Outdoors column: Shallow Water Options for Early Season Walleyes

January in Minnesota means plenty of ice fishing and there are many great opportunities available for doing some serious pole bending.  Walleye anglers have more options now than at any other time during the hard water season and can be a real mixed bag from the first of the month to the end. Basically, active fish can be found from shallow to deep and are ready and willing to cooperate if you know the where and the when.

Mark Courts of Harris, Minn. went super shallow for this dandy walleye. Photo courtesy of Jeff Weaver
Mark Courts of Harris, Minn. went super shallow for this dandy walleye. Photo courtesy of Jeff Weaver

Humminbird pros Mark Courts of Harris and Kevin McQuoid of Isle uncovered an explosive shallow water pattern on huge Mille Lacs Lake that most anglers have never heard of.

Mark on the big bang said: “We found a shallow bite in five feet of water that was simply incredible. The key was fishing the pencil reeds (hardstem bulrushes) at dark and all night long during the full moon in early January. The fish started moving up at dark and would just keep coming and we had a ball sticking big walleyes with five feet of line out. We used Northland Live-Forage Spoons because they are nice and light and have an enticing flutter. You could use a heavier spoon but really wasn’t necessary when fishing that shallow. We’d tip it with a minnow head and drop it to the bottom and then work it up and down and the walleyes would come in and pound it. We also discovered big perch hanging in and around the reeds that could be caught during the day and included a few walleyes as well. During the day we were literally able to see the fish that came in and watch them react to and inhale a bait. The big attraction to the reeds was all kinds of bait hanging around including tons of small perch.”

The downside of fishing that shallow in clear water like Mille Lacs is the spooking factor and the guys had to be a little sneaky. Mark brought his big wheelhouse up but had to be careful where he parked it; “We found that the big house tended to spook fish off and we were better off using a portable which was a lot less intrusive and didn’t keep the walleyes from getting into harm’s way. We’d also shut the lights off totally and fished by the moonlight and the light from our flashers and only turned the lights on to handle a fish.”

If there’s a primetime for icing hard water walleyes it’s now. Fish are in a lot of different places that should be accessible and are active enough to chase down and hammer a bait. Doesn’t mean it’s always going to be easy but it shouldn’t be that hard. See you on the ice.

Ron Anlauf is a contributing writer to the Outdoors page.

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