Sometime from Thanksgiving to Christmas we see the transition in the Ice Belt from open water to ice popping and cracking as it forms. It is during the early ice period that lasts until about the middle of January (always depends on weather) that we can experience some of the best walleye fishing of the entire winter. The walleyes are aggressive and HUNGRY at this time of year.
One of my favorite lures during the early ice period when chasing walleyes is the new Yo-Zuri Rattl’N Vibe Mini. At 1 5/8”, 3/16 oz., it is the perfect size lure to rattle in fish from a distance with long jigging strokes and then finesse them with more subtle, fluid movements once they are on the Vexilar. The Minis catch a host of eater fish in the 15-19” range and they are also great for catching some of those stubborn 20”+ walleyes that snub spoons or other larger baits. These lures can be used successfully in virtually any conditions which you face out on the ice.
When fishing in clear water, I usually go with Hot Perch, Green Perch, or UV Zombie Rattl’N Vibe Minis as the natural patterns are perfect for clear water situations. I pick these options because the lakes I fish generally have yellow perch as the primary forage species. However, if you are fishing in clear water where there are tullibees or shiners, using a metallic finish pattern like the Chrome Blue, Gold Black, or Black Silver can be top choices.
If you find yourself in a scenario where you intend to fish water that was really turned up and cloudy just prior to ice up, or you are fishing a more tannic stained lake, then going with UV Purple, Pink, or Blue Tiger can put you on some fish. The UV finish that these patterns have are perfect for fishing these dark or dirty water situations at any time of the day.
Locations and Timing:
The first place that I check for early ice walleyes is the last place that I caught them in the fall. Rocky points, inside turns, transitions to and on top of flats, or even along submerged weeds that are still holding their structure are quality places to look. The two prime times of the day from dawn to about 90 minutes after sun up and then an hour before dark until sunset are solid choices to consider in any of the locations listed above which are in 15’ of water or less. During the middle of the day it may be necessary to move out to 15’+ of water in order to stay with cruising feeders until they push back up shallow again before dark.
One of the great things about the Yo-Zuri Rattl’N Vibe Minis is that it can be effectively fished in everywhere from 5-25’ of water. Generally, I use 6 lb Yo-Zuri Hybrid when fishing for early ice walleyes with Minis in less than 15’ of water. Then, when I start fishing out deeper during midday, I usually switch to my 4 lb test Yo-Zuri Hybrid rods as fish can be more finnicky and the lighter line allows for an even more deft touch when a fish takes the bait. Whether using 4 lb or 6 lb Hybrid, I always tie the line directly to the ring attached to the bait to ensure that I get the purest movement and rattle possible.
The Yo-Zuri Rattl’N Vibe Minis are small in name only as they put a lot of eaters and big fish on the ice for me, and they can for you too! Stock your gear boxes with these lures along with Yo-Zuri Hybrid 4 lb and 6 lb test line during the holidays and you will be ready to catch more walleyes on early ice.
So here on the West Coast in California, we are nearing the end of our fall migration of our Delta Stripers from the salt, back into the fresh water tributaries of the California Delta and all the rivers that feed into it. We have had a tremendous season with giant stripers in excess of 30lbs. I get asked a lot by anglers and clients, “How do we know where to target these bigger fish and what to throw at them?” Well there are many ways we catch them this time of year, but one of my favorite is on the Yo-Zuri Ninja Glide.
Let me first start out by saying, you wouldn’t believe where we focus our energy and efforts for these big line sides. We concentrate on flooded island openings and the flats within them. The majority of the giants we catch over 20lbs come from water as skinny as 1-3’ max depth! YES, you read that correctly. It makes for the most viscous and insane bites you could ever imagine! The fish sound like cars hitting your baits, and once hooked up, they thrash severely on the surface trying to go down, but remember, were in a foot or two of water so they can’t go down! So then they shoot across the flats ripping drag out like a race car on nitrous! Can you now visualize the chaos yet?
