This year especially, the allure of ice fishing Big Windy greenback walleyes is undeniable.
Strong current and high waters destroyed the ease of access and fishing conditions on the Red River, pushing a lot of anglers to the big lake. Although you will always catch a few beauty greenbacks in the sauger city of the Red River. We cannot deny, the goal of catching a girthy, emerald, trophy walleye is always our target; and is a feat best accomplished on Lake Winnipeg. So, lets talk walleye!
When I finally started learning about fish biology and behavior, was the moment I became a better angler. With the following top walleye tips of mine, I hope to give you, the insight you need to hook into some Lake Winnipeg greenbacks this winter.
#1 Think like a Walleye to catch more Walleye:
So why is Lake Winnipeg so popular in winter, when everyone fishes the red river in fall? Every fall, walleye migrate in the masses from the north basin of Lake Winnipeg down to the Red River. This is where they tend to stay until they spawn in the spring. Meaning the mouth is kind of like a border crossing that you can be fairly confident the walleye will always be migrating through.
I grew up spending my winters ice fishing Big Windy near the mouth of the Red River on the Warner Road/Chalet beach side. Walleye are always moving and migrating throughout the day in this area, often traveling in schools to various depths. To find these schools throughout the day, one of the most effective methods is running and gunning. Popping a bunch of holes until you find the fish.
Walleye love structure. The ice ridges on the lake provide a structure change in the seemingly featureless lake. These ridges also provide extra oxygen to the water, which can attract baitfish along it. Setting up along these ridges can increase your chances of intercepting walleyes while chasing schools of bait.
Walleye, like humans, mostly feed in the mornings and evenings. Typically, in the afternoon, you will find mid day lulls. One of the tactics I use, when I'm ice fishing Big Windy, is making sure I always fish either in the morning before sunrise OR in the evening, staying out until after sunset. That allows me to capitalize on the major feeding windows of the day.
A jig and a minnow are a common lure choice because it closely mimics the walleyes food source. “Match the Hatch” as they say. However, these toothy critters are predators too. Often, a more aggressive, larger lure, like a spoon or a lipless crankbait, angers them enough to circle and go in for the kill.
#2 Pre-Planning Checklist for Ice Fishing Big windy:
Before I hit the lake, I have a few habits I follow. Firstly, I will always check the Facebook forums and groups to see what other anglers are experiencing. Anglers will often comment what works, what they discovered, certain depths and more. Insider knowledge never hurts! Learning from what the community is saying can help speed up the mornings’ trial and errors and get you on fish sooner. A popular forum I check is Ice Fishing Manitoba, on Facebook.
The second habit I have is checking the weather network app. When the winds are exceeding 35 km/hr, it is typically a no-go for me. It is extremely difficult to set up a pop-up ice fishing shack in high winds. Combined that with trails and tracks blowing in, and the potential of high winds leading to whiteout conditions. It’s always good to approach the lakes weather conditions with caution.
Humminbird has a free app called FishSmart, you can download this to your phone. This app allows you to leave a cookie crumb trail in case you get lost, or to follow in the future. You can also leave waypoints of where you have fished and title it with dates, what you caught, the depths and more. For an additional $30, Humminbird also has a highly detailed contour map of lake Winnipeg. You can download this map directly to the app. This map gives you the ability to target areas with a little more underwater structure and help you get on fish with ease.
Tow straps. Booster cables. Cell phone charger. First aid kit. You just never know what to expect. My suggestion is to have an adventure back pack ready to go, that you never take anything from and is always at the ready for each adventure.
#3 Lake Winnipeg Weather:
Okay so you made the choice to head out on big windy, you decide you can handle 35 km/hr winds. Lake Winnipeg is nick named big windy for a reason. When it is windy outside, it is EXTRA windy on the lake. This huge basin has no shelter from the wind and it is important to always layer before heading out. When it is windy and cold, dress warm, then bring an extra jacket. It’s also important to bring an extra propane tank for your heater. The weather can change drastically from the forecast while ice fishing on Big Windy and its key to be prepared for the worst.
Weather also affects fish. High pressure vs low pressure. Walleye do not like big fluctuations in pressure. Frequent cold changes can slow the bite right down. I personally have experienced the best walleye bites just before storms, when the pressure begins to drops drastically. The bite will also be good during constant stable high-pressure systems. In my experience when it comes to pressure, low equals slow.
