Just like throughout the summer months, active walleyes throughout a variety of lakes can be found all day long in water less than 10 ft. deep lounging and eating in large weed beds—even throughout the mid-day hours!
One of my favorite patterns is hole hopping for shallow junk weed walleyes. This pattern can hold through January and February depending on oxygen levels, weed life span, and fishing pressure. The notion that suddenly when the lakes freeze over the walleyes head for deep water and can only be caught on a rattle reel at night couldn’t be farther from the truth!
Large, shallow, and expansive weed beds (5-12 ft deep) that have a deep edge that plunges into deeper water (20-40ft) via a moderately steep break is what I look for. A good mix of many different weed types is great—coon tail, cabbage, milfoil, and the other unidentifiable weeds are perfect (kinda like when your pheasant hunting)—whatever holds the baitfish on the lake your fishing will do the job! Many anglers ignore the “junk weed” mix combinations due to the fish only like “cabbage” weed type hype—mistake. I think it’s a conspiracy to keep anglers out of perfectly good “junk weed” fish-holding areas.
It is much easier to pay attention to the best weed beds when you’re still in the boat fishing. Certain weed beds will hold fish all year ‘round, so if the weed bed produces fish throughout the summer months there is a good chance the same weed bed will be pushing fish out of a hole when it’s frozen. If I drop a coordinate (which I rarely do) when fishing in the boat it’s probably going to be used during the upcoming winter season. I really like to “outline” the weed bed with the Humminbird Helix and save the trail so I have a perfect picture of the size/shape of the weed bed with me when I start jigging’ junk weed process ( I mount the Helix on the four-wheeler and then in my truck for Navigation purposes).
Try to locate a weed edge (created by thin weeds, sand hole/gravel patch, etc.) within the weed bed itself. This is where your pinpoint location/scouting in the boat comes in handy. Shooting through the ice with the Vexilar and actually “marking” the weeds can help speed up the actual junk weed location process if you are starting from scratch. An Aqua view camera can also help in this process to verify the health of the weeds (brown dead weeds should be avoided) and the presence of baitfish (the baby crappies/’gills/ etc.). Remember, no food—no fish!
I like to fish the junk weeds starting at the break to deep water to about 200 yards up into the weed flat towards the shore. Better yet—75 yards. And do not forget about the inside weed edge that could be in that 5-8 ft. range on the shore side of the weed bed. The inside weed edge is often overlooked by anglers simply due to the fact that the deep weed edge gets all the press. Blanket 2 areas with a couple of dozen holes and start fishing. Once an area has been located that tends to have more action, take close observations as to why that might be. Check the exact depth, bottom content, actual weed mixture, etc. so you know exactly what to look for “copy” throughout the rest of the weed beds in the lake throughout the day.
Classic hard water presentations are all that is needed. Typically these shallow fish are actively feeding so I tend to lean towards quick fishing swim/jigging baits like the JB Weasel Glow Bones spoon, Northland Buckshot Spoon. Northland Puppet Minnows and classic Jigging Rapalas are also in my wheelhouse. And since two lines can be used, I will set a tip-up (dead stick) as well. Match the hatch with the colors.
Colors that mimic young of the year crappies (black/silver/white/purple), bluegills (light green, white, brown, gold) or perch (light yellow, white, light green, gold, black) will do the job in 90% of situations. The bright colors are pulled out if the water quality is poor/dingy. No matter what the bait of choice is, make sure it is within 12” or less off of the bottom.
I tend to start to work the baits starting at 4” off the bottom and roam up to around a foot—or whatever depth the Vexilar is telling me the fish are “coming through” at. I tip the jigging baits with a small fresh minnow head (crappie/fathead minnow) so the weight of the minnow head doesn’t ruin the swimming action of the jigging bait. The swimbaits/spoons are fairly small (1/8 oz.) so it does not work well if you put a huge minnow head-on for scent. The same applies to clean weed-free deep water spots by the way!
Winter junk weed walleyes. Summer junk weed walleyes. Same thing–ya just gotta wear more clothes! Add it to your winter arsenal of fishing tactics and have some fun!