Dead Sticking Walleyes

Category: article

 Nov 1st, 2010 by OutdoorsFIRST 

Modified Nov 1st, 2010 at 12:00 AM

There are many environmental factors and conditions that can pin you down and keep you from making a lot of moves on the ice.  Extreme white out conditions, arctic winds, deep slush and heavy snow cover can slow down the mobility concept in a hurry.  There are situations where you can’t go everywhere and have to choose an area and ride out the storm.  Other factors might also put the fish into a funk where they are really difficult to trigger or the window where they open up is short and sweet.  In a nutshell, there are situations where the people who sit on good spots where there are fish sometimes catch more fish than the people who run all over the lake.  Patience can still be an important virtue in fishing, even in today’s world where mobility on the ice has never been easier. 

On Devils Lake, North Dakota, we often encounter extreme weather conditions where temperatures can be as much as forty degrees below zero.  With the new clothing available now, I am actually comfortable fishing outside all day on my snowmobile in temperatures as cold as twenty below zero but on those days, I let the snowmobile run all day long as I don’t want to take any chances.  Catch and release is even difficult as the fish flop once and are partially frozen.  When we are guiding, we set up our clients in the Fish Trap Voyageur Thermal X2 houses and these shelters remain comfortable during the worst temperatures and wind Devils Lake can muster. 

During extreme conditions however when we can’t see and moving anywhere is a battle, respectable catches can often be scratched together just by maximizing your time.  If you are going to camp somewhere however, try to spend time where there is a decent traffic of fish.  With walleye fishing in particular, few spots are good all day long.  If you are on fish during the middle of the day, chances are that the fish will shift or move during the low light hours of morning and evening and vice versa.  My favorite locations to camp out on are obviously spots where I have caught fish recently.  Tough conditions become even tougher if you have to find fish.  But if you have a good knowledge of the structure present and have a GPS, you can often find the kind of locations I am about to describe.

Deep is relative depending on the fishery but if I have to sit somewhere, I seem to have more luck on deeper spots, twenty five foot plus.  Complex structure that also has a lot of breaks and rock of different sizes is also usually necessary.  These deep structure spots are often tight and small; less than an acre and it seems like the walleye movements are not as far ranging.  When fish move up and down through this type of structure, the movement is often less than fifty yards.  What that means is that you can be in slush up to your knees, have your vehicle buried to the floor boards and still range far enough to find the sweet spots.  The sweet spots are often the proverbial spot on the spot.  Perhaps where large boulders form an edge against smaller rock or gravel or some kind of finger, depression or cup that funnels fish movements.  You will mark fish on your electronics when you find the sweet spots.  If you have to camp on a location for the day, this is where you want to camp. 

Wicked fronts can also put the fish into a tough disposition as well making these fish difficult to catch.  Either these fish just follow you up and down without committing or worst yet… showing up and scooting off as soon as you move your presentation.  These tough conditions are where multiple rods (dead rods in particular) shine.  When faced with these kinds of conditions, throw every rod you legally can at the fish.  On some fisheries, tip ups are popular for covering an area.  When we encounter tough bites, the walleyes often don’t trip the flag or if they do, they don’t swim off with the bait so we often have to resort to dead rods with a limber tip for detecting the bite or a traditional float.  For this dead rod presentation to be successful however, the temperature has to be warm enough to keep the hole from freezing so this often has to be accomplished inside a shelter. 

When the Hub style shelters first became popular a few years back, I didn’t think I would have a use for them as I preferred the sled style flip over shelter like a Fish Trap but there are some applications where the large Hub style shelters really shine and this is just such an application.  When set up and banked, these shelters take an impressive amount of wind and are really warm, even during some of the most brutal conditions but they also give you a lot of square footage inside out of the elements.  This is a huge advantage when an angler has to use dead rods.  You can spread the rods out and cover a larger area.  These Hubs also take up such little room when stored.  

The presentation wrinkles can really vary from day to day but even on a tough bite, you still often need a lost leader… what that means is somebody jigging in the vicinity of the dead rods even though the fish aren’t coming on the jigged lure, it often brings fish into the dead rods.  Lures that put off some flash and vibration are often good lures for calling in walleyes.  Some traditional lures include the Salmo Chubby Darter, the Northland Buckshot Rattle Spoon and blade baits like the Northland Life Forage Fish Fry Minnow Trap. 

The most traditional dead sticking set up is just a plain hook and split shot baited with a lively minnow.  My advice is to use a high quality VMC hook that is extremely sharp as you will get better action out of the minnow and stick more fish that don’t have the whole minnow engulfed.  During really tough conditions, we often have to anchor the minnow to a small jig or spoon so that the minnow can’t really swim up and away but instead just roll in place.  The Northland Tackle Fish-Fry Minnow Jig and the 1/32nd ounce Fireball Jig are a few excellent hooks that add a little color and flash to the presentation for dead sticking.

One last piece of advice that can help if you are missing fish on the dead rods, when you get a fish taking the minnow, let the walleye feel you before you set the hook.  Don’t pull the bait out of the fish’s mouth but just offer a little resistance… let the rod tip load slightly.  This often forces these fish to latch on harder and flare their gills and the hook ups are often better… kind of like dragging a big red tail chub away from the fish as they attempt to chomp down.  This subtle resistance created by the rod tip loading often causes the fish to chomp down harder and flare their gills again resulting in the minnow further back in the mouth when you set the hook.  Let the rod load and than crank on the reel to load the rod even more before than giving a little hook set.  This can really increase your hooking percentage during tough conditions. 

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