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by Joel Nelson

It’s been a few years, but I’ve always been a big fan of full-moon fall trolling on the big lakes. What thermocline may have kept bait and ‘eyes out deeper all summer, gave way to incredible shallow water fishing come late October and November. What surprised me however, was just how many anglers had that full-moon fever bite going, and never re-connected with it come first ice. Those same fish didn’t make vast moves or change their feeding patterns too much. They were just under a few inches of ice now.


It’s that same mentality you need to take with you to the lake come first ice walleyes, especially from a location perspective. You’ll have plenty of time to pound off-shore reefs, deep mud, gravel bars, and rock piles. Early ice is the time for fishing right off of shore, just below or on the “first break.” By that, I mean simply that you should look for the first appreciable steep drop from shore, which could bottom out anywhere from 5 to 15 FOW. First ice walleyes love to cruise the bottom of these edges in search of food, and when you’ve got some weed cover, substrate change, or other features to target, the spot is all that much better.


Large, main-lake points are favorites no matter where you go, to focus feeding attention of hungry ‘eyes. They’re also angler magnets, so if you’re fishing pressured bodies of water, understand that you don’t always need to be on a prominent piece of structure to get it done. More and more, I’m looking for small areas of interest. A living-room sized patch of rock that doesn’t show up on the contour map, a quality weed-bed that’s more dense than the surrounding area, or even some hard-pan sand vs. nearby mud or muck. Often, that’s all it takes to gather some near-shore walleyes once the lakes freeze over.


Where most anglers miss out on the shallow water walleye bite, is that they fish it the way they would mid-winter walleyes in deeper parts of the lake. They ice troll across the shallow flats, scaring the very fish they seek. With fall trolling, we learned that there were nights where hundreds of feet of line behind the boat was what it took to get bit. The same walleyes that don’t love hanging tight in your main-motor wash, don’t appreciate lots of hole drilling and overhead traffic.

For that reason, it’s best to have a few dead-set approaches. While there are a few ways to skin that walleye, the two I employ are tip-ups and deadstick rods. Tip-ups for early ice eyes are a mainstay and have been around for forever, so there’s not much new under the sun here. Select some quality fluorocarbon line in or around 10lb test, select a good light wire live-bait hook, and rig up a small sucker or preferably shiner pegged with a sinker above the hook a few inches. Put that sinker closer to the bait if a lively sucker, or further for less lively minnow species. Set your tip-up on a very “light-trip” setting, preferably not under the notch unless needed for wind’s-sake. Then you wait.


Tip-ups are great, but do have their problems. Namely, fighting a fish hand-over-hand, especially if it’s a trophy. Dead-stick rods on simple rod-holders have been a great solution to that problem and more, while offering several advantages over the standard tip-up scenario. Why a specialized rod for this type of fishing? Mostly because a dead-stick is unlike any other ice rod. The action is extremely slow for half or better of the length of the rod, offering bite-detection and minnow-monitoring convenience. Then, a hard-wall on the blank that goes straight to very stiff backbone – perfect for setting the hook.


While dead-stick rods may tangle, any issues are usually seen quickly and above ice, rather than the below-water snarls that can happen on a tip-up without you knowing about it. More importantly, a quality dead-stick will telegraph every movement of the minnow, all while offering you immediate clues both during and after the bite. Set the rod in the holder, and watch your bait or several baits go to work.


Sometimes the fish will grab the bait and sit right below the hole, which is easily seen on a deadstick as it very slowly loads. That’s far less visible and harder to manage a hookset when that happens on a tip-up. I highly recommend bait-feeder reel designs for these rods, as with the flip of a switch, free-spool is offered to running walleyes. These quick runs are easy to detect for either tip-ups or dead-sticks, but the hookset and fight are usually superior on a dead-stick-setup.

Usually, I’ll either jig on the deeper side of the break and watch a deadstick rod right on it, or many times, simply put out the max number of lines I’m allowed in dead-sticks and wait. As with most things walleye, the bite is best early and late, but cloudy days can make for spurts of great fishing throughout. It’s a really fun way to fish if you’ve got a group of friends, as you can cover a long section of break, all while enjoying each other’s company until a rod goes off.


