dropcap size=small]T[/dropcap]here are times when drilling just a few holes, sitting put and hoping a walleye wanders by is an okay technique. This, however, is not one of those periods.
Instead, ice anglers find themselves between those monumental moments in the hardwater season, midway between early ice and midwinter. It’s a timeframe when walleyes are transitioning from feeding ferociously in the shallows to sulking in deep water.
History reveals that those who venture onto first ice find plenty of walleyes in skinny water, walleyes still found amongst the very structure they were holding in late fall. But many of those fish have left the area by now.
It’s also a well-known fact that by mid to late winter, the majority of walleyes have migrated to a lake’s main basin. Here they’re found bellied up to bottom, feeding on what little forage comes waggling their way.
So what’s the trick to catching walleyes during this transitional time of year? Do exactly what the fish are doing… Move. Not just once or twice during the day, but several times throughout the day. Although you may not take a limit of fish from one hole, chances are you will pick off fish here and there if you just get off your haunches.
Overall, this outdoor writer’s lazy. I usually fish for walleyes in lakes I already know the lay of the underwater land better than the back of my hand.
In the brain of my Humminbird ICE 688CI HD Combo I already have GPS waypoints placed directly over key breaklines. This lets me beeline directly to my best spots. Many of these waypoints come from finding and saving them during the open water season. I merely download the waypoints onto a SD card and then transfer them onto the portable 688. Simple, to say the least.
But what about on waterways where one rarely, or has never fished? This is where someone like Mark Brumbaugh – one of the top walleye tournament pros in the nation – rides in like a knight in shining armor. The Ohio resident travels the Midwest, fishing frozen waters as large as the Great Lakes, smaller reservoirs and natural lakes throughout the United States and Canada.
While Brumbaugh bores holes directly over breaklines, he’s also looking for more subtle transformation areas on the bottom. And besides sonar, he also uses another type of electronics to do it.
“There’s no doubting that the majority of walleyes are on the move between first ice and midwinter,” says Brumbaugh. “And fish are scattered, so the best way to catch a limit is by moving often.
“Of course I am always trying to fish as close to cover, like weeds, rock and wood as much as possible. But I also like to fish right over more subtle spots; like, were the bottom composite changes, say, where gravel butts up to clay or mud. Anywhere two different types of bottom meet, for that matter. And you can find those areas easily with an underwater camera.”
First, with sonar in hand, Brumbaugh plies the frozen surface drilling holes and checking depths. (And if he sees fish, immediately drops down a lure.) After depth is confirmed, he lowers the lens of an Aqua-Vu underwater viewing system and searches the fathoms for structure and variations in bottom composite. If neither are visible, Brumbaugh cranks up the power auger and drills another set of holes, moving until a bottom irregularity appears.