Fishing for walleyes in cold, open waters | Outdoors – Watertown Public Opinion

After the subzero temperatures and the cold we’ve had, folks from throughout South Dakota, those that aren’t into hard water fishing, are looking forward to getting on the water and doing some open water fishing.

I hope that it won’t be long before winter makes its way toward spring, and if you’re not on the ice, as long as the Missouri River isn’t froze solid, there’s still a good opportunity to fish for late winter walleyes in the open water just below the Missouri River dams.

This type of fishing isn’t fast and furious, but for those anglers who have patience, and can handle some cold, it can be good fishing.

Every year, in the late fall, walleye and sauger make their way up river to be ready when the spring spawn kicks in.

Because this is when water temperatures are coldest, you have to understand how fish act in cold water and change your fishing method accordingly.

A fish’s metabolism slows down with the drop in water temperatures. They won’t move much, and because of this, don’t need much to eat and become very picky.

Everything in the walleye’s world has slowed down, as all fish are cold blooded, meaning that the amount of fish activity is directly related to the water temperatures, which means the fish’s metabolism will be down to a crawl. Cold weather walleye anglers will need to do the same with their fishing techniques.

Anglers will want to fish their baits as deliberate and slow as possible when it comes to cold-water angling. At times, it’s not a bad idea to allow your jig and minnow to drag along the bottom.

Unlike the warmer months of the year, when fish are active, in the winter, the fish have just finished pigging out, building up fast in preparation of the long cold winter months. When winter arrives, you’ll want to downsize your entire presentation.

This includes going with lighter line, from four to six-pound test depending on the area that you’re fishing and the bite.

This is the ideal time for jigs and live bait rigs presentations. It’s a good bet to use a smaller jig or live bait weight such as a 1/8 or 1/4 ounce as they are heavy enough to get down quickly, and because they don’t need much food, about the right size bait.

With the lighter line, you are able to fish a lighter jig and fish it properly, vertically. Tip your bait with a small minnow, or a scented jig body such as Berkley Gulp to give it the added scent and a little more movement.

Fish with a tight line, so that your line is straight up and down, vertically with little or no bow in your line, staying in contact with the bottom as much as possible. The more line you have out, the better your chances are to not detect a pick or bite.

During the winter months, when fishing open water below the dam, I use two rods; one is a dead stick rig, with a jig, Northland Roach rig or floating jig head tipped with minnows. The dead bait rod will be in a rod holder with the bait dragging along the bottom while I jig with my other pole, giving me two presentations, allowing the walleye to let me know what they want and once I find out, I’ll concentrate on that one presentation.

In the winter, when cold-water fishing, walleye and especially sauger are tail biters, grabbing onto the minnow’s tail and just holding on, and as you bring them to the top, opening their mouths letting go before you get them to the boat.

These short striking, tail biting fish will drive you nuts unless you add a stinger or trailer hook to your jig, which is no more than a short piece of mono or leader material hooked behind the jig.

As fish are in their slow mode, you don’t want to get into too big of a hurry when you feel a pick up.

It’s a good idea when fishing with both jigs and livebait rigs, once you feel weight on your line, to drop back on your rod, giving the fish an opportunity to inhale the bait, giving you a better chance when you set the hook of hooking them.

If you aren’t into ice fishing, and if there’s open water below the dams, it’s a good time to head to the river and to give cold-water walleye fishing a try.

Most of the fish you’ll catch will be the smaller more aggressive males, but if you catch a larger female and don’t plan on hanging her on your man or mom cave wall, release those larger females, as they are they are very susceptible this time of year.

The best eating walleyes are the smaller males, and by releasing the females it’s assuring that in the future there will be fish in the river to catch.

Gary Howey, a 1968 graduate of Watertown High School, now residing in Hartington, Neb. is a former tournament angler, fishing & hunting guide. Howey is an award winning writer, producer, photographer and broadcaster, selected and inducted into the “National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame” in 2017.


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