Jason Mitchell: Night Shift Walleye

By Jason Mitchell pf Jason Mitchell Outdoors

Jason Mitchell 11.3Not all bodies of water offer solid after dark fishing opportunities for walleye but there are so many notable fisheries where we have traditionally caught the majority of fish or sometimes the largest fish long after the witching hour when the sun sinks into the horizon. On many bodies of water, the best walleye fishing happens after dark. From Montana’s Fort Peck Reservoir to the Finger Lakes of New York with a long list of fisheries in between these two destinations, the night shift is where it is at for catching walleye through the ice.

I cut my teeth with after dark walleye fishing on the east end of Lake Sakakawea and nearby Lake Audubon, both large impoundments created by the damming of the Missouri River in western North Dakota. Each of these two lakes offered their own personalities despite the close proximity. We often caught eighty percent of our fish on Sakakawea for example during a window that occurred between one and two hours after dark. On nearby Lake Audubon, the fish would often bite sporadically all night long with action that could keep us moving all through the night. I have been on Red Lake and Mille Lacs Lake several times where the best action occurred between midnight and four in the morning.

Most fish that get caught during the dark of night often get caught in hard-sided fish houses with rattle reels. I have always loved the possibility of catching a fish while I slept. Rattle reels combined with live bait is a simple and effective presentation that no doubt works but you can dramatically see an uptick in your vampire walleye game with a little bit of hustle.

Tip ups can be an important tool for after dark walleye missions. Think of tip ups as not only a very effective fish catching device that you can use to cover a location but also your walleye radar. By covering a spot with tip ups, you know when and where fish move up on a particular location. Always been a big fan of the classic Beaver Dam design, opting for the heavier twenty or thirty pound Dacron for the primary line as the larger diameter rolls off the spool nicer with less resistance. Below the Dacron, I typically attach a small barrel swivel and a leader of ten-pound fluorocarbon. I have used small trebles and multiple treble quick strike rigs that used multiple hooks with some success but have really started to favor a single kahl style hook as the larger gap seems to keep larger chubs and minnows hooked up longer versus the smaller gaps found on small treble hooks.

Big strong minnows are the ticket where we have often used minnows as long as seven inches, sometimes larger. The challenge with the larger minnows is that you have to keep them in the strike zone. If you anchor the minnow down with too much lead in the form of a rubber core sinker or split shot, the tip up is more apt to trip from the minnow and than you have to use a heavier trip setting. What I like to do is use the bare minimum to keep the minnow near the bottom and pinch off much of the fin on the tail so that the minnow can still swim but doesn’t have as much horsepower to swim out of the strike zone. Another thing I like to do is take some electrical tape and wrap some tape around where the line guide is attached to the rod next to the spool so that the minnow can’t swim off line by rolling the line guide around the spool. Big minnows can peel off a lot of line without ever tripping the flag by just swimming in a big circle counter to the direction that the line is spooled on the tip up.

Jigging lures has caught a lot of fish for me after dark and can be much more explosive than tip ups with the number of fish you can catch in a very small window of time. While you can jig all night long if you want to, a top strategy is to let the tip ups tell you where and when to jig. When flags start to pop in an area, bounce around and jig open holes. This classic one-two punch combines two complimentary but drastically different styles of presentations and optimizes each.

When it comes to jigging walleyes after dark, the best color I have found bar none is glow in the dark. Since we started using some of the first phosphorescent jigging spoons over twenty five years ago, there is no doubt in my mind that we get bit more when using lures that glow when targeting fish after dark.

A new spoon that really opened my eyes this past season when testing some of the early prototypes is the new Clam Rattling Blade Spoon. This particular spoon is unique because it features a pyrex-glass chamber that amplifies the noise much more than traditional brass. The BBs are stainless steel instead of lead so the BBs retain their circular shape better and offer a louder and more consistent rattle with less effort. I love rattle spoons and rattle baits for after dark walleyes and the glow paint used on the Clam Tackle is some of the best available in commercially made tackle.

