Midwinter Open Water Walleye? A Great Start to 2023

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Every January 1st that I have rolled into throughout my life, has me wondering, “what will be my initial fishing encounter“. Will it be on the ice, or will it be in the spring when all the ice is gone?

Well on January 2 of 2023, it was a normal calendar period for ice fishing, however, with an unusually mild spell, mother nature left a bunch of us “crazies” a stretch of open water that always gets loaded up with fish. And, in particular, big Walleye!

The area is called the Adolphus Reach which connects the Bay of Quinte with Lake Ontario. It’s a long and somewhat narrow area (compared to Lake O) with deep water. It’s here that the migration of the big-lake Walleye moves into Quinte to eventually spawn.

On their way, these Walleye and especially the big females, are always on the lookout for a snack of protein to help the development of their eggs. It is my opinion that a huge number of these fish are indeed females. Rarely do we catch smaller male fish here. They definitely share this water, but the average of male to female ratio is a ridiculous number. That’s a good thing if you’re looking for a trophy.

The Navionics chart view gives you a great look at the Adolphus Reach

My buddy Mike Burriss from Napanee is fortunate to live in this area. He always has, or can get, intel as to conditions, and, in this case, boat launch accessibility. He gave me a shout and said we could probably drop his little 14’ aluminum in and make it out to the center of the reach (which was completely free of ice).

So, with some effort, we pushed his little rig in and were off to the races.

I doubt we were trolling for even half an hour before we connected with our first fish which was around 8lbs. Not a giant for this area but a good start for the year. Mikey took the first fish of the day/season and I gladly netted it for him. 

Mike Burriss with his first fish of 2023… as you can see beside him, we didn’t even have time to set up his LiveScope!

From then on it was simply covering water by trolling, and swapping out the odd bait to try and figure out if any colours outproduced others. Since we didn’t keep exact stats on bait colours per fish, I can’t be 100% accurate in my overall, end of day assessment, but I do know that the Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnow Deep Diver Walleye 5-1/4″ (130mm), 7/8 oz. in Acid Perch colour caught the most fish.

Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnow Deep Diver Walleye in Acid Perch colour

The other colour which worked well for us was the same lure as above in Midnight. I actually modified this bait with some suspending strips so that it wouldn’t float up too far when making trolling turns. It certainly didn’t hurt the action as it caught a few big fish.

Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnow Deep Diver Walleye in Midnight colour

Bait colour is a big thing in fishing. For one, it may be the final ingredient to get fish to strike, which equals the ultimate in how it performs. Another aspect of bait colour is the sales appeal it will have while sitting on a peg in a tackle shop. So many baits are sold because an angler loves the look of that particular lure. It’s brilliant marketing!

In Mike’s and my case on this trip, we needed the Walleye to tell us what they wanted. We stuck four colours on 4 rods (legal to run 2 rods per angler in a boat where we were) and started from there. The above two started and pretty much stayed on the whole day. We ran them on our outside rods. We experimented with our two inside rods as to colours, sizes, and styles.

Here’s a great view of the traditional screen of Mike’s Garmin unit showing us a ton of info. There’s baitfish (part of the thick band), big fish (hooks), frigid water, our trolling speed, and some extremely deep water when it comes to Walleye fishing.

The freaky thing about this modern-day big Walleye phenomenon is that crazy colours seem to work best. When this whole thing started, it was more about matching baitfish like perch when it came to colours (although we didn’t do much experimenting with psychedelic patterns then). Now I can pretty much say with confidence that something like “Acid Perch” will keep up with anything out there. That’s just insane to me!

In my old days out in the cold water, you wouldn’t have seen me without perfectly coloured, natural-looking baits. Nowadays it’s the complete reverse for me. I’m not saying natural won’t work, but I am saying that psychedelics will work. The progressive learning in fishing… go figure!

CONCLUSION

In closing, first off thanks for reading about my premiere trip of 2023, it truly was a blast. Mikey and I go back a LONG way… he’s such a character and a great outdoorsman. 

One happy boy with another tank!

Second, in case you are wondering, we boated “either” 10 or 12 Walleye (honestly, I can’t remember) and two Lake Trout. As a funny anecdote, we took turns on each fish, Mike first and then me. We kept that going throughout the day and EVERY time a Laker bit, it was my turn. Since we’re both much bigger fans of giant Walleye than small Lake Trout, we had a good laugh as to my “luck”. Timing is everything!

We even caught a couple of bonus Lake Trout while trolling cranks

And lastly, I hope your first trip of the year is a great one as well. Just remember to be extremely careful if you take on a trip like Mike and I did. 

As they say, be calm and fish on!

EXTRA STUFF

It’s good to carry an array of bait sizes and colours. Ang and I obviously use the Yo-Zuri line of baits and in the case of trolling for Walleye, stick mostly to the Crystal Minnow series. We do venture away from the long and skinny and move to something like the 3DB Shad in the hotter months but, out on the big water, when looking for big fish, we at least start with the long and lean Crystal Minnows.

SOME TROLLING STUFF

Mike and I ran four rod and line-counter reel combos set up with the following: 

  • Two had 20lb fluorocarbon as a mainline to a 12lb fluorocarbon leader.
  • One had 25lb fluorocarbon mainline to a 12lb fluorocarbon leader.
  • The last one had 30lb braid to a 12lb fluorocarbon leader.
  • I tried a new (to me) braid to fluoro knot on our braid rig. It’s called an Alberto knot. No problems so far and it is quick and easy to tie (I’ve previously used double uni and FG knots, one more to the mix I guess).
  • We ran snaps (not snap/swivels) on all of our lines to aid in easy bait changes.
  • Our outside lines were set back 200 feet with our biggest baits and with 1-ounce snap weights
  • Our inside lines were 180 feet back with a 2 and a 3-ounce snap weight
  • Our best trolling speeds varied from about 1.7 to 2.2 mph
  • Most of our trolling was over 100+ feet of water
  • The highest fish we saw in the water column were about 30 feet down, lots were deeper
  • When our traditional fishfinder screen lit up with big fish, that’s when most lines fired
  • Running four lines with boards in a 14-foot tinner full of gear can be quite challenging, however, we pulled it off pretty well (one crazy run of basically a triple header got the best of us)
  • When the wind picked up, we tried our best to troll with the wind. It makes trolling with boards so much easier
  • I counted 15 other boats out that day and some were big rigs. One of which came all the way from Ottawa. They left at 3:30 am and gave-er’ all day long.
  • Here’s an old article about a past trip to this same area

A great start to a new fishing season

FYI: SOME IMPORTANT INFO BEFORE YOU HIT THE WATER

If you ever want to take on this winter or early spring open water fishing and haven’t read our most recent post about boat insurance, check it out before you hit the water.

Pete Bowman

Pete, one of the most revered and popular anglers in the nation, has a tremendous love for the game… the fishing game. Pete’s vast knowledge of angling and ability to articulate it to audiences worldwide has endeared him to his fans who still see Pete as just “ONE OF THE BOYS”. Pete is also an accomplished and published outdoor writer and photographer as well as a sought-after speaker. In 2012 another of Pete’s ultimate fishing career highlights occurred when he was inducted into the Canadian Angler Hall Of Fame, something he never thought would happen. A Canadian fishing icon.

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