Ice Fishing Walleye: Clackers On Ice
November 11, 2011
Maybe Bryan Adams said it best in his song, There Will Never Be Another Tonight: You gotta ride your broom right into my room; kick off your shoes make yourself at home; wave your little wand and weave a little spell; make a little magic, raise a little hell.
If the noisy lipless rattlebaits so popular for bass during summer aren't part of your winter repertoire for walleyes, pike, and lake trout, you're missing a cutting-edge option that at times turn an otherwise ordinary day on the ice into an extraordinary fishing adventure.
The last three winters I've spent time on Lake Winnipeg, north of Selkirk, Manitoba, ice fishing walleye for the lake's famous "greenback" walleyes. Granted, the inland sea is arguably the finest winter walleye fishery of all right now, but even there the fishing isn't easy. You need to fish smart, running and gunning between isolated rockpiles, and constantly experimenting with bait and lure presentations.
Still, almost every day we've iced at least one double-digit walleye (and often several). The number of "near" trophy-size walleyes—fish in the 28- to 30-inch range—has also been impressive. Most of these fish are caught on the noisy rattlebaits, with Rapala Clackin' Raps and LiveTarget Herring, Golden Shiner, or Gizzard Shad being our go-to lures. The giant fish that don't bite the raucous noisemakers often swing over and smack a deadstick presentation in a hole several feet away.
Watch one of these fish streak across your sonar screen and chase down a rattlebait and you might think there's no way it can be a methodical, plodding walleye. But noisy, throbbing lures at times make walleyes step out of character in the same way they do in the summer when they eat 6-inch swimbaits skewered on 1-ounce jigheads. It's enough to suggest that walleye anglers should revisit their perception of walleye behavior.
Unlike walleyes that prosper in lukewarm water temperatures, lake trout crave colder surroundings, thriving in icebox conditions. So you'd expect that if walleyes run down rattlebaits that lake trout would also relish them. They often do. We've had some of our finest days on ice the last several seasons using the lures. Many times the fish rush in and strike without hesitation. Often the lure is completely gone down their throat. I've never seen lakers take lures so deeply.
But, good as the rattlebaits can be at times, other times they make lakers do things I've rarely seen before. We started experimenting with the lures several years ago. One morning that first year I was with In-Fisherman Editor In Chief Doug Stange, filming an episode of In-Fisherman's Ice Fishing Guide television. Our first stop of the morning was at a shallow shelf that juts out from shore before breaking into 60 feet of water. A lake trout rocketed up after my lure. When I see trout do this, I often try take the lure away from them by reeling it up toward the surface as though it's is a fleeing baitfish. Trout usually turn on the afterburners, streak up, and overtake it. The strike is crushing.
But this trout was a motionless spectator after swimming up to where the lure had been, now watching the lure streak away. So, I stopped reeling and let the noisemaker wobble back down. The trout met it halfway on the fall but didn't hit, eye-balling it up close, as though inspecting the finish on the bait. After seconds of scrutiny, I shook the lure once, felt it wobble and rattle, and the trout ate it. Many other lake trout have since reacted the same way.
Other times a trout appears on screen, chases the bait like a muskie following a figure-8 through one revolution, and then just lazily swims away. At that point, you can't call the fish back for another look. Are these fish that have seen the lure before? Perhaps but not likely. I'm saying that at times the lures can be like magic; other times we do better with more traditional options. No big surprise.
We also use the lures for pike. Jeff Gustafson discusses his perspective on their use in his pike article in this issue. Our perceptions mirror his. Pike usually react to clackers as they do to other horizontal jigging lures like Jigging Rapalas and Northland Puppet Minnows, perhaps the best lures ever made for winter pike jigging.
Instead of attacking from out of nowhere in a ferocious assault, you often see a thick band on your sonar screen slowly rising up from the bottom until it covers your lure. Then, one or two light shakes of your rod tip often seals the deal. The clackers should excel along deep weedlines and in stained-water situations to call in pike, just as they do for calling in nomadic walleyes.
When we're on ice these days we have a noisy rattlebait tied on at least one rod all the time we're fishing for walleyes, lakers, and pike. Some days the clackers are so hot they seem like magic. Same old, same old—some days they weave a little spell, make a little magic, and raise a little hell. Other days not so much.
The experiment continues.
In-Fisherman Field Editor Gord Pyzer lives in Kenora, Ontario, where the In-Fisherman team often settles into the Super 8 as their home away from home to shoot ice-fishing footage for In-Fisherman's Ice Fishing Guide TV.