‘Saddle strategies’ for midwinter ice walleyes
By Glen Schmitt
Walleye movement and feeding activity naturally slows as the ice fishing season progresses. As we slide into January, consistently catching numbers of walleyes becomes more difficult.
Seasoned walleye anglers know that fishing becomes more challenging, but they also know that the task is not impossible.
The majority of walleyes slide off shoreline structure in search of main lake habitat and forage opportunities after that initial barrage of first-ice goodness. They are done providing those long, consistent feeding windows, especially during midday hours.
Offshore structure can tip the odds back in our favor. Finding and working over expansive pieces of main lake structure such as gravel bars, mud flats, rock reefs, humps, and even a deep wall of weeds should provide enough ’eyes to at least whet your appetite.
They biggest factor is recognizing the structure, then knowing how to work it.
A rule applies here: Find the structure and work its top during low-light periods but slide off the edge to deeper water during midday hours. That often means out to the abyss, in the middle of nowhere, or maybe… somewhere.
Just as important as finding offshore structure is identifying subtleties within it. Look for those turns and fingers, or any type of diversion or shift on a given piece of structure. That’s likely where the bulk of your midseason, offshore walleyes will relate. It’s just natural for them to do so.
Changes to bottom content – mud to gravel, mud to sand, rock piles and boulders that stick out or the combination of any of these characteristics are worth drilling over.
Even when you find these optimum locations and walleyes using them, this is the time of year and situation to implement the old one-two approach with your presentations. Employ jigging spoons and deadsticks – many times a deadstick/minnow combination will perform best.
Again, these are less aggressive walleyes triggered by shorter windows of feeding activity. When they station across offshore structure, they’re usually not looking to fill their bellies, but rather grab a quick bite.
The major feedbags will return during the latter stages of the ice fishing season: that period when they’re again moving shallow and starting to think spring spawn.
For now, downsize your spoons and jigs and force feed them a less aggressive approach. Low-light periods will provide better opportunities to cash in along offshore, main lake areas, too.
The most productive approach often involves sparking some interest with a jigging spoon. But usually, they’ll hit that more natural, slow-moving deadstick and minnow combination in the adjacent hole.
Finally, electronics are a huge part of this midwinter, offshore structure game plan. These fish tend to roam and often suspend in the water column. Without the aid of electronics, you’ll miss those higher fish, which are often a bit more aggressive, too.