Walleye populations are at high levels in many perennial famous walleye waters, from Fort Peck in the West to Bay of Quinte in the East. Seasonal weather conditions that produced good spawning on famous waters in recent years have bolstered populations in most corners of the ice belt.
The focus here is on the best waters, as we determine from our travels and from talking with expert local anglers. Weather and ice conditions may temper the bite in local areas, but the contacts should allow you to plan a trip and check conditions before you leave. Remember that lodging often isn't available at the last minute in well-known walleye hot spots during prime times, such as at first-ice. Here's a look at where to ice fish for walleye.
Bay of Quinte, Ontario — Excellent opportunities for numbers of fish and trophies on one of the world's best-known trophy walleye waters. Huge fish — 10s are common and fish in the teens are iced each season — make an annual migration into the Bay from Lake Ontario. Traditionally, safe ice occurs by Christmas and lasts through the end of the season in late February. The last two warm seasons have been exceptions. First-ice usually produces some of the best fishing of the year, although good fish are taken all season.
At early-ice, try bars and reefs near the mouth of the Trent River at Trenton at the western end of the Bay. To the east, try the narrows near the mouth of the Moira River near Belleville. The center of Big Bay, the area between Trident Point and Point Anne, eastward through Telegraph Narrows, and the shoals around Forester Island are other options. The narrows at Massassaiga Point also is a prime spot, though ice can be unstable. The Bay Bridge area also attracts fish.
Lodging & Information: Kingston Chamber of Commerce, 613/548-4453; Belleville Chamber of Commerce, 613/962-4597; Moon's Bait, 613/396-2208; Northport Bait & Tackle, 613/476-4066; Trenton & District Chamber of Commerce, 800/930-3255; Fish Finder Charters, 613/392-7472.
Lake of the Woods, Minnesota — The bite often starts in early December at the mouth of the Rainy River where it flows into Four Mile Bay and out of two narrows — Lighthouse Gap and Morris Gap — into Lake of the Woods. Walleyes bite best during the low-light periods of morning and evening, but fish happen along all day, especially at early-ice. Most walleyes run one to three pounds, with a sprinkling of larger fish and a few fish over 8 pounds. As the season progresses, many walleyes drop deeper, farther out in the lake. Most local resorts share information on where the bite's going. We often spend a morning in known hot-bite areas, then the rest of the day searching new areas. We try to be on a good school of fish during the evening twilight period.
During the day, sauger provide consistent action at about the 15-foot level along abrupt river channel edges or the sloping main-lake drop-off. Sauger average about a pound. Use standard jigging spoons, jigs and minnows, or tip-ups with large fathead minnows.
On the river from Baudette up to Wheeler's Point, numerous resorts rent shacks, provide ice transportation, and offer guide services. Lodging also is available in Baudette and Warroad.
Lodging & information: Baudette-Lake of the Woods Chamber of Commerce, 800/382-FISH; Lucky Bait, 218/634-2869.
Fort Peck Reservoir, Montana — This is one of the finest spots in North America for trophy walleyes, saugeye, and sauger, with many fish in the 10-pound class. Fishing at first-ice (mid-December) is in the Bear Creek and Big Dry Arm areas (access at Rock Creek). Nearby Fort Peck and Glasgow offer lodging.
In the west-central portion of the lake, the area between Hell Creek and the headwaters also produces fine fishing, beginning at first-ice in mid-December. The area near Haxby Point offers good fishing later in the season.
Anglers often target primary and nearby secondary points within major coves in water 10 to 20 feet deep, or on major main-reservoir points. Popular strategies are to fish with large shiners below tip-ups and jig with spoons and swimming lures. Snowmobile access is available at Rock Creek (Dry Arm), Duck Creek (lower main lake), or Hell Creek (midlake). In other areas, access is difficult and facilities limited.
Lodging & information: Cottonwood Inn, 406/228/8213; Buckhorn Sportsman's Motel, 406/529-3562; Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, 406/228-2222; Lake Ridge Motel, Bait & Tackle, 406/526-3597; Fort Peck Marina, 406/526-3442; Mon-Dak Marine, 406/228-2900; C. J. Minnows, 406/526-3494; Guide Myron Kibler, 406/557-2503; Guide Scott Sundheim, 406/798-FISH.
Mille Lacs Lake, Minnesota — If the winter bite is as good as the open water bite during summer 1999, this will be one of the finest seasons on record at Mille Lacs. And the fish are of exceptional average size — lots of 20- to 25-inch fish, with plenty of trophies. A slot limit permits six fish, but only one over 25 inches. All walleyes from 20 to 25 inches must be released.
The fishing begins along drop-offs in large bays or along points leading into large bays with the onset of first-ice usually in mid-December. In a typical year, midlake mud flats (humps) are safe to explore by early January.
A large jigging spoon (1/2-ounce) tipped with a minnow head is the preferred presentation at Mille Lacs. Preferred colors are chartreuse and orange, or something in a perch finish. Many resorts rent fish houses.
Lodging & information: Guide Ivan Burandt, 320/ 532-3261; Meleen's Holiday Sports, 320/532-3717; Eddy's Lake Mille Lacs Resort, 800/657-4704; Tutt's Bait & Tackle, 612/692-4341; Mille Lacs Area Tourism, 888/350-2692.
Saginaw Bay, Michigan — Action begins in the Inner Bay around New Year's near the mouth of the Saginaw River at Bay City, off Bay City State Park, or on Calahan Reef. The action moves deeper as winter progresses. The Black Hole area off Linwood on the west side of the Bay usually provides good daytime fishing in 25 feet of water.
