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Going for the Gold-Late Season Walleyes
by Ron Anlauf 

Late season walleye fishing through the ice has itís rewards, though few step up and claim the prize. By late January, most anglers have given up and thrown in the towel. A couple weeks of tough fishing can do that to you. Itís easy to write the rest of the season off, besides it wonít be that long before you get a chance at some open water. The real diehards however, never say die. They know that for those that stick it out there is some serious action yet to be had.

One of the keys to late season action is retracing your steps, and looking in the places that held good numbers of fish earlier in the season. Those are shoreline related hard bottom areas like rock covered bars and humps, and the spots that anglers made a beeline for as soon as the ice was safe enough to allow it.

Early season action is more like a race, than anything else. It takes on the similarities of a race when anglers try to get ahead of their fellow anglers and beat them to the next hot spot. Staying ahead of the crowd is one of the keys to really hot ice fishing action. The first anglers to arrive at a spot are able to get their lures in front of fish that havenít been bothered yet. They also have the undivided attention of all of the biters, and donít have to share them with anyone else. When the rest of the crowd shows up things change, and not for the better. How many times have you heard about the action getting better after a mob of anglers arrived on the scene? Probably never. More anglers mean more lines and more baits for the biters to choose from. There are only so many of the willing to go around, no matter how good the spot may be. Another thing hordes of anglers bring with them is noise, and lots of it.

Holes being drilled and cars being driven can create a tremendous amount of noise. When a car or truck passes in the distance, you can hear the ice cracking long before you hear the vehicle noise. Whether or not fish can hear it or feel it, they definitely react to it. They react to it by shutting down, changing periods of activity, or getting out of Dodge.

When you combine all of these factors with the general seasonal slow down, you end up facing some pretty tough fishing conditions. Those are the very same conditions that send anglers packing, never to return until the next hard water period.

Sometime between now and the seasonís end, walleyes begin to show up on those aforementioned areas and are definitely catchable. The same techniques that produced so well earlier in the season can still get the job done. That means using jigging spoons, set lines with floats, and tip ups.

Jigging spoons are a go to bait and always have the potential for putting walleye gold on ice. Lighter spoons like Northland Tackleís Fire-Eye Minnow have a slow fluttering drop and tipped with a minnow (or piece of one) can be extremely deadly, in the right hands. When the walleyes are really going theyíll fall for just about any jigging technique you show them, but when they slow down you may need to change up a bit to keep getting your pole bent. Instead of a hard snap on the lift you might try tiny lifts of the rod tip, followed by long periods of remaining perfectly still, especially if you have a fish staring down your bait. If your bait is getting a serious look without any commitment, try quivering the rod tip from side to side, instead of up and down. Youíd be surprised by how much action youíre really imparting to your bait with such a small amount of movement.

One of the keys to successful spooning is sticking with it, and not giving up. Jigging a spoon all day without any takers can be incredibly monotonous. Lack of success may be as simple as where youíre doing it, rather than how.

Even if they donít get the appropriate response spoons can be expected to at least draw fish in close enough for them to be seen on a depth finder. With an electronic depth finder like the Marcum LX-3 you can watch how walleyes react to your bait and adjust accordingly. If what youíre doing is working keep itup, if not you may have to make some tiny adjustments to get a positive response.

If youíre not seeing fish on the depth finder you may have to make a move in order to find a few takers and will depend on the area youíre fishing. Shallower areas on deeper structure may not see much activity until sundown and you may have to stick it out to know for sure. Deeper edges and breaks are more apt to hold active fish during the day and are the high percentage spots.

Being mobile is the key and where gas powered augers and portable shelters like the revamped Fishtrap Voyager are in order. The Voyager has a retooled heavy duty sled that is built for long hauls behind ATVs or snowmobiles. It also has new adjustable padded swivel seats that are super comfortable and will helpkeep you on the ice much longer, which is where you belong.

Options like suspending a minnow below a bobber, or tip-up, may also be in order. Spoons can attract and nail the aggressive fish while bobbers and tip-ups may coax some of the slackers. Slackers are not inclined to move very far (or work very hard) to take a bait. The key is keeping a bait in front of them long enough to get a response.

To help even further with the slacker factor, try replacing a plain hook with a smaller jig head. Active minnows can swim up and out of the tiny strike zone that may exist, while the weight of a jig head will pin the bait in place. See you on the ice, one last time.