Ice-fishing Friday: Prairie reservoirs have killer walleye and pike action. Here’s how to catch these reservoir hawgs

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RESERVOIR PRESENTATIONS

The hardwater tackle you need for prairie reservoirs is inexpensive and straightforward. If you ice fish for pike or walleye anywhere else in the country, in fact, you probably already have everything you need. Hands down, a tip-up armed with a two-hook, quick-strike rig is the top producer.

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Given the frigid winter temperatures you’ll often encounter, I prefer insulated tip-ups such as Frabill’s Pro Thermal, which covers the hole and prevents it from freezing over. I recommend customizing your tip-up with bells as well as the flag to ensure you don’t miss a bite. Note: Since the water in prairie reservoirs is gin-clear and shallow, limit your movements on the ice and make as little noise as possible to avoid spooking the fish.

These big reservoir fish fight hard, and can run long distances, so I spool my tip-up with Mason’s braided nylon Tip-Up Ice Fishing Line, in 30-pound-test or stronger. For the quick-strike rig, I recommend using two size 4 Gamakatsu barbless treblehooks, though size 6 or 8 hooks are also an option.

Key gear includes a thermal tip-up, strong tip-up line and stout leaders

And since you’re dealing with toothy critters, tie on a stout 12-inch (or longer) leader, such as a 30-pound-test Berkley Steel-Lok Wire-Wound Leader, preferably black in colour. The bait choices are plentiful, but I’ve had great success using dead baits from the fish market or grocery store, such as herring and sardines. They’re big, but that’s just what it takes to tempt bites from these reservoir hawgs.

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Photo: Gibson Tilley

BONUS TIP: OPEN-WATER ACTION

Alberta reservoir-fishing expert Gibson Tilley says the action on Lake Newell and other similar waterbodies can also be great throughout the open-water season. During early spring after ice-out, some of the most productive places to catch pike and walleye are the spots where flowing water enters the lake, he says. Inside corners, points that extend into the main basin and gravel shoals are also good places to search for active fish. Just remember, the variations in structure are often more subtle in these man-made lakes.

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Another great place to probe for lunker pike and walleye in open water can be mudlines, or points of wave erosion along soft shorelines. Prevailing winds erode gravel shorelines where breaks occur, and the frequently changing water levels create step-like structures. Fish will hold near the mudline on these shoreline structures, using the structure and change in water clarity to ambush prey. Fish in these areas are usually active feeders, so try casting crankbaits, spoons, jigs or spinnerbaits into the darker water and retrieving them into the clear water.

Photo: Gibson Tilley

Once again, weeds can be much less prominent on man-made lakes, but you’ll still find weeds in the shallows. Small bays adjacent to the main basin of the reservoir are good holding locations for baitfish and, subsequently, predatory pike and walleye. When the spring season kicks off, the shallow water in these locations warms up first. Then as the season progresses, the bays will usually develop weed growth, providing great year-round cover for baitfish, which in turn pull in the larger predators.

Try trolling weedless lures around these locations, or fish a baited jig head under a slip bobber. These spots are so appealing they’ll hold fish all year long, except during the hottest weeks of summer when the big predators migrate to cooler water.