Big walleyes in cold wa­ter



The morn­ing be­gan for Brian Bros­dahl as most of his win­ter days do— drilling holes through the freshly frozen sur­face of a lake’s deep­est spot. Although he’d never seen this par­tic­u­lar lake be­fore, the fish-find­ing method­ol­ogy was sound. He con­tin­ued drilling from the 19-foot-deep basin back to­ward the weed line, and when Bros­dahl was fin­ished, he dropped his sonar in the first hole.

“It lit up like a Christ­mas tree with big crappies and bluegills,” says Bros­dahl.

“In golf, you would call that a hole in one,” he says. Soon, fish af­ter fish be­gan to hit the ice.

Nei­ther luck nor chance played a role in Bros­dahl’s suc­cess that day. It’s just part of his proven, al­most reg­i­mented hard-wa­ter strat­egy for find­ing and catch­ing big bluegills and crappies—one that week­end war­riors don’t quite ever fig­ure out.


“To find big pan­fish, you need to lo­cate a deep basin near their sum­mer weed beds,” ex­plains Bros­dahl. It is all part of a rather or­dered sea­sonal move­ment of fish—a mi­gra­tion to deeper wa­ter that be­gins in late sum­mer and con­tin­ues through early fall once the veg­e­ta­tion starts to die off or thin out. The fish re­main in these deep-wa­ter haunts through­out the win­ter. But not all deep-wa­ter basins are cre­ated equal. Hard bot­toms are gen­er­ally not rich in for­age, and silty lake beds are too soft. Mud is best—sticky mud that is com­posed of de­cay­ing mat­ter at­tracts in­ver­te­brates, such as blood­worms, zoo­plank­ton, mayfly lar­vae, and fresh­wa­ter shrimp. All of these crit­ters are food sources that will at­tract not only bait­fish, but also pan­fish.

Tech­nol­ogy can be help­ful if you are ex­plor­ing new wa­ters. Bros­dahl notes that an un­der­wa­ter cam­era, such as an Aquavu, al­lows you to look for blood­worm tubes. Turn the set­ting to in­frared and you can see lar­vae and shrimp dart­ing through the wa­ter col­umn. Both are good signs. At night he will use his flasher to look for a band of static ris­ing from the bot­tom, which in­di­cates in­ver­te­brates.

“If there are clouds of min­nows, key in on them,” he says. “Lots of min­nows means it’s a good place to be.”


Most an­glers think that find­ing the fish is the hard part; the catch­ing—at least as far as pan­fish are con­cerned—is sim­ple. Not so fast, says Bros­dahl, who warns an­glers not to blow the school up by drop­ping their bait into the fish. In­stead, he rec­om­mends fi­ness­ing the bait 1 to 2 feet above them. His fa­vorite bluegill and crap­pie lures are North­land’s Gill Get­ter, Mud­bug, and Tungsten Fire­ball Jigs in sizes 12 and 14. He will tip the jigs with North­land’s Im­pulse Skele­ton Min­now in Blood­worm Red.

“My jig­ging stroke is more of a ner­vous twitch,” says Bros­dahl. “Only the tail is mov­ing.” Ex­per­i­ment to get the twitch right. If you can get them to rise to your bait with­out spook­ing the school, it’s game on.

Early ice is the best ice for pan­fish. Weed beds and mud bot­toms are key.

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