For really charging a glow in the dark lure, nothing I have found beats a UV light charger. The glow lasts longer and is much brighter. Another tip for jigging after dark is to work slightly higher than you would during the day. If most of the fish come through from one to two feet off the bottom, don’t be afraid to work the water column say four to five feet above. This zone is often the big fish zone particularly after dark.

Bite indicators, hole covers and tip up lights are also great tools for the after dark walleye angler. While tip ups require some patience, don’t get complacent. Check baits, clean holes and move tip ups around… stay active with the tip ups until they start to fire. When a school of fish comes through, pick up a jigging rod and go to work. This tip up first, jig rod second component of the strategy seems to make my after dark fishing more successful. Typically, when fish move up on reefs and other structure after dark, they do so to eat. Can’t tell you how many times, seemingly one fish would hit every tip up until we eventually caught it… I dare say that because after about the fourth flag, we finally caught a fish that still had the minnows from other tip ups still in its mouth or gullet. We have also been blitzed where every single tip up would get hit in a short amount of time as a school of fish moves through. Flurries best describes the action where you can sit for an hour or two and than the dams break loose where there are fish flopping all over the ice.

After dark walleye bites often offer solid opportunities and sometimes the best opportunities on many bodies of water for not only catching numbers of fish but also some of the biggest fish. You can realistically double or even triple the amount of fish you touch by working the graveyard shift on many bodies of water.



Jason Mitchell: Panoramic Panfish

By Jason Mitchell of Jason Mitchell Outdoors


There can be some surprisingly solid fishing for panfish on lakes and reservoirs that might lack the classic weed growth. From an ice angling perspective, good weeds in the wintertime often correlates with good water visibility. Poor water visibility, turbidity or exposure to strong winds might create panfish water that might offer at least shallow weed beds during the summer but by winter, most of the weed bed is down.

There are also some reservoirs particularly in the Great Plains States built to provide irrigation and the drawdown prohibits good weed growth from ever developing. Many anglers mistakenly believe that most great panfish water has good aquatic vegetation but that is not always the case and lakes that are devoid of any aquatic vegetation often require completely different strategies.

In some ways, water that lacks the classic weed cover can be easier to fish because the fish often concentrate on what cover is present. Some reservoirs have submerged timber that can hold fish. As a general rule of thumb, many flowages, reservoirs and natural lakes that don’t have good weed growth often have submerged brush piles or cribs that attract fish. Some of this fish habitat planted by State Agencies actually has GPS coordinates available to the public. The legality of planting brush piles and tree clippings varies from state to state but even on water where it is illegal to plant fish attracting cover, brush piles and cinder blocks miraculously show up on the bottom of some lakes. Typically, this man made structure becomes a lot more attractive to fish if the water lacks natural existing cover.

If you can find these locations and fish them through the ice, there is usually no shortage of fish. The toughest aspect of catching fish in these environments is finding these locations. Perhaps the easiest way to find these locations fast is to run the water during the summer with side scanning. Sunken trees, man made brush piles, cribs and any other cover that can hold fish shows up fast with side scanning. Mark waypoints and return when the water freezes.

phoneFinding these locations on the ice however can be much more daunting. If water visibility allows, this is a scenario where underwater cameras like the Vexilar Fish Phone can shine. The Fish Phone is an underwater camera that uses your iPhone or Android for the display and is an easy and cheap way to view effectively underwater with recording options.

Typically, good spots hold good fish in that brush piles, cribs and fallen trees that have a lot of branches, variations and size hold more fish and larger fish. Good spots are relative in that we have seen what looked like fifty or more crappie holding next to one single branch coming off a tree lying on the bottom. That particular scenario had a barren lake bottom that was virtually void of any cover. Water that has more options typically gives the fish more choices and fish have a way of finding the best locations.

Even on a single brush pile, there will often be a sweet spot that really seems to attract the fish. Might be a spot where the branches are higher or denser or could simply be the side of the brush pile facing deeper water.

From my own experiences fishing these types of locations, this is not always a situation where you run and gun hitting several spots but you do often have to drill several holes to get positioned over the spot perfectly and again the best way to do this is by using an underwater camera.

Often, what we find is that these locations will recharge very well if you are alone on the location. That is… set up over the sweet spot and let the fish come to you. You initially catch the fish that are living right below you and new fish seem to set up on the spot to take the place of the fish that were caught.

