Every good football team employs a two minute hurry-up offense just like every good walleye ice angler that I know. It is the perfect strategy for the "last ice" part of the winter ice fishing season in which we now find ourselves.
Make no mistake about it, you can drill a few holes, sit in one place, good, bad or otherwise, and wait for the walleyes to come to you. But that is akin to being down by three points with two minutes left in the game and going into a huddle. You’re wasting time. Unless you’re on fish, keep moving until you find them.
In football, it is a high-pressure, fast-paced, no-huddle, two-minute drill. On big walleye waters like Lake Nipissing, Lac Seul, Lake Winnipeg and Last Mountain Lake I give myself 45 minutes, and then move if I don’t catch a decent fish in that length of time. Similarly, if we’re catching fish but the action stops, it is time to move 45 minutes after the last respectable walleye hits the ice.
Never ever forget, 90-percent of every lake is a desert. So in a huge expansive walleye lake, we’re talking about the Sahara. Indeed, the single biggest reason most anglers are not catching fish, either spring, summer, winter or fall, is that there are no fish where they're fishing.
Linked to the hurry-up offense is something else I’ve noticed over the years. The biggest walleye you’re likely to catch at a spot, especially a tried, true and proven GPS hotspot, is the very first fish. It is eerie how often it happens. Case in point: last winter while shooting an In-Fisherman Ice Guide walleye segment on Lake Winnipeg with local stick Mike Schamber, Mike iced an 11-pound plus greenback on the first drop, down the first hole, at the first place we fished, on the first day of a three day outing. He had the fish flopping on the ice before the cameraman had his equipment out of the case. Ditto, repeatedly over the course of the next three days, the biggest fish caught after moving to a new location was invariably the first fish up the hole.
Why? I am convinced that while the walleyes in these giant, simple-structured waterbodies are constantly moving, stalking schools of wandering, pelagic baitfish, they pause to goof around certain hang outs, street corners or sweet spots. The simple act of catching a couple of fish is all the incentive needed to cause the school to move.
In other words, it is not lure conditioning, noise, or anything else you’re doing. It is simply the nature of the fish in these giant, flat, featureless basins to be mobile and while they may shift into neutral and lounge around certain locations, it takes very little – simply catching a fish or two – to get them moving again.
In this respect, I am constantly reminded of good friend Dr. Mark Ridgway’s ground- breaking and fascinating research when, over the course of several summers, he tracked schools of smallmouth bass swimming six to eight miles a day, everyday of the week, throughout the entire summer season. Ridgway called it trap-lining where the fish would swim a predictable route from one structural highlight or sweet spot to another, grazing lazily once they reached each destination.
As luck would have it, several times Ridgway spotted a party of anglers fishing the spot his school of bass was approaching. And many times, he asked the anglers about their success. “The fish are just starting to turn on,” was the invariable response.
When the bass had finished browsing across the structure and had begun moving on to the next spot on their trap-line, Ridgway would ask the anglers once again about their success. “They’re just starting to turn off,” was the predictable reply.
Of course, neither was the case. In the first instance, the fish were arriving at the spot, while some time later after they had finished foraging, they were leaving the location.
Make no mistake about it; big walleyes living in big lakes behave the very same way. And they particularly mimic Ridgway’s wanderlust bass the flatter and more featureless the bottom. So, when Elvis leaves the building, it behooves you to follow.