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Hard-water Whopper Walleye Part 2; Excursion time.

First ice on the Red River offers some great action if you’re willing to be patient. In part 1 I talked about bait selection, depth, tackle, and the importance of having a sonar. Now it’s time to put all those to use. So get some fathead minnows, small suckers, XXL size suckers and let’s go fishing!

Home Sweet Home-
Home base for me is my Frabill Guardian. Inside you’ll find me sitting on the left side (force of habit from my dad making me sit on the right side of the hut all those years) nice and cozy, holding a heavy duty rod with a ½ ounce swimming lure tipped with a minnow head. If I’m running and gunning chances are I’ll have a dead-stick in the rod holder next to me with a treble hook (and either 2 fatheads or a small sucker) under a bobber.

If I decide to “camp out” in an area, I’ll replace the dead-stick with a Frabill Thermal Tip-up. This allows me to concentrate on fishing for “numbers” in the hut, and “Sumos” farther away from the hut. Let’s go back to the bait selection for a moment.

Bigger is Better-
You’ll want to have a good sized sucker minnow under your tip-up. I like to have my hut placed over 7 feet and enjoy catching Goldeye, Sauger, and a few random Pike. While that’s fun and all, when the Frabill Arctic Siren goes off from my tip-up (that I set in 4 feet of water) the “Oh…….My……GOSH” kicks in and I know when I see the spindle going 100 mph it can only mean one thing and that’s a Whopper Walleye (typically 6 to 10 pounds.)

Sometimes it’s a battle in itself when dealing with big suckers tripping your flag. I like to give them a knock over the head so they’re stunned enough to still flick their tail back and forth, but not quite enough to kill them. Also, despite the fact that you’re in shallow water, you still need a good amount of weight. Investing in larger size split-shots is a good idea and you can add as necessary.

Inside the Hut-
I’m on the fence when it comes to what setup I prefer to land the big ones on. On one hand I like “knocking the hut over” in attempts to make it to the tip-up as fast as possible (I’ve been known to take a swan dive out the zipper door and a summersault onto the snow/ice) but I also love the initial hook-set after looking at the large “blip” on the sonar and waiting for it to hit, then the 3 or 4 heavy head-shakes followed by drag peeling out. This is where I get dis-organized. Whether I’m too lazy to put out a tip-up, or it’s too cold, etc, sometimes I’ll stay in the hut. Since I (among many other anglers) love nothing more than holding or heck, even just SEEING a Sumo Greenback I’m always prepared to fish for them in the comfort of the shack. Now that I’ve talked about different bait and bait sizes, it’s time to talk about WHEN to use them.

The Sonar-
Forgive me if I sound like a broken record but after the first few minutes of being set up and fishing, the first sign of fish is going to dicate how often you’ll be changing up rods, and how often you’ll be dunking the minnow scooper. That big red glow on the flasher really gets my blood boiling.

If a fish comes within inches of my fathead and plain jig that I’m slamming the Goldeye and Sauger on but goes away just as fast as it came, that’s when I know it’s time to reel up and grab the rod with a good size treble hook and a small or medium size sucker & bobber combo, get it down there ASAP, say a few Hail Mary’s, and wait for it to come back.

What I’m hoping for of course is to see the bobber lay on its’ side, and then disappear under the ice. That doesn’t always happen though and that means it’s time yet again to reel up the line, grab the rod I have rigged with a large jig (like a Northland Airplane jig) and maybe a bigger sucker minnow with the stinger hook through its’ tail. Rest assured the big girl will come back.

Where there’s Sauger, there’s Walleye-
I think the reason I have such a passion for Sauger is they can, and often do, take baits that are just as big as they are. A 5 inch sucker minnow hooked with a treble through the dorsal fin is no match for any sauger in the Red River. The only problem with “connecting” with that particular set-up is having the confidence to set the hook.

A person may have to allow a little extra time to chew on it, and that’s something I don’t like to do. Conservation on a fishery like the Red is very important, and mortality rates double in situations like that (letting the fish take the bait for an extended period of time) which is why I prefer to use a different presentation (something I can set the hook with immediately after I’ve had a strike.)

Slow and steady is the method I prefer. A lift, fall, hold is the best way to entice a Red River Walleye into biting. Sometimes a nod or a jiggle can be thrown into the mix to trigger the less aggressive fish. Granted this is stuff you should know but it truly is the highest percentage presentation you can use, especially when jigging a ½ ounce jig-head with a larger size sucker minnow. So, as you can see you don’t need to invest too much money into your tackle to have a great ice fishing season on the Red River. If you follow some of the tactics I’ve talked about I can guarantee you’ll have more success than ever before and probably turn into a “river rat” like myself. Good luck this Winter and please be safe.

About the Author
Captain Josh Burgett is a multi-species Red River angler whose specialty is trophy-class Walleye and Channel Catfish in the Grand Forks area. Contact Josh by emailing 

Posted By: ,
Posted On: 01/09/2012 12:42 PM
1664 Views, 3 Comments

Tags: rsquo, time, walleye, red, part, river, whopper, bait, hard-water, excursion
More Tags: Red River, tackle, Home Sweet Home, Author, ounce jig-head, Captain, minnow head,
Region: North Dakota

Categories: Fishing > Ice Fishing
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Comments on this Article


Joined: 06/09/2007
Location: AK, USA
by on 01/10/2012 08:44 AM | Reply #1 "Quote" | "Quick Reply" |


Ice fishermen are simple creatures, they just need a hole and their pole


Joined: 01/27/2009
Location: MN, USA
by on 01/11/2012 12:52 PM | Reply #2 "Quote" | "Quick Reply" |
River Rat I like it, do you think its safe to go out on the red yet our should i wait, live in the grand forks area and would like to try fish north of town.


Joined: 06/09/2007
Location: AK, USA
by on 01/11/2012 1:21 PM | Reply #3 "Quote" | "Quick Reply" |
redriverrat18 Said:
River Rat I like it, do you think its safe to go out on the red yet our should i wait, live in the grand forks area and would like to try fish north of town.

If you are careful and know what you are doing you can get on and fish.  I fished last week on 16-17" of ice.  The channel is still wide open in many places though.  We fished close to shore and steered clear of the channel.  We checked the area we fished in with an ice bar and stayed in the area we knew was safe.  Hopefully this cold gets some more ice forming!  Good luck to you!!!


Ice fishermen are simple creatures, they just need a hole and their pole

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