The cold weather of the past week has slowed the ice fishing action somewhat, but the good news is that it has also improved ice conditions considerably.
On a recent trip to the southwest corner of Lake Winnipeg, action for walleye was very good. I drove on the lake at the Warner Road access and followed the packed road that headed out to a pressure ridge a couple kilometres in the distance. Permanent shacks were scattered over the frozen surface -- one mini colony in front of Matlock and another near where Jim Price and I were fishing. An ice ridge was restricting access to parts of the lake -- the same ice ridge that claimed a vehicle later in the week, but luckily no loss of life.
Ice ridges are dangerous and should be given a wide berth.
Jim quickly drilled a series of holes, through ice a metre thick in most places. We then set up my six-man Eskimo pop-up shelter, which I had acquired in the fall.
Wow, what a pleasure it was fishing out of this unit, plenty of room and comfy warm with my Sunflower heater taking off the edge. Jim opted to stay outside most of the time, moving from hole to hole to cover more area. It paid off for him early, as he landed four of the first six walleye. I put on a late push to bring it close to even at the end of the day and I credit both the tent and me electronics, a Humminbird Ice 55 flasher unit, for that.
Around 9 a.m., we started marking a lot of fish up high in the water column along with clouds of baitfish. As soon as I marked a fish in 1.5 to two metres of water under the ice, I would reel up my jig and minnow just past the mark. At first, the fish would quickly disappear off the screen of my flasher when I did this. As the morning wore on, though, the activity level increased dramatically, turning those spooked fish into biters. We would reel our jigs through the fish, stop just above the mark and jig one time. Wham!
They were all nice walleye, between 45-60 centimetres. I have fished Lake Winnipeg a lot over the last 10 years but have never seen so many bait fish under the ice.
While some anglers have been doing well ice fishing Lake Winnipeg this winter, others struggle. In talking and fishing over the years with a number of the top anglers on the ice, such as Lee Nolden, Roger Stearns, Murray Olfasson and Jim Price, one thing remains clear: it pays to experiment.
Lee Nolden says he's found this year to be a very inconsistent one, with good days and slow days. Jim Price has been out three times and he caught some good walleye on all three occasions, but every day the presentation has been different to some degree. The first time out, Jim caught most of his fish near the bottom on a subtle presentation -- just a jig and a salted shiner. When I fished with him the second time out, we caught most of our fish suspended below the ice by lifting a jig through the fish and twitching the bait once. On that particular day, something big and flashy would spook any fish high in the water column.
On Jim's last time out, he tied on a Red Flash Nickel spoon from Lucky Strike and used it to trigger inactive fish to bite. He said he would drop the lure to the bottom, twitch it once, then slowly lift it up to about a metre off the bottom. If he saw a mark come off the bottom, he would then lift the spoon until it was just below the ice in one metre of water and give it one twitch. "Wham" was the result. He ended up catching 14 walleyes that day when his friends with the still lines caught three.
Anglers Notes: Ice fishing for walleye has also been good on the Red River. Fairly strong current flow on the river makes ice conditions inconsistent. Caution is required when considering driving on.