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THE FISH FACTORY - LEECH LAKE

Old man winter is here and our lakes are frozen  solid, ready for you to get out and take advantage  of some excellent winter fishing action. Here in the  Walker Lakes Area we are blessed to have Leech Lake,  which is one of the top fishing lakes in the country.

Leech Lake 
Leech Lake is just over 112,000 Acres with approximately  195 miles of shoreline and has adopted a protective  slot that says all walleyes from 18 to 26 inches  must be released. Due to stocking efforts and the proactive  slot, Leech Lake walleyes are abundant!

The lake is a fisherman’s dream that is filled with an  abundance of fishing structure like shallow bays, monstrous  points, rock humps, expansive flats, deep water  and shallow water. There is no shortage of fishing locations,  but it can also be an intimidating body of water  to tackle. Don’t let that the slow you down!

Leech is separated by the deep, rock-filled section of  Walker Bay and the shallower main lake basin. Both  are great areas to fish! So let’s take a minute and break  each of these sections down.

Walleye locations:  Walker Bay 
Walker Bay has a maximum depth of 156 feet and is  filled with mid-lake rock humps, both deep and shallow,  large expansive points, rubble rock shoreline and  large break-lines. It’s no secret that monster walleyes  swim in the water of Walker Bay, but you can also cash  in on great “eater” size walleyes, too.

I like to focus my efforts on the mid-lake rock structure.  Using a hand held GPS with the Lakemaster Chip, I  will bounce from rock hump, to rock hump fishing several  throughout the day. There are several tools that  are a must and I believe the Lakemaster Chip that  shows the depth in one-foot contours is one of them.  It’s just like driving on the map - without it you are  fishing in the dark! Another must-have piece of equipment  is my Clam Voyager TCX fish house. This is a  sled style fish house, which pulls behind a snowmobile  or ATV. This allows me to pull up to a rock pile, drill  a hole, drop my flasher, and lure and learn real fast if  there are active feeding walleyes. Now, this isn’t the  time to sit back and camp on one spot if you’re not  catching’ em. I will fish it for a few minutes and if I  don’t see fish, off I go. The neat thing about the Voyager  TCX is it has a large sled that allows me to put all  my fishing gear in one spot. I look at it like my fishing  boat during the hard water season. I can bounce from  spot to spot with ease.

One thing to keep in mind is that new schools of walleyes  will move up on these rock structure at different  times throughout the day. So don’t be afraid to go  back to one you have fished already. I like to concentrate  on the edge of the rock pile that leads to deep  water. The majority of the time we are fishing from  25 to 32 feet of water throughout the day. During the  lower light periods I will sometimes fish right up on  top, at the shallowest section of the rock pile.

My presentation is almost always a Rapala Jigging Rap.  This is one of the most efficient lures on the market.  You don’t need bait, which allows you to fish a certain  spot fast. Using an aggressive jigging motion, I will  swim the jigging rap until a fish comes on the flasher  screen. I will let the fish tell me what he wants.

If he appears aggressive I will play “keep away” by rising  the lure. My goal is to get the fish to travel off the  bottom to chase the lure. Usually the farther you can  get them to follow the lure, the more likely they are  to bite. It is usually on the pause at the top or the fall  when the fish will strike, so be primed to set the hook.

There are times when it takes a subtle approach, and  then I will slow the lure down to a small jigging motion. This is when it is handy to have a dead stick  with a bobber and a minnow ready to drop down.

Main Lake Basin 
The main lake basin has a maximum depth of 40 feet  and has many large sandy flats, break-lines and several  rock piles. Again, using my GPS I will look for  any type of inside turn on the large break-lines, tips of  main lake points, and again isolated rock piles. All of  these locations hold fish. While the sun goes down in  the evening and I have found an area that is holding  fish, I will drill several holes right on top of the sand  flat. I will walk from hole to hole looking for cruising  walleyes. At this time I will also utilize a tip-up rigged  with a minnow to help cover these large flats. These  are great areas to fish when you have a large group.  Most of the time you will also contact several perch to  keep the action going.

You can see a common theme here: being mobile is  key. Don’t reconcile and assume the fish aren’t biting.  Go in motion until you find them. They are always  biting somewhere!

Getting Slimy 
The northern pike are also abundant in Leech Lake  and are often overlooked. If you target these pike you  will have an excellent opportunity to catch a 40-incher  or even bigger.

Fishing these toothy critters is pretty simple. We usually  concentrate on large cabbage flats, and Portage  Bay is filled with them. I will drill several holes covering  both the outside and inside edge of the cabbage  and sometimes throw a sleeper flag out off the deep  edge.

Once the holes are drilled and ready for the tip-ups, I  use either a sucker minnow or large golden shiner, using  a Bigtooth Tackle “Natural” Quick Strike Rig with  one hook just behind the head of the minnow and the  second in-between the dorsal fin and tailfin. The really neat thing about the Bigtooth “Natural” rig is that  it holds the bait in a natural swimming state. To hook  the quick strike rig, scrape a small amount of scales off  the minnow and slide the hook just under the skin.  You don’t want to sink the hooks too deep, because  it will minimize the minnow’s life and you want the  hooks to release from the minnow for a good hook set.  I like to use a variety of “minnow placement” in the  water column until a pattern can be developed.

Now you can sit back and relax while you wait for a  flag. Once a flag is up, especially in shallow water, I  like to sneak up to the tip-up. If the spindle on the  tip-up is turning, I usually don’t waste any time in  setting the hook. If the spindle is not turning I usually  wait and watch for few moments. Sometimes,  if a pike is nearby the minnow will trip the flag and  by waiting the pike will come by and grab the bait.  On occasion, a pike will grab the bait and not run.  So, if I pick up the tip-up, I will scare the pike and  they will drop the bait. To set the hook, make sure  you don’t wrap the line around your hand or you are  sure to have sore hands in the morning. Just grab  the line and pull. I like to have a good partner who  helps with the slack line. Most of the time, big fish  will make some big runs requiring you to give line.  If you don’t have a good partner, the line will get  caught in the snow, ripping the hooks from the fish’s  mouth.

Have a release bucket or toolbox with all of the  necessary release tools handy. It’s not good to have  trophy pike sit on the ice for an extended amount of  time, especially if it is really cold. My release tools  consist of: mouth spreader, long needle nose pliers,  hook cutter, leather gloves, hook sharpener, measuring  tape and of course, a camera.

Take Advantage of this Fish Factory 
Whether it’s a walleye for tasty dinner or a monster  pike you are looking to catch, Leech Lake is the  place to be this winter. Put these tactics to use and  you will be sure to have your friends talking about all  the fish photos you are sending them!  Make a Memory!

Jeff “Breezer” Andersen

Jeff is a fishing guide in the Leech Lake area. View his website at www.jeffandersenfishing.com or see up-to-date fishing reports and photos at www.jeffandersenfishingphotography.blogspot.com.

 



 

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