July 30, 2012
Bass fishermen tend to experience a bit of a lull during midwinter. Even though the water's open throughout the southern states, not many boats are on the water in January and February. Most of those on the water belong to snowbirds who have flown south. To them, a 30F or 40F day provides a welcome respite from the relentless northern winter.
Walleye anglers, meanwhile, don't experience winter hibernation. They always have somewhere to fish, be it on ice or the flowing water of a major river. Early ice fishing in December and early January can be red-hot -- action wise. Many northern rivers tend to solidify in January, however, precluding most open water walleye angling. By late January, the early ice boom settles into midwinter gloom, as everyone awaits those first forays in late February and March when rivers once again shed their icy coat and fishing below dams is ripe for clusters of big prespawn walleyes moving upstream.
In other words, walleye anglers have a narrow window of opportunity around about February to get organized, reorganized, and to plan and prepare for the coming season. If you're not already heading south for prespawn reservoir walleyes, invest at least some of your downtime in a bit of R & R research and reservations.
Late January through April is sport show season, the perfect opportunity to attend consumer shows, talk to resorters and guides, gather information from state or provincial fisheries personnel and, in general, ask a lot of questions and stuff shopping bags with brochures. Attend fishing seminars, talk to the presenters, visit with other anglers, join a fishing club, to get the lowdown on hot prospects for the coming season. If you're not fishing, you can at least be thinking and talking about fishing.
Back home, sift through your information and follow up on promising leads. Write letters. Make phone calls. Visit websites on the Internet. Research. Begin making a hit list of potential new places you'd like to fish, along with prime times of year and recommended tackle.
If you're planning a fly in to a distant Canadian outpost, don't automatically swallow everything the owner tells you; all waters don't abound with I 10 pound walleyes. Ask for references from past customers, and give them a call to determine if their experience matches the levels proclaimed by the outfitter not just the caliber of fishing, but the competency of guides and the quality of the facility, services, food, boats, and equipment. Get suggestions for what to bring and what to leave at home.
Popular well run camps with good fishing fill early. So make your decision and reserve your preferred dates well in advance, to allow you and your buddies plenty of time to plan, anticipate, gather and pack, avoiding a mad scramble at the last minute, and maximizing your odds for a successful and memorable trip, where the only surprises surface on the end of your line.
Trip planning to public access waters typically don't require as much of an advance commitment, unless facilities are limited or you want to stay at a specific resort or lodge. Otherwise, choose a general time frame, stay in touch with knowledgeable locals to see when the hot bite kicks in, and make your final arrangements at the last minute. This works great when you're self sufficient and are dealing with a small group of anglers; bigger groups are more difficult to mobilize at the last moment.
If you require a guide, however, book early. Good guides with an established clientele tend to fill early, with prime times sometimes reserved a year in advance by repeat customers. Given a choice, however, that's normally the guide in you want. If you wait until the last moment, you're limited to whoever is available through the local bait shop or resort. A guide with an embarrassingly free schedule calls into question his performance reputation, unless he's just starting out in the business. Then you roll the dice and takes 'yer chances.
No one can control the weather, fluctuations in forage and gamefish populations, or other natural factors that might influence the success of your trip. The best you can do is maximize your odds in advance come prepared. Properly chosen and planned, your hosts, facilities, and services will do the same. At that point, all you need are the bites to cap off a memorable vacation. With the odds in your favor, don't forget to brine your camera and lots of film.