Leading indicators for Lake Mille Lacs

Contributing Writer

It’s hard to stay with something when you feel the odds are
stacked against you, which sometimes has been the case in recent
Mille Lacs history. Anglers trying to connect with reluctant
walleyes on the big pond have found the going to be a little
tough.

Most of my own ice time the past two years has been spent
elsewhere, but that’s about to change. With fewer fishing hours
logged during the open water season by anglers on Lake Mille Lacs,
there are more fish left in the system, many more.

Besides all of the walleyes present, there also are a bunch of
jumbo perch that are pure eating machines and are helping to
rectify a predator/prey imbalance. That imbalance has been the main
culprit behind most of the tough angling conditions, and is the
direct result of too many baitfish in the lake.

It happens on every body of water, but seems to be more
pronounced on Mille Lacs than just about anywhere else. Baitfish
and predators go through cycles and when the forage base is up,
things get tough. But when it’s at a low, the good times really
roll. Somewhere in between is what we’re usually faced with and it
looks like “in between” is on deck this ice fishing season.

Indicators that things are changing include a hot shallow water
bite that occurred in late summer and early fall, as well as an
exceptional full-moon bite during October. September wasn’t much to
write home about but October made up for it, and good and even
fantastic catches were made by those willing to burn the midnight
oil. Those two facts show a good trend.

Even with the odds slightly shifting in your favor you’re still
going to have to do the right things in the right place. Early on,
that means working rocks, and lots of it. Rocky bars and reefs like
Agate Bay Reef, Rocky Reef, Garrison Reef, as well as smaller bars
like the one found in Jacks Twin Bay are hot early-ice
producers.

Besides the “where,” the “when” is pretty important, especially
on Mille Lacs. With the clear water and relatively shallow location
of those aforementioned bars and reefs most of the action occurs
early in the morning or late in the day, and after the sun has gone
down. During the day the fish usually aren’t there or aren’t
active.

Instead, you’d be well served by getting there later in the
afternoon and doing a little scouting to find a suitable spot. Once
you have it’d be a good idea to get your hole drilling out of the
way up front, so you don’t have to try and do it during prime time.
Hole drilling can spook fish, and the last thing you want to do is
chase away fish in there to feed.

Jigging spoons and baits, like the Northland Mini Airplane Jig,
tipped with a minnow head are hot early-season producers and are
always a good choice for putting a few fish on the ice. Although
early jigging usually includes some hard snapping and aggressive
techniques, it may be a turn off to a fish that’s still sporting an
“in between” attitude. In that case, softer less radical snaps or
shorter sweeps may be in order, or even letting the bait sit
perfectly still. If you’re using a depth finder and seeing fish
that come in and bail out when you move the bait you better back it
off a notch. Instead of jigging, try wiggling the rod tip back and
forth an inch or so, which will give the bait a quivering motion.
Another technique is to try and get them to follow it up, and is
done by lifting the rod tip up higher and higher and then letting
it sit, or give a small bump or snap and see what happens. Usually
if you can get fish to follow high enough they’ll take the
bait.

Late in the day, just before the sun completely sets, is when
the heaviest movements to shallow water take place. It’s also when
you can literally see the fish that is if you’re willing to get
down on your hands and knees. From there you can peer through the
hole and actually see fish cruising by, and watch as they accept or
reject your bait. It’s a great time to be on the ice and a whole
lot of fun just watching the show.

See you on the ice.

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