Just make sure to tend the set, just as you would a tip-up. Extreme cold weather doesn’t bode well for this type of fishing, but the good news is that first ice is typically pretty mild after that first blast of cold that locks everything up. Check your baits, make sure the hole isn’t icing up too badly, and more than anything, resist the urge to drill too many holes and stomp around throughout the day. These fish are sensitive to noise, as you may only be targeting them in 5-8FOW.


Especially when your panfish lakes aren’t locked up well, or you’ve got good walkable ice near-shore but not the whole way out, this is the way to go. Setup a few hours before dark, stake out your spot, and wait until some rods start bending or flags start flying.

Posted in 


An ice hater’s guide to ice fishing line

by Mike Schoonveld

When you find me sitting on a bucket next to a hole in the ice you know either the bite is right or I’ve run out of better things to do to give me an excuse to not go ice fishing. Even when the “fish are jumping out of the holes” I’ll probably pass if I can find something better enough to do.

But I do go ice fishing, mostly because where I live, once the deer seasons are over, my coyote traps are frozen solid, my guns are all cleaned, and my planned trip to south Texas is a month or more away. But just as in the “soft water” fishing season, I view the thin connection between my rod tip and hook – waiting to impale the next fish that swims under my hole – as very important.

I don’t have any particularly “favorite” brands, but I do shy away from non-brand name lines. Stren, Trilene, Suffix, Seaguar and plenty of other brands will reliably do the job. The cheapo brands you can find on eBay or Amazon will save you a few bucks and are reliably unreliable. I may not be an ice fishing fan, but when I do go I don’t want line failure to be another reason to dislike ice fishing even more.

Fluorocarbon is the one kind of line I use every time I ice fish, in every hole I drill, on every reel I own. I don’t spool the reel (or the tip-up) with fluorocarbon, but I have three feet of fluorocarbon leader between the main line and the hook or lure on every line. It never hurts to use a fluoro leader. It often helps.

Braided line comes in many sub-brands – four strand, eight-strand, fused and others – but all of them retain the main two attributes of braids. They are remarkably thin and have almost zero stretch. I use braided line on my ice gear as much as possible because these attributes allow me to get my hook down to the correct depth with less weight and allow me to detect subtle nibbles more easily. When ice fishing a “subtle” nip is about as aggressive as most of the fish under my hole ever get.

“As much as possible” suggests there’s time braid is impossible. It’s never impossible, but fishing braid on subfreezing days outside of a fish shelter is impractical, if not impossible. Water on the braided line freezes and the frozen line becomes all kinds of nasty to use. So when I’m going to be hole hopping or just making a quick trip and not fishing in a shanty or portable shelter, I use monofilament line. Instead of being nasty like braid, water-frozen mono is only a bit unfriendly.

The only thing left to decide for most ice fishermen is what strength of line to use and that depends mostly on what they hope to catch. Me, I have two things left to decide. I’ll need to decide what strength of line to use, but only if I can’t decide on any other outdoor activity better than going ice fishing!


Cookie's Red Lake Fishing Report


Going out with a hot bite for sure. The Wisconsin boys Paul and Evan teamed up with Jake and the boys Gabriel and Lakken figures they caught over 100 fish  . Jake ate fish cooked by westwind every evening. The second day with all of our fish Jake took 6 lbs of fish to get them cooked.
 The hammer and I spent two evenings having dinner in old minnesota  missing more fish then we caught.
 Sean, Chad,  Dave and Wyatt  ate fish in montana the first night. They packed up yesterday with a few more fresh fish to take home.
 As the season winds down we start looking for the elusive yet still catchable upper red lake crappie. We have me looking one way , johnny boy another.  Then jake going where no man has gone before. Were thinking the spot we have been looking is to infested with walleyes to find the mother load. Fun catching all these fish for sure. Then out of no ware a big old famous fish fools you at the hole. Its been a treat watching the hammer in action. I'm still having a hoot with the chubby darters. Now jake has challenged me to catch a elusive upper red lake crappie with one. I think if I have the right color it could be lites out.
 I have a idea where I want old minnesota sunday evning as the season ends. I'm  really hoping that spot pans out. Only time will tell but I may know by next monday morning? I might even have to break out the fish call .
 I set up Tim with his wheel housemonday .Yesterday if said he caught a fish all day about every half hour.
 We also set Ken and his buddy's up yesterday .They have 7 keepers so far. No crappies though. Pesky  bottom feeding walleyes.
 Time to get busy for the day as I again plan to wet a line at the bewitching hour with my fishing partner the hammer.
 We have california open this last weekend as well as another cancelation This time florida is wide open. She will be on a fresh spot also


