Winter Walleye Alternatives

Category: article

 Dec 28th, 2005 by OutdoorsFIRST 

Modified Dec 28th, 2005 at 12:00 AM

Curt Henderson gets alternative for winter walleye on the Mississippi

Winter alternatives? What is that?Winter alternatives simply means, a way to fish and not be ice fishing. Winter alternatives are a way to not be ice fishing and not have to drive to warmer areas of the country. However, I must caution you, this is a topic I take very seriously!Having spent most of my life in pursuit of perfecting this alternative, it is something not taken lightly. It is my fondest hope to impart the seriousness of the matter to you. It is one that will allow you to have a long and healthy life, I hope.Okay, down to the business at hand. Having fun, on open water during the colder part of the year. This is taken very seriously around here!What if there was a way to make catching walleyes during the winter simply a blast? There is a proven way. This method is so simple and it will work under any circumstances, and actually any season when you are fishing for any fish that are high in numbers and low in size.To the focus of the article, through the winter into early spring, all you need is a nice flowing river! In the rivers at this time of the year, when the average sized walleyes are running from 12-18 inches or so you can double your fun with one simple little change. “What’s that one simple change?” you ask. Go ultra-light!Throughout the remainder of the winter and through the spring spawn, walleye fishing on the rivers is as good as it’s going to get, especially with the smaller fish. In fact there are many, many times during the last stranglehold of winter that all that’s seemingly available are the smaller fish. Great hoards of them. Be sure to check your state regulations to be sure the river you wish to visit has a corresponding open fishing season.Well instead of grumbling about these smaller fish, scale down and meet them at their own level. By simply putting down the medium action 6′ graphite rod spooled with 8 lb. test and picking up the 5 1/2′ to 6′ ultra-light spooled with 2 or 4 lb. test, you make that 14 inch walleye feel like it’s 24 inches. A foolproof method to double your fun, double the fight, with 1/2 the tackle!There are some special complications with this type of fishing, however. First is the cold weather. Be smart and be safe. Winter is no time to take chances. Dress warmly, have spare clothes in the tow vehicle and avoid making really long runs away from the vehicle. Make absolutely sure that someone knows where you are fishing and for how long. Then stick to it. No need to have the Coast Guard or Law Enforcement looking for you because you decided to fish 4 hours longer than you told your wife.The second concern, especially when upriver backwater ice is breaking up, is ice flows. Little chunks of ice can be a nuisance, but the bigger ice flows can do some serious damage if allowed to collide with the boat. Ice rimming the river can also break loose and block landings or block you in.The third concern is the physical and mechanical well being of your boat. Be sure to drain all water from live wells and bilge areas and the like. Water has a nasty habit of freezing up on the drive home and a split pump housing or hose will not show up until the most inconvenient time at best! Bow spray and slashed water can also be dangerous in very cold weather. Be mindful that water spray building up on a boat and freezing is adding a lot of weight where none normally is. Spray can also freeze locks and steering mechanisms too.Ice in the guides of the rod is also a pain in the backside too. And with the lighter line it could be a major factor in breaking off on a fish. These are most of the environmental concerns.Enough of the gloom and doom, this is an article about having fun. With the light line and the ultra-light rod, you’ll be using a much lighter jig head and still be able to get the offering down to the fish. In some instances, you may not be as able to feel light biting fish due to the limpness of the rod. Yet another consideration is when you do get an exceptionally wild fish or a big one on, you’ll have to be extremely careful not to “horse” the fish in, or let the wild one get under the boat.The solutions? Again, it’s simple. In the case of the light biters, the rod will bow slightly or you’ll feel a little extra weight. Line plays an important factor as well; the use of a super line has dramatically improved the ability to feel light biters. Line like Sea King Ultra’s 10 lb. Test is incredibly strong but has a diameter of .004, which is smaller than 2 lb line! With these awesome lines, getting a light jig down deep enough is no problem, nor is hooking and landing fish, especially large fish. Though you may be battling many smaller fish, if the errant whopper jumps on your jig, the line will be up to the task. Recently, even with the supped up line, one tenacious little bugger (that means 14 1/2 inch walleye) hung on to my Odd’ball for three sweeps of the rod while vertical jigging. It was only when I picked the rod up as to lift the jig off the bottom that I noticed the tip staying right where it was and the rod bowing. I never actually felt the fish until I set the hook!Speaking of setting the hook, don’t rip like you’re trying to pull the fish out of the water on the hook set. With a super line and a limber rod, all you need to do is a quick snap on the rod with the wrists and keep pressure on the fish. The rod and the tension you put on it will work the hook in. The same holds true if you use monofilament line. A sharp hook set may break the line. A good description of this was on by Mike McClelland. You are basically “worrying” the hook in, not setting it.Anyway, back to the issue at hand. When you get a big fish on the end of the light line and light rod, you’ll have to be fairly careful and patient. You will be able to land a fish that may even be your biggest, if you take the time to do it right. My biggest fish on ultra-light tackle is a 9 lb. channel catfish. Last spring this channel cat thought it was a walleye and hit my jig!If you get a wild fish, same thing, take your time. I would also recommend that You try to keep all fish from getting near the boat or motor or any other item you may have hanging from your boat. Your best bet if a fish gets to close to an object is to move it. You know, tilt up motors, pull the anchors etc.If a fish does get under the boat, move it. I actually turn and maneuver my boat to best suit me fighting the fish. Don’t do anything that will be an aid to the fish. But for the most part, this is a tactic to further enjoy the act of catching fish and to make catching smaller fish more fun. And there are other ways to have fun with it as well.Case in point. I made two final last flings a few years back to the Fox River in Green Bay. Actually, it was only be one final fling but after the success of the first trip a couple of weeks later my buddy, Mark and I did it again. Anyway, you should of seen Mark’s face when I told him my plan was to use what most people use for bluegill.However, after seeing my rod double almost in half over 1 fairly decent fish and then another and another, he was hooked! On our second trip, Mark had his ultra-light in tow. Half of the fun is converting people by showing them something new.Another way to have fun is with onlookers. When you use an ultra-light it is very deceptive to anyone watching you from a slight distance. Add to that, if someone is really watching us catch fish after fish, I’ll either turn the boat or lead the fish to the other side of the boat, and net it in a manner so that the onlooker can’t see what or how big the fish was. Drives ’em nuts. I love it.So as you can see with just some slight modifications, you can turn what some people call pesky “little” fish into a whale sized good time.Lastly, one of the most frequently asked questions I get with this presentation concerns jigs. Specifically, the size of the fish in relation to the equipment. With this downsizing, it is extremely easy to overload the rod with ‘too much jig weight. Remember, these are ultra-light rods you are using and anything heavier than 1/4 oz. will probably perform like a brick. Way too much weight.Also, there will be some instances where no matter what, you won’t be able to get a good hook set, due again to the limpness of the rod. This is especially true when you are dealing with light biters. A stinger hook is not always the way to correct this problem. A stinger hook tends to snag more readily than not and coupled with the sometimes limited sensitivity of the ultra-light, you may do more snagging bottom than catching fish. The best way to convert many of the light biters is to wait a few seconds before setting the hook. Many times with a super line, your hook set takes the jig away from them before the fish fully has it. Wait ’em out a second or two.Again, don’t get me wrong with downsized equipment. When the fish are on the bite, you’ll catch them as easily as falling a log. When they aren’t on the bite, you can still catch fish but you’ll have more fun doing it. This approach provides so much fun that I’ve even gone as far as moderately downsizing in all fishing presentations when fishing strictly for fun. As the old saying goes, “Try it, you’ll like it!”

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