Tommy Skarlis-USA Guest Author
If sitting on a frozen lake during the dead of winter isn’t your idea of fun, take the boat out of the shed and head to the closest hot-water discharge in search of big walleye.
A hot-water discharge is created from a power plant that produces hydroelectricity. Friction from the production of hydroelectricity warms the water, which is then dumped back into the water system. The hot water that is pumped into the fishery creates spring-like fishing conditions in an otherwise winter wonderland.
So, why do walleye cling near hot water discharges? Walleye are slaves to their stomachs and follow them to the nearest feeding hole. Hot-water discharges provide them with the ideal opportunity to score an easy meal on baitfish, which feed on the growing phytoplankton.
Not only is this area prime for a feeding frenzy, fish are more active when the temperatures stay warm. Long winters take their toll on walleye, but warming water temperature creates more active fish, which leads to more stimulated appetites.
Chasing walleye around hot-water discharges is not automatic by any means. It will take some searching for brushpiles, rip-rap, pilings or any type of cover that walleye can turn into an ambush point for baitfish.
Walleye spend little time looking for a spot on the open sea, opting instead for topographic changes around the discharges. They seek the confines of a ditch, points, drop-offs and potholes. These subtle changes in structure hold walleye and with electronics, are easy to find.
My tackle list is pretty simple for this fishing trip. The rod I use is a 6-feet, 6-inch, medium-fast Fenwick Elite Tech Walleye Jigging rod. This particular Fenwick rod is specifically designed for the pursuit of big walleye with a jig. When I am out on the water it is important to have a versatile rod that matches any given situation. For my reel selection I like the durability, smaller profile and performance of the Abu Garcia Soron spinning reel spooled with either 8-pound Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon line. You could also use FireLine Crystal and a fluorocarbon leader, and the Soron makes this easy to do. Thanks to the integrated, rubberized rings on the Soron’s spool, you can easily keep superline on this spinning reel without having to use backing line. The rings keep the line snug to the spool and prevent slipping.
While the all-fluorocarbon set up will give you the most sensitivity when detecting subtle bites – as well as the best fall on your jig – it can also be susceptible to the underwater structure around which you are targeting these big fish.
The benefits of heavy line while fishing around cover are obvious. Line strength, durability and knot strength all play a role in the fight to get fish into your boat. My superline of choice is Berkley FireLine Crystal with a 10-foot Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon leader attached. I like the long leader because it is easy to retie my jig heads, and I don’t waste my time retying leaders.
A jig tipped with a Gulp! Alive! Minnow is an ideal bait to target these warm water walleye. The size of jig used will depend on depth and current of the water. Heavier jigs – 1/2-ounce and heavier – will be used if current is fast or the depth around cover that is more than 10 feet deep. When fishing around any current, I try to let the current take my jig; then I work the jig slowly back to the boat. Smaller jigs – 1/4-ounce to 3/8-ounce – are used when fishing with a slow current.
The slow presentation of the jig allows the hot-water discharges current to disperse the Gulp! Alive! scent. Working the jig slowly near cover and structure changes can prove effective, but working the jig slowly back to the boat will be key. Once you have located a targeted area, throw the jig past your target and work the jig back. Make sure the entire targeted area is fished. The fish are in there, and it is up to you to pull them out of hiding.
Of all the great places to locate walleye, hot-water discharges remain as one of my favorites during the big freeze. An abundance of cover and structure can be located, and walleye hold in these areas. Forget the shack on the ice; get in a boat and head for hot water.