Like most striper across the country, they run in schools and ambush prey like wolf packs here on the California Delta. But those aren’t the fish we are after. Usually the schooling fish are a smaller grade from what we call diaper striper to maybe 10lbs. Those fish are fun because they are usually ambushing shad and other small bait fish, and you can catch them all day long following the schools around. It’s great when you have youth with you, they have a ball. But were talking “Giant Stripe” in this week’s blog. And that’s where a Glide Bait like the Ninja Glide come into play. These larger than average fish are not going to waste their energy chasing a bunch of 2-4” shad around! These big girls like other big species are looking for a meal! They are targeting small largemouth, bluegill, crappie, golden shiners and other prey that quite honestly is easy pickins for them to give them the energy they need to make the migration up our rivers where they will spawn.
The Ninja Glide is a perfect size and action for these huge silver bass. Because we are fishing shallow water, that usually has grass across the flats, the slow sink of the Ninja Glide allows us to make a long cast and start our retrieve and keep the bait above the grass and just under the surface. As for retrieve, like most glide baits, the Ninja Glide will get some giant followers on a slow steady retrieve. I don’t wait till I see those followers to try and make them eat. By the time you see them you are usually about out of room, and the fish will spook off from the boat, and most likely your excitement once you see them. I visualize them big girls following my bait from the time it hits the water till I pull it out to make another cast. The minute it hits the water at the end of a cast I begin a slow, normal glide bait retrieve. It’s mesmerizing for the fish to watch that bait glide back and forth as they follow it, but about every 5-7 cranks, I will throw a quick speed crank or two into the retrieve, or even a hard rod tip pop. This causes that bait to react as if though it just realized its being chased and tries to dart or get away. In so many ways, it is like a cat chasing a laser. If you shine the laser on the wall, it will get the cats attention, move it slowly and the cat will follow the light across the room. But move that laser light erratically back and forth and the cat will darn near climb that wall and bounce around trying to capture it.
Because I throw in those erratic twitches and pops, I try and use a color that has lots of flash and pop to it. My favorite colors especially in dirty or stained water is the Rainbow Trout, Gold Ayu, or Holographic Shad. Those foiled finishes give off a lot of flash making the bait stand out more, and again like that laser light, gets the fish excited and causes the reaction you want. For clearer water, I like throwing Bone, Ghost Pearl/Chartreuse Back, or even Shad. These colors are a bit more natural and help the spooky clear water fish to commit. The equipment you fish these Ninja Glides on are extremely important! The last thing you want is to fish all day for that one bite, just to have something fail and your catch of a lifetime swims away, maybe even adding insult to injury and taking your bait with them. I fish the Ninja Glide on a Med Heavy Swimbait style rod like the Phenix Rods M1-80MH or the M1 Inshore 711ML. Both these rods have a soft tip you want for a treble hooked bait, yet plenty of backbone to turn them trophy stripers and give you the control you need to land the fish. I always use a 300 size reel for the slightly bigger gears and drag. Remember these fish are big and mean! And they can strip a smaller reels gears to shreds. I fish these baits using several line choices. If I’m fishing dirty water I will throw them on Braid like the Yo-Zuri Super Braid in 65 or 80lb test. I don’t often use a leader unless I’m in clearer water, that’s when I tie on a 4-6’ section of 25-30lb Yo-Zuri TopKnot or HD Carbon Leader.
In closing I will leave you with one more VERY Important tip, whatever you do, DO NOT set the hook when you feel a strike. Most times, like 7 outa 10, because you’re fishing such shallow water, you will see the fish before it hits your bait. Again, big fish, in shallow water, means lots of water movement and commotion. Sometimes the strike is so visual and viscous, like someone dropped a bowling ball in the water, but you have to keep working the bait and have extreme patience. These big fish like to swipe at and tail slap the bait as if to wound it, and may do that several times before they eat it. So you have to wait till you feel that fish actually hook up and start pulling. Otherwise you may foul hook it, which 90% of the time means losing it, or ruin the chance of that fish committing or getting that big bait in their mouth and opportunity lost. Targeting Trophy Stripers is like target other trophy fish, one mistake or inferior equipment and your day is ruined! These fish didn’t get that big by being easy to catch. Use these techniques and recommendations and I guarantee you will see success! And when you do, be sure to share with us those amazing pics! If you’re ever in California, or want to plan a trip, be sure to hit us up at Vince Borges Outdoors for a California Delta Dream trip! Email is firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us at 209-918-0828. Tight Lines and Big Linesides to you!