The week between Christmas and New Year’s is a popular time for people to take vacations or maybe get back to the Alexandria area to get on the ice for some fishing.

That timing works out perfectly because the bite during this period can be fantastic for anglers. That was the message that both Miltona’s Nate Leininger and Alexandria’s Joe Scegura shared as they looked forward to the end of the month.

“End of December has been historically my best ice fishing,” Leininger said. “That end of December and the first part of January can be great.”

Leininger guides anglers through his Lakes Area Guide Service. Scegura also takes clients out through his own guiding service. Both anglers go on more than 100 trips throughout the year on lakes mostly around the Douglas County area. They know these bodies of water well and both shared some tips on how they are going after walleyes and panfish this time of year.

Keep pressure low for walleyes

Leininger and Scegura were adamant about the same thing when it comes to being successful on walleyes through the ice right now. Find unpressured fish.

Nate Leininger of Miltona landed this nice walleye during an early-ice outing a few years back. Leininger said late December and into the early part of January has historically been the time period where he has had the best ice fishing year after year. (Contributed photo)
Nate Leininger of Miltona landed this nice walleye during an early-ice outing a few years back. Leininger said late December and into the early part of January has historically been the time period where he has had the best ice fishing year after year. (Contributed photo)

“I concentrate on lakes that don’t get a lot of pressure from other fisherman,” Leininger said. “I obviously make sure the ice is safe to travel on and whatnot, but that’s my main thing. I try to target unpressured fish. Smaller lakes in the area, but it can be on larger lakes too. Just in areas where I don’t see community fishing spots.”

Leininger is often targeting weed lines or rock edges in about 18-24 feet of water during the daytime hours before moving up shallower in the evenings. Buck-shot spoons and a minnow head have worked well for him. Leininger is also a big believer in how weather affects things.

“Consistent weather is key,” he said. “You get the high and low swings with these cold fronts, that can turn the bite off. If you get the consistent nice weather or consistent bad weather, as long as it’s consistent, in my experience that’s when you get the best fishing is after two to three days of consistent weather.”

Scegura lives by the importance of limiting pressure when it comes to finding success. He looks at walleyes like a hunter looks at targeting big bucks.

“They can hear so well,” Scegura said. “I think sunfish, crappies, bass, they don’t care nearly as much as walleyes. That’s why you have crappie towns and they’re very successful. The walleyes just don’t work that way. You just really need to realize they’re a different fish.”

Scegura’s approach goes much deeper than just getting away from community fishing spots. He is careful with his own setup, using a hand or electric auger if needed and getting to his spots hours before he expects the good bite to hit in order to get holes drilled and let things calm down.

“We go into an area and we don’t drill out a hundred holes and find fish,” he said. “On Mille Lacs or something like that, yeah cause you scare away 20, big deal. You know you’re close to the big school. Around here where you have average numbers, you don’t sit and drill and drill and drill. I think it’s all about locations.”

Scegura is hesitant to even use cameras to find walleyes in the winter.

“They do not like that camera down there,” he said.

Scegura relies much more on knowing these lakes and where fish want to be based on habitat through scouting areas with sonar in the fall.

“You need to have a little intel,” Scegura said. “A rock, weed point, try to find it in 12-18 feet of water. That seems to be my preference. These points or inside turns. I just look for breaks with weeds and rocks.

“Anywhere there was fish in the fall, I’ll put that on my list to go back to during early ice. You can learn more in two hours on a lake in the fall than you can drilling holes all winter long.”

When it comes to his presentation for walleyes, he prefers a more finesse approach. Scegura will use a jig and a minnow if the fish are really finicky

“Otherwise, Lindy Rattl’n Flyers are good and then Lindy Frostees,” he said. “The Frostees are nice because they drop really slow, like an eighth-ounce spoon with even a crappie minnow hooked through the back works really good. That’s probably one of my favorites. If they’re aggressive, I’ll use a Buck-shot spoon.”

A good bite again for crappies

The Alexandria area has been great for crappies in recent years, and both Leininger and Scegura have seen a similar pattern emerging this winter.

“For as many lakes as we’ve got around the area, there’s a lot of them with good crappie bites,” Leininger said. “If you just get out and fish, you’re going to find them.”

He uses tungsten jigs tipped with a waxworm for panfish within areas of green weed growth.

“Then it’s drilling multiple holes and using your graph to find fish fast,” Leininger said. “We’ll maybe hit 10 holes and not find a fish, and then the 15th hole you might find them.”

Scegura said the crappie bite in the area is already booming, similar to previous years.

“Last year, a lot of fish were 9.5 to 10.5 inches on a lot of lakes,” Scegura said. “That’s all just really good spawning years that created that. The other ones, the bigger size, were that 13-15 inch. There’s less and less of those every year. Right now, there’s just loads of 11-inch crappies. I work at the college now here and I’ve been seeing these kids bringing in bucket loads from all over the place.”

Scegura is looking for crappies this time of year on the edges of basins near weeds in 12-18 feet of water on most lakes.

“As we get later, the fish will be in the middle of those basins,” he said. “Right now, they’ll be right around the edge of that basin. If you put a little of that leg work in, you can really have some amazing fishing right now.”