Because you are stationary over a key location, the location itself is almost surgical. You have to spend some time to figure out where to drill a hole in the exact right spot and than wait out fish movements… a perfect scenario to camp out for longer periods of time with a Fish Trap and underwater camera.

The disadvantage of a camera for ice fishing is that they take longer to set up compared to just dropping a transducer down the hole and sending your lure down. You have to commit to a spot somewhat because of this extra time but this type of scenario is where the camera can give you a huge advantage because you can watch how fish respond to your presentation much more distinctly and you can sort fish more effectively.

On lakes, reservoirs and flow-ages that are devoid of weed growth or don’t offer ample flooded or submerged timber to hold panfish, taking the time to find other cover options can pay off huge dividends. Of course these more barren environments can see fish patterns over soft basins, main lake structure, the sides of creek channels and even rock, any type of cover is a fish magnet in these particular ecosystems when the target is bluegill or crappie. The effort to discover these types of locations is time well spent.



Fall Fishing: Trolling Crankbait

By Jason Mitchell of Jason Mitchell Outdoors


The advantage of trolling crankbaits for walleye is twofold.  You can cover a lot of water and swipe through large areas and you can also trigger fish that might not respond to some slower and subtler presentations.  On so many bodies of water, we see a transition that gains intensity as fall transcends into summer where crankbaits seem to trigger more fish especially if you are looking for big fish.

Crankbaits are not the answer for every situation but trolling hard baits shine whenever the locations get big.  Basins are an obviously big locations but so are a lot of the contours and locations that hold fish each fall.  The first step I like to do when attempting to dial in a trolling strategy is identify the end zones.  That is how much of a field are you working with.  How long or how big is the location where there are fish.  If the contour basically stays the same for three hundred yards, that is my trolling run.  Establishing the end zones is important because that way you can identify exactly what your trolling run is and keep your baits in the zone.

Some anglers approach trolling with a level of randomness where they put on a lot of miles without a strategy.  Yes you can catch fish sometimes where you don’t expect them and sometimes you just have to spend some time with your electronics and map chip to really figure out what types of locations are attracting fish but once you get that general information as to what types of spots are holding fish, attempt to spend all of your time in those spots.  When you get to the end of the good looking water and the contour flattens out or the bottom composition changes to something that hasn’t been holding fish, you are at one end zone and you need to turn around and go back up the field until you find the other end zone.  Once you figure out the end zones on a location, hustle to keep your lures working properly over that spot.

Trolling locations and big fish locations can be fleeting in the fall and some of that I believe can be attributed to the forage at that time of the year where fish are often pulling out over open water and also targeting larger forage as young of the year bait fish grow up.  Come fall, it takes fewer perch or tullibees to make a meal.  The reality is that on most healthy ecosystems, fish are not always eating.  Sometimes they are full and don’t want to eat.  Fish that are looking for a meal make you look better than fish that just got done with a meal.  With so many fall trolling patterns, there is often power in repetition in that it often takes a few laps up and down the field to find a rhythm.  A mistake I have made more times than I care to admit is not giving a location enough time if I know that there are fish around.  Unless you get lucky and hit things just right, you often cannot make just one pass and leave.  You also cannot die on a spot all day and never change locations either so use your watch to manage your time.  Good spots often require an hour, sometimes more.  By using the element of time and abiding by parameters marked with time, you can be both strategic and methodical and that equation to the overall strategy might be most important.  Late summer and fall trolling patterns often require a certain level of patience because the windows where fish move up and down on locations seems more marked at this time of the year.

04222186852_FThe author Jason Mitchell with a walleye caught trolling a Salmo Bullhead SDR.  Fall trolling patterns can produce some of the largest walleye of the season.

