Ice anglers are always quick to get onto the lakes after bodies of water freeze up.
There's a reason for that. That first ice offers some of the best fishing of the winter, especially for anyone going after walleyes.
The serious anglers around the Alexandria area are experiencing that right now as some cold weather froze up a lot of the area lakes in the last week.
"It's been good," Alexandria area fishing guide Joe Scegura said of the local bite on Dec. 14. "I'm hearing bites from as deep as 30 feet all the way up to 5-10 feet. Some guys are struggling to get some good fish. That's walleye fishing, but there are people getting 40, 50 a night in certain areas. They're all schooled up, so if you end up on them, you're going to do well."
Ice thickness varies
Scegura is quick to point out how careful anglers need to be right now as they chase that bite. He spends a lot of time checking out ice conditions and says this freeze has been particularly unusual with various levels of thickness.
"I'm not sure if it was a second turnover or what exactly happened but when the ice froze and there were strong winds, those areas are not re-freezing as they normally would," Scegura said. "You'll have 8-10 inches up to these holes. Once they do freeze over, we will have a variance of ice that we've normally not seen."
Scegura said he is seeing this on lakes big and small in the area.
"If you take it slow, you can easily see these differences in the ice," he said. "If you have differences in snow thickness, that's immediately going to tell you that ice wasn't there when this snow happened. That's a big thing to look for is the snow on the top."
Getting on the walleyes
Scegura said he knows of three different groups that have caught upwards of 50 walleyes in a night so far this season, but he knows that is not the norm for most anglers.
"It's pretty much nonstop for an hour each night, which is pretty incredible," he said. "I would say for your average angler, that's not reasonable. It's just sometimes when you're in the right spot, it's easy. But I would say your average angler right now, you can go out on a lot of lakes and pick up your two, three walleyes easily every night. I consider that a win any time you can go out and bring home a few for the pan."
Finding those fish is obviously the key. Scegura said anglers can find walleyes off of green weeds where they still exist, but he likes to look for them over structure such as steep breaks over deep holes.
"A lot of times, I'll go where the weed line used to be or if there's a rock seam, I'll try to get on the sand edge of a rock seam," he said. "That seems to be nice little highways for these fish."
Minnows on a plain hook or jig under a bobber or tip-up or jigging with a 1/8 or 3/16-ounce spoons are popular approaches. The best action is almost always in the evenings.
A lot of anglers focus their attention on walleyes right now before that bite slows down later in the winter, but panfish can definitely be had too.
Scegura said the crappie bite is largely dependent on the time of day anglers target them.
"During the day, I will not sit down unless my locator is lit up with fish," he said. "During the day, they move very little. You just have to drill holes and find them."
That changes as the fish start to disperse in the evenings in search of food. Scegura likes the challenge of being that active angler who can find fish, but those evening bites create a lot of fun for anglers who do not have the time or equipment to invest in spending hours on the ice.
"You can pick an area around the edge of a basin or these crappie holes and you just sit there," Scegura said. "Once the sun hits the horizon, all those tight groups that were grouped up all day long and didn't move, they're completely split a part. If you go to Osakis or Geneva, L'Homme Dieu and drill in a hole, there will be nothing there during the day, but at night there's like a fish in every hole. They're all broke up looking for bait."