High Banks On Lake Winnie Fishing Report

Updated Ice road map!!! Separate area designated for our reserved HWK guests.
More fishing reports.......16' - 20', but staying mobile is key and in as deep as 25' of water best action, perch, pike and walleye!
We have plowed ice roads, accepting trucks with wheel houses. Plowed spots for wheel houses to park. No reservations required. 16-18" of ice, 6" of snow. $15/day or $40/ 3 day pass.
Fatheads available for sale. Limited food carry out menu. Option for dine in now available, must comply with covid mandates. Extremely limited capacity.
High Banks Resort 218 246 2560



Northland Fishing Tackle® pro Brian “Bro” Brosdahl shares tackle tips to catch more panfish.
BEMIDJI, Minn. (December 8, 2020) – Anglers are starting to hit the ice with a bullseye on big bull bluegills, slab crappies and jumbo perch. To help you succeed, we talked with Northland pro Brian “Bro” Brosdahl about his top five panfish baits.

“Putting together a comprehensive panfish box with lots of options is critical,” says Bro. “You want some jigs with a fast rate of fall. Tungsten gets down and delivers bait in deeper water or situations where you’re in a hurry to get in front of the fish’s face. You also want traditional lead lures. Lead is easier to form, so you’ve got some cool shapes and slower fall rates. You also want minnow baits to round out the panfish collection.”

The first bait Bro makes sure is in his box is Northland’s Tungsten Punch™ Fly.

1. Punch Fly

The Tungsten Punch™ Fly is a buggy version of the Tungsten Punch™ Jig, yet offers many of the same benefits as its brother. With an increased weight-to-size ratio and rapid fall rate that’s 20% faster than traditional tungsten, this bait fishes fast and gets eaten faster. Invertebrates and suspended zooplankton are the preferred prey of many panfish species, and this jig stands out…but while fitting in. The lifelike larva hackle is a caddis and mayfly impostor, while an undulating soft hackle at the head of the jig mimics a breathing and swimming insect. A faster fall rate means quick-to-the-fish, getting a smaller jig deeper. Once a big bull or massive crappie eyes the Tungsten Punch™ Fly, simply kill or quiver it for a lifelike breathing hackle action. A premium wide-gap hook ensures quick hookups, too. The generously sized hook also provides ample room for rigging plastics or slathering with wax worms or maggots.

  • Tungsten bead head
  • Falls 20% faster than other tungsten bead heads
  • Wide gap hook for ultimate hooking percentage
  • Soft and chewy hackle wrap

“The Tungsten Punch Fly is a great lure for targeting big bluegills, jumbo perch and crappies because it resembles insect larvae coming out of the mud. It has lifelike hackles that resemble the cilia of insect life, and like its name says, it punches through slush and gets down fast. The Tungsten Punch Fly has a unique strong hook that buries itself in the roof of the fish’s mouth. There are match-the-hatch colors, and you can even add a maggot or a waxworm for added flavoring,” comments Bro.

Bro likes to drop it in and slowly jig all the way to the bottom. In ten feet of water, he’ll stop about five feet down and slowly work it to the bottom. “If the fish are aggressive, I’ll drop it fast on ‘em. But if they’re holding to the bottom and don’t come up to greet it as it’s dropping, then I’ll pound the bottom stirring up mud and that usually gets them going. Slow twitches are key. It’s imitating an insect. Subtle and long pauses work best. Read the behavior of the fish with your jig strokes. You can even add a minnow under a deadstick. Even for lethargic big bluegills, just slowly raising it and dropping it is the kicker. And holding the bait above them so it silhouettes can be key.”


  1. Bro Bling Jig

Designed by Bro and the Northland staff, Bro’s Bling Jig is built for jumbo panfish. Fish it with a mix of glides, pauses, shimmies and darting movements. Choose a variety of tippings, including scented softbaits like the IMPULSE® Water Flea and Skeleton Minnow, or any waxy-like live bait.