Another rule of thumb for catching fall walleyes by trolling crankbaits is that the fish seem to like larger lures in the fall compared to earlier in the year.  Unless I am fishing over the tops of weeds behind the boat in shallow water, I am often running larger deep diving lures behind the boat even when fishing in water less than fifteen feet.  I cannot tell you how many big fish I have caught by running a larger billed lure that could run as deep as thirty feet and putting that lure out behind the boat on a short amount of line in say ten feet of water.  In the fall especially, big fish just seem to love that harder vibration where the lure is moving more water.  Here is something else I believe happens when you run a deep diving bait right behind the boat before it plateaus on it’s dive curve.  The bill seems to run down and the tail runs up where the bait moves through the water in a more vertical position and this posture of the bait seems to move more water and offer a larger target for fish that approach the lure from behind.

With this information on changing the posture of the lure by where the lure is at on its dive curve, you can manipulate this posture over more varied depths with lead core and snap weights.  There are a few lures you can use to hit twenty seven feet for example on 150 feet of line but when a lure plateaus on the dive curve, the lure will flatten out and some days the fish want the lure running this way but so often in the fall, the fish really like a the lure to run more tail up and you can often get a lure to look tail up by running that lure on shorter amounts of line with lead core and snap weights.  As a general rule of thumb, I feel like I catch more fish in the fall by keeping the lure as close to the boat as possible so that the lure is not reaching the bottom of its dive curve and if I have to go deeper than that, I use lead core and snap weights… literally.

Both lead core and snap weights have advantages.  I love how lead core snakes behind the boat and follows contours.  I hate how long it takes to let out.  I feel like I need more room to use lead core.  I like how snap weights can take you down into the strike zone so fast, the set up time in immediate.  What I often do in the fall is clip a snap weight onto my lead core just above my leader.  Some of the characteristics of lead core get compromised by adding a snap weight but the advantages often outweigh the disadvantages in that set up time is faster and I can keep the lures much closer to the boat.

Taking this lead core snap weight combo system one step further, by using slightly lighter weights on the back rods versus the rods that are on the sides or in front, I can stagger the lures and stack the lures behind the boat in a fairly tight formation.  During the fall especially, this little trick can be deadly.  Four lures running close together have an entirely different triggering quality that is hard to describe or quantify but it works so well at times especially during the late summer and fall.  I speculate that one lure might simply turn a fish or perhaps arouse a fish but they don’t turn on the jets and run it down.  When the second, third and fourth lures come rumbling by, the fish is somewhat already aroused and gives chase.  Sort of like beating a shallow fish over the head with several casts.  The other lures are your other casts.  Fall big fish patterns so often seem to be either off or on with the windows of activity pretty defined and short.  Running lures in a tight formation seems to scratch more fish when the fish are off.

If I had to pick one prime type of spot that produces big fish on natural lakes, it would be a nice run where there is some inside turns over a hard bottom that has a fairly fast break into deep water.  While sharp breaks might be everywhere, that harder bottom over deeper water is usually not so common.  Rock located in less than twenty feet of water can also hold big fish and those spots are often more abundant.  With side scan and down imaging, we can also analyze the shape of the rock as well and round rocks or boulders often hold more big fish than ledge rock or sand over deeper contours.  Every lake will have its own characteristics but identifying the right bottom composition is critical.  This overall strategy has produced some of the largest walleyes I catch each season and truly offers some of the best fishing each year for big fish.


Spinner Harness: Snake Rigging Walleye

By Jason Mitchell of Jason Mitchell Outdoors


Whether you are running a spread of planer boards on the Great Lakes or hitting a milk run of points with bottom bouncers on one of the Missouri River reservoirs, you would be hard pressed to find a more effective presentation than a spinner harness. The combination of vibration, flash and profile combined with the speed makes this classic walleye weapon so effective through the dog days of summer.

On the Great Lakes, anglers are often running spinner harnesses high in the water column with split shot or through the middle of the water column with trolling weights like Baitfish Trolling Weights or classic Bead Chain Keel Sinkers. On many inland bodies of water, three way rigs and bottom bouncers are often used to follow structure. Three ways more so in river systems or over basins and soft bottoms while bottom bouncers shine on rock, tight breaks, and sharp contours or along weeds.

Like many anglers, I started out relying on crawlers to tip many spinner harnesses. Crawlers can be fished through such a wide spectrum of speeds and what walleye can resist the squirming undulating action of a big fat crawler pulled through the water? Over the past ten years, like many anglers… my harness tipping has evolved to include a lot of soft plastic and pork crawlers.

