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Author: Frank Ross
I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough winter to last me for a while. I’ve about worn out my tackle box, sorting lures, hooks, weights, and rigs. When I started counting hooks I knew it was time to go back upstairs and watch some more fishing shows.
Consequently, I know that when it finally gets warm enough to launch a boat without chopping a hole, I’m going to go walleye fishing. It will still be too cold, and I probably won’t catch anything, but I’m going and that’s all there is to it. I’ve already laid out my foul weather gear, because having it ready is the best way I know to insure good weather. Leave it at home and you can bet that the weather will be miserably cold with a stiff wind. One of the items at the top my checklist, is "Increase the Odds."
To that end, I dropped by Troy Bosard’s office to pick his brain. Troy is the head of Cabela’s fishing department, and a tough fisherman who has proven his worth by winning on the tournament trail. He has done well in local events, and a few years back won a fully rigged boat and motor in a national walleye tournament. Since I’ve never caught enough fish at one time to win anything, I figured Troy would be a good source for getting the edge on an early assault against the wily walleye.
While some states have seasons that keep anglers from wasting their time, Nebraska and anglers along rivers like the Mississippi, Detroit and Illinois aren’t encumbered by reason and we can fish when it’s cold enough to freeze the line in our rod eyes.
When I brought up the subject of walleye fishing, Troy was in the middle of making selections for tackle to be included in Cabela’s fall catalog. There isn’t a better man to talk tackle with, so I was ready with pen in hand. He looked up from his work, glanced out the window at the ice on the sill and just shook his head. Turning back to me, he said in a sympathetic tone, "It’s a little early," suppressing a snicker. "If you’re determined to go, I’d suggest that you start with smaller bodies of water or a river. The smaller lakes warm up quicker and rivers don’t get that cold normally. For now, let’s talk about lakes. A couple of approaches work for me. Start on the North side, it gets more direct rays from the sun and the water will be warmer, so that’s where the walleye will be. Finding them is always the first thing that has to be done."
"You’ve got a temperature sensor, don’t you?" I gave a positive nod. "They come in real handy. If you know where the walleye usually spawn, you should start looking on or near the bottom, in about 10 to 30 feet of water just off of their spawning area. You’ll have to watch your sonar very closely, sometimes they are so close to the bottom that they look like a Coke bottle." While Troy doesn’t look old enough to remember when Cokes came in glass bottles, I didn’t want to interrupt the flow of information.
"You got a good sonar?" I shook my head in the other direction, and explained that with the steady stream of diapers, gym shoes, and retainers that have been sucking the money out of my wallet I hadn’t come up with the $500 that it takes to land one.
"This could be your year," he replied. "Just like calculators and computers, innovations in electronics and competitiveness in the market place have been intense. All of the major manufacturers -Lowrance, Humminbird, PinPoint, Garmin, make good units. As you know, pixels-per-square-inch is the key to the type of resolution it takes to tell a Coke bottle from a walleye. Well, this year we’ve got some models that are priced like a fire sale, and they have 240 pixels, which is the magic number for excellent results. Lowrance’s X97 is a good example. It’s got all of the basic features, but not all of the bells and whistles, but then again it’s only half the cost of the top end units."
"Eagle’s Fisheasy 2 is another fine unit and the price of that unit is even less, but still keeps you in the 240 pixel class with very good definition. I’d recommend a unit with a split screen so you can search the entire water column with one and zoom in with the other so that you can see the bottom two to three feet in greater detail. When the water is still cold, you’ll find them lying almost motionless right on the bottom. If you don’t watch close, you’ll miss them. With the sand bottoms we have out here in our reservoirs it’s much easier than on glacial lakes, but all of the units I’ve mentioned will find them for you in any type of water," he added.
Ok, let’s say that between temperature soundings and my new sonar, I’ve found them. What’s my best shot at getting their frozen lips pried apart? "Well, I’d take some minnows for insurance, but slow and light are the two keys to catching cold fish. A jig and a minnow are always effective, use a Lindy fuzzy grub or a Northland Fire-Fly jig. I’ve always liked Lindy rigging, which is basically a slip sinker and a hook, pretty simple."
"A third way is to use jigging spoons. They will often out-fish live bait. They create reaction strikes. It’s that metal flashing in their face and they snap at it purely as a reaction to the irritation. It’s like ice fishing from a boat, only the hole is larger and your fingers aren’t quite so cold. Current guys, who fish rivers with a jig and a minnow, sometimes use a stinger hook -but the basic setup is simple. You want to keep your bait close to the bottom. That’s where the walleye are holding, trying to keep out of the strong current. The speed of the current will dictate the size of the jig. If you’re not getting bit, usually it’s because your bait is riding too high off of the bottom, and you need to step up the size of your jig. In light current, I go as small as 1/32-oz., then step up as conditions dictate. It’s not unusual to go with 1/2-ounce jigs in swift water."
"Line is a key factor when the water is real cold. I always use Cabela’s fluorocarbon line>, and there are four advantages. 1.) It’s virtually invisible. 2.) It’s highly resistant to abrasion, which is a problem when targeting fish on the bottom. 3.) It sinks quickly, and helps keep live bait on the bottom. The cost is reasonable so filling an entire reel is a good idea. 4.) Finally, this line has a very low stretch, which helps hook sets. We also sell leader spools if an angler wants to take that route, but Kevin Van Dam spools his entire reel with it, which eliminates the hassle of tying snells. Kevin’s been fairly successful, so that’s something to consider," he added.
What about the angler that likes to take a more aggressive approach? "A lot of river fishermen like to anchor just off of the area that’s holding fish, in say 10 feet of water, and cast jigs to the shallow areas that are holding fish. Most of them prefer a shorter rod in the range of 5’8" to 6’, our XML Series is a popular rod for casting these light jigs. Depending on the model you choose, you can fish from 4 to 12-pound test line. These rods range up to 8’6", but like I said, shorter rods are preferable for light jigging."
"If you’re serious about going this early, don’t forget to dip your rod in the water before casting. It will save you from losing jigs when the line freezes to the rod. Oh, if you’re going to Lake McConaughy, I’ll probably see you out there," he added.
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