Walleye fans across the Ice Belt get fired up for first-ice walleyes, but winter’s home stretch can provide plenty of good fishing, too, if you know where to look.
Veteran guide and longtime iceman Jon Thelen pursues walleyes until winters final ice floes melt into memories, and he stays on the bite by targeting high-percentage areas with proven tactics to put fish on the ice.
While midwinter sees Thelen focused on deep feeding grounds, he sets his sights on shallower sweet spots as snowmelt runoff flows into the lakes and walleyes begin gravitating toward spring spawning areas.
“Where walleye seasons remain open, I look for fish migrating toward incoming tributaries and shoreline spawning areas,” he explained. “On Lake of the Woods, for example, you can enjoy great walleye action in March as fish funnel in from the main lake toward the mouth of the Rainy River.”
He routinely sets up shop on prime structure such as humps or twists and turns along breaklines, which attract waves of passing fish. “I call these areas drive-throughs because walleyes stop there for a bite to eat on their way to the spawning grounds,” he laughed.
Thelen’s late-winter lure selection leans toward the loud side. “Noisy, rattling baits draw fish in,” he says. Lindy’s Rattl’n Flyer and Wally Talker are top options, as is the Lindy Darter. When fish move in but don’t strike, a silent killer like the Lindy Frostee Jigging Spoon can often close the deal.
Thelen is quick to note that late-winter walleye location can also be extremely weather dependent. “Walleye movements toward shallow water are often delayed during an extended winter, and accelerated by an early spring,” he says. “So be ready to adjust your search area accordingly.”
And of course, waves of warm weather can make fishable ice a here today, gone tomorrow proposition. While it lasts, however, get out and put Thelen’s tactics to use to enjoy a last blast of hardwater fun before packing your ice gear away for the season.