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 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!
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.