#4 Travel Conditions:
When you arrive at Warner Rd, you will see a parking lot on the ice. There are portable washrooms and garbage cans. Straight out from the parking lot will be a main trail. There are typically two trails. On the left (north) side, will be a trail heading to deeper water as well as to some more community style spots. To the right (south) will be a trail heading to the mouth. A 4 x 4 truck with good tires is highly recommended. Drive slowly, and get out and take your time at each ridge to decide if it is safe to cross or not. A common mistake many anglers make is following SnoBear or ATV tracks in the dark, leading them to get stuck or hung up and in need of assistance.
Now, if you don’t have a truck or a snowmobile, what are your best options to access the lake? One option is to park in the parking lot and walk out with a sleigh. If you walk out less than 3km’s you will see many permanent shacks and have a good chance at catching a few fish. There are many affordable sleighs in the market that will fit all your gear and pull with ease across the lake. Another affordable option isIcebound Excursions. You and your friends can rent and enjoy the comfort and warmth of a SnoBear for the day. Lastly, another option you can choose is, Snow Much Fun Snowmobile rentals. Where you can rent a snowmobile for the day to traverse across the lake.
#5 Picking a spot:
As I mentioned earlier walleye love structure. In a giant bowl lake, like Lake Winnipeg; Without investing in maps and drilling holes all morning to find shelves, one thing you can do is fish off of an ice ridge. Think of an ice ridge like an iceberg, 90% of it is under water which provides structure for walleye to hang around.
If there are no ridges around, I will sometimes look for fish carcasses or blood. This tells me someone was successful in that spot and that the walleye were close by. However, walleye school and walleye move as mentioned earlier. So, when I find a successful area, but am not immediately on the fish, I will make smalls moves of 50ft or so. Sometimes you can be just off of the school, and these “micro-moves” can eventually put you right on the “x”.
Before you set up your spot, drill a hole and check depth with either a flasher or your line, make sure if you are out deeper to be in roughly 18-20 feet of water, or if you are shallower I find at least 6-10ft under the ice to be the best. Walleye will move deeper or shallower chasing bait fish which are also affected by the high or low pressure.
#6 Rods, Tackle and Strategies when Ice Fishing Big Windy:
I start each adventure with 4 rods tied and ready to go. The first rod down will be a white jig and stinger with live minnow. (sometimes I will put a live minnow on the stinger AND on the jig) The other rod will be a pink spoon. These two colors have always produced the most quantity of fish for me. The jig and live minnow I will dead stick, meaning I will leave it in a rod holder or just flat on the ice about 6 inches off of bottom. The spoon I will jig. Sometimes I will tip the spoon with a salted minnow for scent.
If I am not marking any fish, I will pull my spoon and drop a rattle bait down. I will rattle aggressively to try and get the attention of any fish in the area. If I then mark, or notice without a flasher that my live minnow rod is dancing fairly aggressively. I can usually guess that I have a walleye in the area that is scaring the minnow. If they do not smack the rattle bait, that means he may not be as aggressive.
I then will reel up the rattle bait and drop down my fourth rod. Lately, I have switched to a shiny large spoon tipped with a minnow. The lake is dirty. So, tipping with a minnow or piece of a minnow for scent helps the walleye find your lure. That is why on Lake Winnipeg I ALWAYS have bait for some form of scent. I will have both live minnows and salted minnows, because the day you don’t bring one or the other, Murphy's law that is what the walleye wants!
Lately, the February bite, as always, has been tough. But rattling the walleye in, then aggressively jigging some shiny spoons has produced for me. I highly recommend a flasher for many reasons. But one of the reasons, is in the photo below. The red line on the bottom is the bottom of the lake, the yellow line that goes up and down is my jig. Above my jig, in the middle of the screen, in blue, is a school of bait fish moving through. This is something you would not see if you did not have a flasher! Seeing bait fish is a really good sign, as walleye are always looking for and chasing the bait fish. If you are seeing bait fish, be patient, generally walleye will follow.
#7 Tactics for a slow bite
So far this February I have found the bite to start a bit later, so if you haven't caught a fish by 9:30am I would assume you may be just a bit off of them. Move even 50ft over either shallower or deeper. Follow the same tactics as above. Move every 30 minutes if it is warm and convenient enough to do so, once you find one fish there will be others around
I hope this article gave you some insight into the mind of a Walleye on Lake Winnipeg. As I mentioned, when I started learning about fish biology and fish behavior, it was the moment I became a better angler. Move around, change your strategy, always have live minnows and salted. Remember to check weather and forums the night before to reduce trial and error. Most importantly be safe and keep your lines tight.