  • Over-sized bug eyes and realistic larvae body shape
  • Flash attracting blades alert fish to eat
  • Flat belly provokes swimming and darting action when jigged

“The Bro Bling Jig is a wide-bodied bait that falls fast, has a flat bottom so it scoots forward, a sticky-sharp hook, and comes in match-the-hatch colors. It also has a flicker blade—not a spinner blade because there’s no swivel—to flash the fish in. When fish get close, they smell the waxy or minnow and eat it. The Bro Bling Jig is great for getting down to the fish fast with a forward moving action due to its shape. I always like to say that the Bro Bling Jig blings them in! In ice fishing, we’re not casting out and reeling in to have a spinner spin. In ice fishing you want the refraction of light, you want flash, you want noise. And having a spinner hanging down looks like a fin. From a distance it really rings the dinner bell,” remarks Bro.

  1. Forage Minnow® Jig

The renowned Forage Minnow® Jig flashes and flutters up strikes from jumbo panfish. It produces an incredibly tempting minnow action with a variety of jig strokes when tipped with a minnow head or other live bait. It’s also equally effective deadsticking with a lightly hooked live minnow.

  • The country’s hottest minnow imitating jigging lure
  • Features a highly reflective “Holographic” Baitfish-Image® design that imitates game fishes’ most desired forage
  • Holographic 3-D eyes make this the most realistic looking minnow jig on the market

“The Forage Minnow Jig is cool because it is a lifelike copy of a real swimming shiner, fathead, little baby bluegill or crappie. With a jig-style hook, it’s great for tipping with waxworms, maggots, a minnow head or full minnow. You can use it on a deadstick, set-line, tip-up or cork line. You can also just jig it. Plus, when you jig it, the Forage Minnow Jig kicks, which draws fish in. For big panfish, it’s a deadly choice. It has quite a following with slab crappie catchers,” says Bro.

  1. Forage Minnow® Fry

The Forage Minnow® Fry mimics a juvenile panfish to tempt perch, sunfish and crappies. The flat body generates an erratic action when vertically jigged, while the extended hook shank is ideal for tipping with soft plastics such as the IMPULSE Zoo Plankton, which will be available soon.

  • Features a lifelike “holographic” Baitfish-Image® body
  • Flashes & flutters to imitate gamefishes’ most desired forage; a “young-of-the-year” minnow fry
  • Deadly on Perch, Sunfish, Crappie, Walleye & Trout

Bro comments, “In the world of ice fishing jigs, the Forage Minnow Fry is incredibly lifelike. It has a little bigger hook and is great for using a crappie minnow, a small fathead, or a couple wax worms. It looks like a swimming bluegill, shiner or crappie minnow. The Forage Minnow Fry matches-the-hatch and is deadly on big panfish. It features a holographic Baitfish-Image body, which is a tried and true pattern. It’s pretty much a no-brainer and a go-getter for big bluegills, crappies and perch.”

  1. Gill-Getter Jig

Don’t let the name fool you, the Gill-Getter® not only racks up big bluegills, but all other kinds of panfish as well. Its realistic SlabBelly® bug-shaped body responds well to rod twitches by darting, juking and spiraling like terrified prey. Tip with an IMPULSE® soft plastic or live bait.

  • Features a realistic “flat-belly” bug body
  • Bulging bug eyes & fish-scale glitter
  • For best results, tip with live bait or soft plastic tail

Bro always carries an ample supply of Gill-Getter Jigs. Bro comments, “The Gill-Getter is one of my all-time favorite ice jigs because it has a flat bottom, bulging eyes, mandible jaw and it’s tear-dropped shaped with a flatter taper like an invertebrate, tadpole, or emerging frog. Fish recognize the shape. It scoots as you jig it and drops down nose first. And the Gill-Getter has a see-saw fall to it. Add waxies, maggots, or a minnow for extra attraction. You’ve got match-the-hatch colors and a sticky sharp hook. It’s just a good all-around bait wherever you fish.”

Parting Words

As you’re assembling your panfish ice tackle boxes, take Bro’s recommendations to heart. When it comes to panfish experts, Bro has more time and experience on the ice than just about anyone and is happy to share what works for him. Whether you’re chasing big bull bluegills, slab crappies, or jumbo perch, we’re certain Bro’s top baits will produce for you!

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