Late in the ice season when walleyes turn extra-aggressive, a big, noisy lure is the best way to score big.

“It’s kind of a ‘go big or go home’ thing,” Jonny Petrowske said about late-season ice fishing. “The fish are super aggressive at that time – putting on the feedbag – so by using big baits you can eliminate a lot of small walleyes and target the fish you want to catch.”

A fourth-generation guide who bases operations out of Upper Red Lake in northern Minnesota, Petrowske actually uses magnum-sized ice lures during both ends of the hard-water season. Big baits produce big walleyes for him during the first few weeks after Upper Red Lake freezes, and then they excel again late in the ice season.

Added flash, a bigger-than-normal profile and plenty of fish-attracting sound are especially important for early ice at lakes like Upper Red because the water tends to be muddy at that time and it normally takes a few weeks to settle.

“If you don’t give them something big during those times, they probably won’t ever find it.” Petrowske said. “I also think that with some of the baitfish patterns on the Lindy Darter, the color patterns are better defined and more attractive to the walleyes when they are on bigger lures.”

For late ice, Petrowske upsizes again after having fished smaller lures for much of the season, but the reasons are a little different. The fish feed more readily in preparation for the spawn late in the ice season, and bigger fish especially tend to favor offerings that give them more calories in a single meal.

The young-of-the-year forage fish also tend to be pretty big by that time, so larger offerings can be very effective for “matching the hatch.”

Big Baits

Early or late, Petrowske’s two primary lures for going big are a Lindy Darter and Rattl’N Flyer Spoon. Along with offering a big profile, both lures feature rattles that make a lot of noise. The Lindy Darter also has a big action, creating movement and covering a tremendous amount of water for a lure that’s fished vertically. The Rattl’N Flyer Spoon offers extra flash and an action that takes it outside the hole to cover water.

Petrowske doesn’t believe in going half way with the Lindy Darter. He typically starts and ends the season with the largest size, occasionally going down a single size when fishing clearer lakes. At Red Lake, the biggest Darter serves double duty and produces hefty walleyes and big pike.

Because of the pike, Petrowske spools his ice reels with 10-pound-test and uses a section of fluorocarbon leader at the end. For waters where the toothy fish are less of a factor, he spools up with 6-pound-test Lindy Ice Line and ties the lure directly to the main line. This lighter line maximizes lure action.

Petrowske mixes up his presentations and pays attention to what triggers the bites. He has spent a lot of time watching a Darter on an underwater camera to see how it performs depending on how he twitches the rod, so he has a very good idea of what the lure is doing whether he is lifting the rod tip slowly, snapping it up, letting the bait free fall, guiding it down and a variety of other motions or non-motions of the rod.

On aspect of the Darter that Petrowske believes makes it more effective than other lures during the late season is that it turns and swims as it falls through the water column.

“That gets the attention of a lot of fish as soon as you drop it in the hole, and I believe is what sets apart Lindy Darter from other lures of the same general sort,” Petrowske said.

One big trick he’s learned with the Darter is when he’s called in a fish but can’t get it to commit, he hits the “reset” button. He quickly lifts the lure straight up and out of the strike zone, then lets it free-fall back to the level of the fish

“Often they’ll grab it right away. It’s like they don’t want to let it get away a second time.”

Petrowske never adds bait to a Darter because it inhibits the action.    Late ice walleyes often want a fast, erratic action and he wants to maximize that aspect of the lure. He will use a shiner head on a ¼-ounce Rattl’N Flyer Spoons or a whole shiner or chub on the 3/8-ounce version if the fish aren’t eating the Darter.

“With that biggest Flyer and a whole shiner, I like to really pound the bottom, snapping it up and dropping it back down so it makes a lot of bottom contact,” he said. “You really can’t get too aggressive.”

Experiment To Maximize Your Bite

“The only rule I have about cadence is to never have a cadence,” Petrowske said.

Whether he’s fishing a Darter or a Rattl’N Flyer Spoon, he avoids falling into ruts with presentations, and he pays careful attention to what he is doing any time a walleye hits his lure (or when one shows up on his flasher but decides to turn the other way).

Petrowske also believes color makes a big difference when using big baits, so he cycles through a lot of colors until he hits the one the fish want on that day.

When the sun is shining brightly, he tends to favor shiny metallic colors like silver and gold for Rattl’N Flyer Jigs. For darker days, he likes dark colors and opaque patterns. Early and late in the day, when light is very scarce, Petrowske likes glow colors. The same generalizations apply to Darter colors, except that he Petrowske makes more of an effort to match specific forage types with Darter color patterns.

Learn More:

To learn more about Red Lake walleye fishing or to plan a trip with Jonny Petrowske, visit him online at www.outdoorswithjonnyp.com. Petrowske also provides regular live audio fishing reports at www.lindyfishingtackle.com.