Favorite lures include Bay de Noc Do-Jiggers and Swedish Pimples, Jigging Rapalas, and Acme Kastmasters in chartreuse and silver or chartreuse and gold. Access the Bay at Linwood, Bay City, or Sebawing.
Lodging & information: Frank's Great Outdoors, 517/697-5341; Bay Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, 800/424-5114.
Bass Islands, Lake Erie, Ohio — This remains the best walleye fishery in North America when cold weather brings ice. Generally, about a month of ice fishing begins in mid-January, as walleyes pass around and between the Bass Islands. West of the Catawba Peninsula, try the 30-foot-deep areas several miles offshore. Numbers of fish often suspend in this area.
Flash lures are traditional favorites on Erie, but we've never failed to catch fish on swimming lures. Bigger spoons are the norm. Erie walleyes aren't shy, especially when they're feeding during prime twilight periods. Switch to swimming baits and downsize during midday.
Heated, fully equipped ice shacks, guide service, and transportation, plus lodging and meal packages are available at Put-in-Bay or South Bass Island. Call for ice conditions. The past two seasons have been a bust due to warm weather and poor ice.
Lodging & information: Guide John Hageman, Primetime Ice Charters, 419/285-2029; Guide Pat Chrysler, 419/285-4631; Griffing Island Airlines, 800/368-3743; Joe Kostura, Hard Water Charters, 419/285-3106; Rick Dysert, 419/285-4040; Put-in-Bay Chamber of Commerce, 419/285-2832.
Lake Oahe, South Dakota — First safe ice normally occurs in late December on the upper end of the reservoir near Mobridge and Pollock, where anglers fish near the Grand River, Oak Creek, Water Plant Bay, Sitting Bull Creek, and Little Bear Creek. Focus on points near the old river channel where deep water swings toward shore. Fish the sides and ends of points during the day, moving up on top for the twilight bite at dusk. Two- to four-pounders are common, with an occasional larger fish.
Lodging & information: Guide Kerry Konold, Outrageous Adventures, 605/649-6363; Guide Denny Palmer, Morest Motel, 605/845-3668; Mobridge Chamber of Commerce, 605/845-2387.
Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin — A good mid- to late-winter ice bite for big walleyes on Larson's Reef, just a few miles offshore from Sturgeon Bay. The best bite occurs at night on jigging spoons or tip-ups. This isn't a numbers fishery, but fish over 10 pounds are common. Rental ice houses and guides are available.
Lodging & information: Guide Dale Stroschein, Sand Beach Resort & Suites, 414/746-9289; Mac's Sport Shop, 920/743-3350.
Chin Reservoir, Alberta — A good population of 5- to 6-pound walleyes, with reports of an occasional fish over 10 pounds. The majority of fishing takes place near the Highway 36 bridge. Chinook winds and a mild climate can delay ice formation until after New Year's.
Lodging & information: Hoyt's Sporting Goods, 403/327-5760; Taber Chamber of Commerce, 403/223-5760.
Dauphin Lake, Manitoba — The lake averages 6 feet deep and stretches 22 miles long and 14 miles wide. First-ice from the end of November until Christmas and last-ice during March offer the best ice fishing. Two- to five-pounders are abundant, with 9s and up possible.
Information: Bob Kirkpatrick, 306/587-2603; Larry Bosiak, Rock Bottom Fishing Hole, 204/638/9293; Dauphin Community & Economic Development, 204/638-9747.
Lake Nipissing, Ontario — Ice fishing usually starts just before Christmas for abundant 'eyes. Try fishing the Manitou Islands, Callander Bay, Waltonian Reef, the mouth of the French River, the south shore and the west end of the lake. Focus on points and humps at 12 to 25 feet. Rental houses are available.
Lodging & information: Glen Echo Cottages, 705/752-1118; Waltonian Inn, 705/752-2060; Bear Creek Cottages, 705/752-1157; Sunset Cove Lodge, 705/752-2820; Rockview Camp, 705/752-3067.
Rafferty Reservoir, Saskatchewan — This small impoundment of the Souris River lies near Estevan in extreme southeastern Saskatchewan. Three- and four-pound walleyes are common. Almost any point holds fish.
Information: Estevan Chamber of Commerce, 306/634-2828; Pete Johnston, 701/775-6259.
Thames River, Ontario — By February, ice fishing begins several miles outside the river mouth where it enters Lake St. Clair. Fish run big, often topping 10 pounds. The basin is shallow, and roaming schools are common.
Information: R & D Tackle, Belle River, 519/728-1021; Wally's Bait, Windsor, 519/256-2841.
Lake Traverse, Minnesota-South Dakota — Good first-ice and late-ice opportunities exist for big walleyes in this large fertile water. Fish gather on rock piles and shoreline points, generally at about 10 feet. Neighboring Big Stone lake also can host excellent ice fishing with fish occasionally topping 9 pounds.
Lodging & information: Mike Falkingham, Ben's Service & Bait, 320/695-2175; Brown's Valley City Hall, 320/695-2110; South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks, 605/345-3381.
Waubay Lake, South Dakota — A winter ice fishing hot spot for walleyes, perch, and pike. In open basins, twilight hours typically hold the most promise. Walleyes, however, can be found feeding periodically throughout the day. The area draws a larger crowd compared to more remote ice opportunities on Lake Oahe, South Dakota, but it's worth fishing on a hot bite for 2- to 6-pounders and occasionally larger fish.
Lodging & information: Webster Chamber of Commerce, 605/345-4668; Game, Fish & Parks, 605/345-3381.