Published February 17, 2013, 06:35 AM

Don’t skimp on the gear when tackling Lake Winnipeg walleyes

One look through Jason Hamilton’s tackle boxes and it quickly becomes apparent what types of lures he prefers for Lake Winnipeg “greenback” walleyes.

By: Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald

One look through Jason Hamilton’s tackle boxes and it quickly becomes apparent what types of lures he prefers for Lake Winnipeg “greenback” walleyes.

Rattling lipless crankbaits such as the Lindy Darter figure prominently in Hamilton’s ice fishing arsenal. The lures’ rattle and wide profile helps “call in” walleyes that might be nearby. To entice the strike, he’ll often thread a minnow onto the front treble hook.

Jigging spoons, especially those that rattle, and blade baits that send a vibration through the water when jigged also work well, he says.

“Due to the nature of the lake, you’re not usually going to be drilling right on top of fish,” said Hamilton, of Winnipeg, a biologist for the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans and part-time ice fishing guide. “Those fish could be 50 feet away, and baits that make a lot of noise or vibration are great options for bringing those fish to you.”

If the walleyes are sluggish, Hamilton will drill a second hole nearby and rig a “dead-stick” rod with a jig and either a live or salted minnow.

This year, for whatever reason, the walleyes seem to be more finicky than usual, Hamilton said, so the dead-stick approach has worked well.

Hamilton also uses braided line on his reels, tying about a 2-foot monofilament leader and a small cross-lock to the end for quickly changing lures. Even though Lake Winnipeg has murky water, the mono leader reduces the risk of spooking fish.

Because of Lake Winnipeg’s potential for big walleyes, Hamilton also recommends beefing up the tackle.

“I really prefer and encourage a longer rod, something in the 36-inch range or longer,” he said. “That allows you to protect your line on big fish, and you don’t have to use real heavy line.”

Don’t skimp on the reels, Hamilton advises.

“You need a good-quality reel with a decent drag because the potential to have to handle big fish is always there,” he said. “Breaking off a fish to save $10 on a reel is not my recommendation.”

As March approaches, Hamilton said Lake Winnipeg walleyes will move toward the mouth of the Red River or any of the labyrinthine channels that form the river’s delta.

“You really see the fish congregating closer to the river mouth so we move closer and closer as March progresses,” Hamilton said. “We certainly get a lot more numbers of fish toward the end of March, but (February) seems to be better for big fish.”

Drill a lot of holes and don’t be afraid to set up in water as shallow as 5 feet.

Unlike Lake of the Woods and Devils Lake, which offer plowed roads, rental houses and numerous lodging options for wintertime anglers, the infrastructure on Lake Winnipeg is limited. South Beach Resort and Casino on Provincial Highway 59 on the east side of the lake is a popular choice, and hotel accommodations also are available in Selkirk and Gimli, Man.

“Certainly the tourism is becoming a huge impact” because of Lake Winnipeg, Hamilton said. “Unfortunately, I don’t see the province of Manitoba keeping up with the demand. It would be nice to see them be a little more proactive in promoting this. They’ve got a golden goose, so to speak, and have not really done a whole lot to make it easier for people to enjoy it.”

Dokken reports on outdoors. Call him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1148; or send email to