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Fish on ice

WILLMAR -- As they say, strike while the iron is hot.

For those looking to put walleye on ice, that's right now.

"First ice is always best,'' said Brad Foshaug, 71 Bait and Sports, Willmar.

It's keeping Foshaug busy filling bait buckets with flathead and shiner minnows. Good ice conditions have provided walleye anglers with a good start on the hard water season, he said.

There's anywhere from 11- to 18-inches of ice on area lakes, and anglers are driving their cars and pickups and pulling out shelters to get in on the early season action.

Fishing reports have varied, with on and off success stories being told. The best early action is usually found on the shallow lakes. In Kandiyohi County, the most popular early season walleye destinations are Wakonda, Ringo, and Big Kandiyohi.

Foshaug is hearing too from many walleye fishermen and women venturing on the always popular waters of Norway, Andrew, Diamond, Eagle, Florida and of course, Green Lake.

"All the lakes are busy,'' he said.

Walleye anglers are always guarded about their best fishing spots, but there really are no secrets kept on the ice. The fish houses always give it away.

Those who avoid the crowds do best, however. Grab a topographic map of the lake. The best walleye fishing is usually found off points, along the outer edge of weed lines, or along other underwater structure like sunken islands.

Also, the best walleye fishing is usually had at dusk and dawn, but walleye fishing can be good during the day on cloudy days or in dark waters.

The virtue of the early ice season is the simplicity of it all. An ice drill or auger, ice scoop, and jigging rod are about all that it takes.

There is an amazing assortment of choices when it comes to jigs and lures to use, of course. Foshaug said every one seems to have their own favorites, but this year one thing seems to hold true. Most of the early season anglers are relying mainly on the traditional stuff, like Swedish pimples and spoon jigs.

It's all about making a flathead or shiner minnow dance in front of a waiting walleye, and not overdoing it. Walleye slow down in cold water and don't respond as aggressively.

Walleye will continue to slow down and become less active as the winter progresses, making this the best time to catch them.

Along with the popular Kandiyohi County lakes, Lac qui Parle Lake and Minnewaska are also reporting lots of ice fishing activity.

On Minnewaska, there is anywhere from 15- to 17-inches of ice, meaning that more people are driving cars and pickup trucks out on to the lake.

"The beginning of the end for good walleye fishing,'' warned Larry Jensen from Minnewaska Bait and Tackle in Starbuck. As more people drive out on the lake the activity tends to spook and scatter the walleye, making it imperative that anglers do more searching and moving themselves.

Jensen said the action has been good, with most walleyes being picked up in 12 to 14 feet of water on the outer edge of the weed line. The operative word is "edge.'' The walleye are found right at the outer edge, he advises, and those fishing just a short distance either way are missing the fish.

Nothing fancy is required here, either. Jensen said most people are finding success by simply jigging flathead minnows on traditional walleye jigs and Swedish Pimples, or dangling shiner minnows on plain hooks.

The walleye action seemed sluggish at first on Lac qui Parle Lake, but appears to be picking up now, according to Paul Lines of DJ's Sporting Goods in Montevideo. Anglers are finding the walleye on structure in around 11 feet of water, he said.