My own personal evolution away from live bait began on torrid bites where I literally couldn’t have enough crawlers in the boat and soon realized that I could catch the same amount of fish tipping with soft plastics. Over time, my confidence in using soft plastic and water-soluble crawlers soared. Soft plastic tipping options for spinner harnesses were convenience in a bag, with no messy worm bedding or ice. There is a lot to like about not needing live bait.

I started out rigging the soft plastic crawlers just like I rigged the real counterparts. The front-hook ran through the nose of the crawler (with a little bit of slack line on the back hook) so that the worm would pull straight through the water. Over time, that evolved into the snake rig that I have had so much success with over the past few years.

With real night crawlers, it is important to have some slack between the front and back hook so that the crawler can roll straight through the water. If the line between the front hook and back hook is too tight, the crawler drags in a shape where the worm will often break and pull through the water unrealistic.

Soft plastics however offer much more possibilities for rigging and action. By keeping the line between the front and back hook tight and imparting a curve on to the soft plastic crawler or worm, the action changes and comes alive. This type of rigging requires a bit more speed, often between 1.7 to 2.2 miles per hour. With the curved worm and the faster speed, the harness begins to zigzag through the water in a very realistic action that looks like a snake swimming in the water, the snake rig.

I have had tremendous luck with this snake rigging from mid to late summer and especially so for larger walleye. I theorize that the zigzagging swimming action is more difficult for small fish to hone in on and catch with their smaller mouths where big fish don’t have an issue. This has been my go to weapon the past couple of summers when I need a big fish when using spinner harnesses. Bigger fish just like this particular action. With the right combination of speed and warp, the goal is to get the soft plastic to come alive in a seductive and realistic swimming action. Often necessary to run the snake rig next to the boat just to make sure that it is working properly.

This rigging tweak can help you catch bigger walleye this season or at least give you another very effective alternative to classic live bait options. When fish are really off or if the bite is such where you have to feed the fish or let the planer board fall back, the real night crawler often trumps everything. There are other bites however where the fish drag and choke up on the spinner and want the spinner moving faster. When the bite is good or excellent, soft plastics take over.

By hooking a soft plastic crawler with a little bit of slack between the front and back hook, you have an easy to hit target that moves straight through the water. This classic approach works many days. By just hooking the soft plastic worm with one hook in the nose, you create a fast fluttering action when the spinner is pulled through the water. By rigging the soft plastic worm with the snake rigging method where the worm is curved like a banana, the worm begins to swim behind the harness.

All of these rigging options have their place and I have seen days where each look is desired by fish. This season, experiment with these methods and vary your rigging to catch even more and bigger walleye.

The author’s “Snake Rigging” method curves or warps a soft plastic worm like the rig pictured so that the worm zigzags through the water at faster trolling speeds, an extremely effective technique for triggering big fish.

The author’s “Snake Rigging” method curves or warps a soft plastic worm like the rig pictured so that the worm zigzags through the water at faster trolling speeds, an extremely effective technique for triggering big fish.


The Midwest’s Top Walleye Water

By Jason Mitchell of Jason Mitchell Outdoors


The Midwest is ground zero for walleye fishing popularity. Midwesterners love their fish with the white tipped tails and luckily, there are several great walleye fishing destinations across the northern tier of the United States. Of course we couldn’t put every great walleye fishery on this list and the list is in no particular order. This list is nothing more than some top-notch fisheries that are fishing extremely well right now. Healthy fish populations, trophy fish potential and catch ability all factor into some of the best walleye water we have seen in our travels that in our opinion offer some of the best walleye fishing in the region.

Leech Lake, Minnesota

This massive natural lake in northern Minnesota has gotten a lot of attention in recent years for great walleye fishing but this lake just seems to get more solid each year. There are a lot of walleye in this lake with opportunities for both eater size fish and big fish. What is neat about this big lake is that you can fish so many different ways. From classic rigging and jigging presentations to lead core and swim baits, there is so much variety in this ecosystem that there are usually several solid patterns happing at once.


