If Mille Lacs doesn’t consistently provide the world with some of its most beautiful sunrises and sunsets, I would be enormously surprised. Enveloped in the glorious beginnings of a new day stands Tony Roach, seeming to wonder, “Where do I start?”
So many factors to consider. Like, which side of the structure were walleyes using yesterday? What depths did we find active fish in? What were they feeding on? What time was it? Have conditions changed, and, if so, how? What’s the wind doing today? Did I remember to bring my thermos?
If the sunrise is a little less brilliant here, it’s because Tony drilled about 50 holes since the last photo, allowing us time to catch a few before he picked a spot for himself. Doesn’t take long. Notice the bend in that stick— the perfect blend of action and speed Tony wanted for his style of fishing. We’ll cover his new signature rod series in upcoming posts.
Results. All of us put fish in the ice using a variety of jig styles, sizes, and colors. Obviously, jigs and presentation weren’t the most important factors in the equation.
“Finding walleyes is a matter of knowing what part of their own season they’re currently experiencing,” Tony says. “They respond differently to the first part of the ice season than they do to the middle, and the end of the season differs from both. They may not move far or they could move miles. It depends on the lake and what it has to offer them. Walleyes will be where the bait is, and part of the location puzzle is knowing what options they have and how those options typically fare under the ice.”
In some lakes, shiners might be plentiful at the beginning of winter and thin out by mid season. If that’s a typical scenario, you can plan on walleyes transisting to ciscoes, smelt, or perch at some point. Every time walleyes change prey, they change location.
“Sometimes they just shift to a different part of the same structure,” Tony said. “Sometimes they change everything—the kind of substrates they use, the way they relate to bottom, depths, the area of the lake they’re in—everything depends on what the most abundant forage prefers.”
These factors can change from one lake to the next. Especially the abundance factor. Each lake has its own capacity for shiners, perch, sculpins, smelt, ciscoes, and other species. In some lakes, none of those species do well and you find walleyes stalking panfish. If that’s the case, you better have some idea where the small panfish spend the winter, as opposed to the bulls and slabs you actually hunt for yourself.