Midwinter Strategies

By Ted Peck - January 1, 2009
Thirty-one is a great number if you're talking walleye length. But when the home barometer needle hovers here you can bet the bite will be tough. The active feeding window for fish has been small lately….roughly the size of a peephole in the armored door of a crack house. Arctic high pressure has dominated the for over a week now, no surprise with January weather arriving a month later than usual here in the stateline.

Icing a nice mess of fish for the next week or so is all about timing. You've got to be out there when the groundhog can't see his shadow.

Crappies on Delavan Lake are snuggled into the night bite mode, pensively nibbling minnow heads impaled on Hali jigs about halfway to the bottom over 40 plus feet of water. Perch on Kegonsa have the heftiest dimensions we've seen in years, swirling in an orange/brown cyclone within inches of the bottom over mid-lake mudflats. They are dining on bloodworms which emerge from the bottom shortly after sunrise. A red nailtail Lindy Munchie Teeny Tail on a gold Fat Boy jig can be powerful medicine when the counterclockwise perch tornado comes swirling your way.

When the fish decide to eat you had better be ready. Two minutes after the first bite you'll be staring on a featureless lake bottom with one of the brethren fifty yards away raising his arm in triumph at an active bite. Spend all day on the ice and you may come away with a nice mess…if some sub-surface anomaly presents a feeding opportunity simply too good to pass up for an hour or so.

Most days you can expect to leave the ice with perhaps six or eight perch which stumbled into your hook one or two at a time when the perch herd thundered quietly under you ever-freezing hole.

Pike fishing is a little more enjoyable up on Lake Puckaway. At least when fishing with buddies who bring a wealth of tailgating supplies left over from the Packer's post season non-appearance. Pike fishing is usually best between 10 a.m.-2 pm on a sunny day, with tip-up flags popping up at a slightly better frequency than experienced in finding a winner in a wad of scratch-off lottery tickets. For many this activity is little more than lame justification for a precursor to happy hour. But it certainly beats sitting at home.

Walleye and bluegill anglers face shorter periods of frustration in a bite which typically occurs for a short 30 minutes at dawn and again at dusk. It takes longer to drive to Madison and walk out on Mendota's University Bay than time on the ice when you have reasonable expectations for getting your string stretched by a bluegill.

Better to take the tailgate party mentality to Lake Koshkonong where walleyes aren't overly active…but can bite at any time. The walleye population on Koshkonong is in better shape than most folks can ever remember, with more big 'eyes in the system than we've seen since the winter of '87. Youngest daughter Emily was scarcely out of diapers then. I tried to keep her occupied with a jigging stick over the junkpile with a nebulous promise of a crappie while watching for a flag a little further out in the bay. She asked if crappies were bigger than walleyes. When told "not usually" she replied "I would rather not catch big fish than not catch little fish". A single tip-up was baited with a fathead minnow and designated hers, and hers alone. We got one flag that day. A 22-inch walleye. Twenty years ago this month. The bite may be tough now, but the potential for lifetime memories is still out there on the mid-winter ice.

Author Ted Peck
Ted Peck
Cap'n Ted Peck has over 30 yrs. guiding experience, specializing in multi-species fishing on Pool 9-10 of the Mississippi from Genoa, Wi. to Prairie du Chien. Cap'n Ted is a pro staffer for Lund, Northland Tackle, MinnKota, Bill Lewis Lures, Evinrude, Uncle Josh, HT Enterprises and Custom Jigs & Spins. When not guiding Cap'n Ted communicates the outdoors experience via newspapers, magazines, TV, radio and through seminars. This work has taken him all over the midwest, Canada and beyond... but he always returns to the upper Mississippi which he considers the most diverse fishery in North America. Click here for more info on Ted's guide service. Cap'n Ted's new book Mississippi Musings with the Old Guide is a personal account of his long career as a professional fishing guide on Old Man River.