Dropoffs, Weedlines and Points: Key Area's of Focus for Icing Eyes

by: Mark Martin

When the ice arrives, it's easy to return by force of habit to the same walleye spots where you drilled holes last year, the year before that, or even decades earlier. While easy is one thing, smart is another. And by locating new territory around the tried-and-true locations, maybe a little longer hike away, it's often possible to boost your catch throughout the day and during the prime times of morning and evening. Dropoffs, weedlines and points‹excellent spots all. But if you get beyond them to the main basin in your body of water, down deep in 25 to 50 feet of water, you're going to catch walleyes when the action dies in shallower on traditional spots. By prospecting with a quality auger and an underwater camera, then jigging with a motion that matches the deep freeze, it's easier to locate and stay with walleyes when you're fishing smart. 

Does this all mean you have to forget everything you know from winters past? Of course not. Your favorite weedlines and dropoffs will still hold fish, but there are often more spots, and more productive ones, not far away. When ice fishing, I look for deep water where walleyes will go and sulk when they're not on the feed. Say you have a point that heads in shallow, one where you ambush walleyes when they move in at twilight. That's great. But now is the time to explore where it runs out into deeper water, which may be 25 feet in a shallow lake, 50 feet in a deeper one. Keying on dropoffs, weedlines and points will help you bring in quality walleyes such as this one caught by the author Mark Martin... Or if you have a number of shallow water spots nearby, look for deep-water pockets between them. They'll be refuges during midday and even during the low-light periods of morning and evening.

The best way to find them is by drilling a lot of holes. When I say "a lot," I'm talking dozens. There's no better way to do that than with a power auger. With a manual one, you'll not only get hot and sweaty but you'll probably drill too few holes. That's why I rely on Strikemaster augers in the Power Lazer series. They make far less noise than a spud or a manual auger, and with them you can make whatever noise you're going to in a few minutes and be done with it. I find that important because, when watching walleyes on an underwater camera, I've seen many times that they spirit away at the thought a spud. Strike Master's augers burn through the ice in no time and produce sizable eight- to 10-inch holes that are helpful, and save heartache, when you latch on to a big one and try to get it through the hole. Another option by Strike Master is a new electric auger that runs off a 12-volt battery and uses little juice. It's possible to drill 70 or 80 holes with one of these outfits. Once I've drilled my deep holes on the edges and in the middle of the lake basin, I drop down my Vista Cam, an underwater camera with which I've learned more in a few years, it seems, than in a lifetime of ice fishing. 

Or if you have a number of shallow water spots nearby, look for deep-water pockets between them. They'll be refuges during midday and even during the low-light periods of morning and evening.

The reason is that I position the camera lens so I can see my lure‹and see what walleyes respond to with fright, flight or delight. With its infrared capabilities, the camera even works in extremely low light, times when walleyes are prone to feeding and you can trigger them while watching them on the screen. (Not catching fish or can't stand watching them any longer? The Vista has a large TV monitor on which you can watch football. Hey, who said ice fishing's boring?)

What Now?

Some of my favorite offerings for winter walleyes are Northland's Buck-Shot Rattle Spoons and FireEye Spoons, No. 5 Jigging Rapala and Blue Fox Tingler Spoons. While I jig one of them with a piece of minnow on it, I set out a dead rod with a 1/16th- or 1/8th-ounce Northland Fireball Jig head with a live minnow. Often I'll set it atop a bucket, without touching it, and wait for a fish to bend the rod. Then I pick it up and set the hook. With this rig, I want the rod tip to be bouncing with the action of the minnow. When it stops, I'll lift the rod a couple of inches to prod the minnow back into motion. The reason I have this twin setup is because when I attract the fish by jigging, they'll often take the other bait.

By watching my Aqua-Vu, I've learned what works when jigging and what doesn't. It's easy, when it's cold out, to get carried away and jig aggressively as if you're trying to keep warm. Unfortunately, that's one of the worst things you can do. On the camera, I've watched walleyes scoot away time and again after an aggressive jump of the jig. Rather, I prefer a little jiggle.

When you're jiggling, a walleye will move in and eye up the offering before making a decision. One big sweep and the fish is spooked and out of there. If you're jiggling and wiggling it, on the other hand, a walleye will follow it wherever you move the jig. When I see an interested fish on the Aqua-Vu, I slowly jiggle and slightly lift the bait. Most times the walleye follows. 

As a backup, I have a Lowrance X-85 liquid-crystal depth finder set up as well. On it, I've watched walleyes follow a jig off bottom as far as five to 10 feet below the ice. If they give up on it, flip the bail open and let it fall back to bottom. You might have to wiggle, jiggle and lift off
bottom up to five times before the fish strikes.

For a few tackle tips, I suggest Berkley's ice rods, particularly the
Lightning Rods. In shallower water, I stick with Berkley Trilene line, in 6-pound XT. This tough line won't break when rubbed against the edge of an ice hole. Out deeper, I switch to 6-pound smoke FireLine for its low visibility and increased sensitivity.

With a few changes in location and approach, and with the help of underwater-camera technology, you're bound to catch more walleyes through the ice. The way I look at it, you're going to be better off by doing it smart rather than taking the easy way out. The walleyes will reward you for it.


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