Lake Winnibigoshish, Minnesota

Another of the big natural lakes in northern Minnesota, Winnie has quietly developed into one of Minnesota’s best walleye lakes. Perhaps at the expense of the Lake’s renowned perch population, the walleye population is healthy and thriving. Fun shallow weed patterns occur through the summer as well as classic structure fishing over deep gravel bars.


Devils Lake, North Dakota

This now massive natural lake is now nearly 200,000 acres of water when you look at the entire lake basin and include Stump Lake. With high water and a decade and a half of incredible recruitment, this lake continues to live up to its stellar reputation as a top tier walleye fishery. Several shallow patterns emerge that are fun for anglers. Top tactics include pitching crank baits and soft plastic swim baits into shallow water along with classic bottom bouncer and spinner presentations along weed bed edges.


Bitter Lake, South Dakota

The Glacial Lakes Region of South Dakota is very similar to Devils Lake in terms of history and high water creating new fishing opportunities. Bitter Lake is now the largest lake in the region and offers tremendous fishing. Anglers enjoy casting jigs and crank baits along weed bed edges or run the contours with bottom bouncer and spinners. Within 60 miles of Bitter Lake however are countless small lakes that also offer tremendous fishing and some of the lakes no doubt offer as good of fishing as your going to find anywhere particular for numbers of fish.


Green Bay, Wisconsin

Probably the best fishery on the list for consistently producing trophy caliber fish. While some fisheries like the Western Basin of Lake Erie, Columbia River, Lake Winnipeg and Tobin Lake get a lot of attention for producing big fish. Green Bay often gets overlooked. Classic Great Lakes harness and board fishing tactics often shine through the summer with many small boat fishing opportunities on the right days.


Lake Sakakawea, North Dakota

This reservoir on the Missouri River in western North Dakota has been on the upswing in recent years and has several good year classes of fish. Extremely high amounts of forage have actually slowed fishing down over the past few years but there are a lot of walleyes in this lake and they have been well fed. This is more of an anticipatory pick as this cyclic lake by nature is due to really turn on and the stars are lining up. Anglers often focus on classic reservoir structure with live bait rigs, jigs and bottom bouncer and spinner presentations along with trolling crankbaits.


Kabetogama Lake, Minnesota

A classic Minnesota north woods fishing experience. With much of the lake located within Voyageurs National Forest, this mostly undeveloped lake offers that cool wilderness experience. Classic deep structure jigging and rigging tactics shine on this lake. Much like a Canadian Shield fishing experience, this lake is full of sixteen to twenty four inch walleye.


Lake Winnebago, Wisconsin

Really some of Wisconsin’s best inland walleye water. Great early season opportunities exist on the Wolf River but as the season progresses, much of the attention shifts back to the basin of Winnebago. Another lake with so many different patterns, walleyes can be found in shallow reeds and rocks or suspended out over the deeper basins.


Mississippi River Pool Four, Minnesota

We would rate this fishery right behind Green Bay for big fish potential on this list. Probably one of the best places in Minnesota for consistently finding fish over twenty-nine inches. A variety of fun patterns emerge including wing dams, trolling lead core and blade baits.


Lake of the Woods/ Rainy River, Minnesota

A very big lake with a huge population of walleyes. The Rainy River spring walleye run is one of the best fishing opportunities there is but what surprises some people are just how good the small boat opportunities are on the Rainy long after the crowds have left. Out on the big water, there are some phenomenal trolling bites that more recreational anglers are discovering with snap weights and lead core.


Missouri River, North Dakota

While the overall size of the fish has dropped off in recent years, the spring run up the Missouri River near Bismarck, North Dakota is still a walleye slug fest where anglers can sometimes score some big catches of walleyes with many fifteen to nineteen inch fish. Pitch jigs along shallow wood and sand bar current seams, slip jigs in faster water or pull crankbaits upstream.


All of these notable fisheries are top tier destinations that attract legions of anglers each season. A sampling of some of the Midwest’s top walleye fisheries but in no way is this a complete list of every great fishing opportunity. There are several smaller and more obscure fishing opportunities that fly under the radar and remember that a great day on a mediocre fishery is much better than a poor day on a great fishery. Is there a fishery we left off this list? Let us know what you think on the

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