On days my husband, Aron, doesn’t have booked guide trips, we often go scouting. These scouting missions to “new water” can be nerve racking, as we must carefully test ice conditions in unfamiliar areas while trying to “find fish” for upcoming guide trips.
The majority of our Unlimited Trophy Outfitters ice trips are taken on Lake Superior, and since Aron has been guiding these waters for sixteen years, he doesn’t really consider many areas “new.” By his definition, most of the time new waters either consists of locations he hasn’t fished for a while or tried during the ice season.
Another angle to ‘new water’ ventures includes pursuing an ‘atypical’ species. What do I mean by that? When most ice anglers come to fish Lake Superior, very few consider the walleye fishery. Most automatically want to fish the more “popular” species like smallmouth bass, trout, salmon or whitefish. Yet Lake Superior’s Chequamegon Bay is a multi-species panacea, also featuring an excellent perch and walleye fishery–I know this firsthand, because I work for the Bad River Tribe’s Fish & Game program, and we have an excellent fish hatchery providing quality annual stocks of both species into this system.
Recently, during a break between booked trips, we decided to focus on this opportunity and try one of our productive open water walleye spots—in effect, covering and scouting “new water.” Since this location is only a short ATV ride across the ice, and having only a few hours to play around with, it seemed a perfect fit!
We arrived at our waypoint, and immediately began drilling and hole-hopping, using our Vexilars to check depths. “Hole hopping” is critical when scouting new water. We use this strategy not only to determine depth and locate structure, but when looking for walleye hotspots on Chequamegon Bay, the presence of weeds as well.
Once weeds are located, we’ll actively jig each hole, but if we don’t mark fish or experience any action, quickly jump to the next–on these scouting missions we hate wasting too much time in a hole that isn’t producing, so we keep moving until we do. On this particular day, I was eight and a half months pregnant and definitely and waddling along at my own select pace—but when we finally did find them, as usual, we started by setting a couple tip-ups and selecting presentations based on the conditions.
When setting tip-ups for walleye on the big lake, it’s important to use lighter monofilament line, because in the clear waters of Lake Superior, walleyes can spook easily. We typically use colored Gamakatsu walleye or steelhead hooks when rigging, and thread them through the topside of a lively golden shiner, river shiner or creek chub, usually midway back just under the spine. This method gives the minnow the most freedom to swim “normally” and allows more longevity–plus provides better hook sets when a fish bites. Since the water of Chequamegon Bay is so clear, we’ve also found placing our baits six inches to a foot off the bottom works best.
Then it was on to focusing on jigging. A great all around rod we use on the big lake is HT’s 28” Bob Izumi medium-heavy action rod. So far it has been able to handle even the biggest Lake Superior walleyes–and some nice lake trout to boot! When rigging them for walleyes, we always have a few pre-tied with various lure styles, since walleyes can be “moody” regarding what they prefer.
This also helps when hole-hopping so you can quickly switch styles and see if what may possibly “turn the fish on.” We like to keep one rod rigged with a light, flashy spoon that slowly flutters when jigged for the less aggressive fish, and another rigged with a fast action or noisy lure like the HT Chatterspoon tipped with either a shiner or fathead head or tail. Another good option to have handy is a “swimming” type lure like a Puppet Minnow. This particular lure will, with a flick of the wrist, dart around the target area. These last two options are better when more aggressive walleyes are present.
Now when fishing Lake Superior, depending on your location, you never know what you might hook into. You could catch a walleye, sturgeon, trout, salmon, northern pike, bass or perch—all from the same hole! That is a big reason why fishing the big lake is so much fun.
On this day, I was jigging a rattle-type spoon and Aron had a flashy slow-falling spoon set-up. We weren’t too long into our day…I think we were each on our second hole-hop, when Aron hooked into something big! Given how this particular fish was fighting, it didn’t take him long to figure out that it was a walleye, and a nice one at that.
When he got this fish near the hole we could tell it was a big female. We quickly brought the fish up, snapped a couple pictures, and released her. It just so happened this individual fish was also a tagged fish–one tagged by the fisheries program at my work place. Before we released her I snapped a picture of the numbers on the tag so I could report them to our fisheries program and we could learn a little bit more about the history behind this old walleye.
This brings me to a side note…when catching and releasing fish, if you catch a tagged fish, either quickly write down the tag’s color and number or snap a quick photo so you can report the information about that fish. Information that is useful to report includes the location and date caught, length, and weight (if you can do so without risking the life of fish destined to be released).
Whatever you do, do NOT rip the tag out of the fish. I have come across a few anglers over the years that will tear the tag out to report the information before releasing their fish. The problem with this is that particular fish will no longer be capable of being identifying and tracked. Most tagged fish will also contain what are known as PIT (Passive Integrated Transponder) tags, but these can only be read with PIT tag reader.
But, getting back to our adventure…ironically, other than that beautiful 31” walleye Aron caught nearly right away, the walleye action was fairly slow that morning…although after marking some smaller fish, curiosity did get the best of me, and I switched over to a different presentation with wax worms and was able to pick up a couple nice perch for dinner that night.
We always enjoy and learn from our exploratory missions, and you can, too! Don’t be afraid to try “new water”—after all, exploring can bring great rewards–just remember to plan ahead by pre-selecting potential locations, checking the ice conditions carefully as you proceed toward them, and always use your electronics to hole-hop and search for the most productive combinations of structure, depth, cover and fish.
From there, have a couple different presentations rigged so you’re ready when you do find fish, and most of all, have fun!