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Chubby Darter Revolutionizing Winter Walleye Fishing

Chubby Darter Revolutionizing Winter Walleye Fishing
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hubby Darter Revolutionizing Winter Walleye Fishing

Walleye fishing is an evolution. Technology, strategies, information and the mental thought processing for catching fish continues to advance much like the world we live in. Some avenues of walleye fishing have advanced faster. Open water anglers have generally paved the way, leading to the revolutions that really changed walleye fishing for the masses.


The past twenty years have been quite a ride if you are a fish head. Most of you have probably ridden that ride, smelled it, breathed it. These days, the average fisherman is a pretty decent stick and most anglers are extremely versatile. This versatility is really the keystone for why anglers are so much better today. Look in most boats and you will find line counter reels, lead core line, rigging rods, jigging rods and a load of equipment for several applications and tactics. Now, when I think about how many people were really versatile say twenty years ago, the difference today is staggering. What happened? Somewhere along the line, many anglers got pushed or coaxed out of their comfort zone and took a step, trying something new and gaining confidence in what was new. The end result was a much more versatile and effective angler. Want to know what my mental hang up on walleye fishing was about fifteen years ago? Trying to catch fish without bait. In my younger days, I thought a person had to use bait to catch fish. A friend took me fishing and we caught several fish using crankbaits however and my thought process was changed forever. I evolved and am a much better angler today than I was in my youth because I am comfortable doing more things.

Right now, the same evolution is occurring on top of the ice. Walleye fanatics are applying much more than GPS and sonar technology. The versatility that has made so many anglers successful during the open water season is also going to blow the doors off of many of the traditional thoughts, attitudes and theories on how to catch walleye on a frozen body of water. Right now, some of the best walleye anglers in the ice belt are perfecting how to catch big fish and cover large expanses of water without the compliment of live bait or meat on the lure. No bait is hard to swallow for most ice fisherman but not as hard to swallow for fish, particular walleye.

Baits that seem to work well without bait seem to have one thing in common, a horizontal profile combined with vibration on the up or down stroke. Some of the new soft plastics from Storm fall into this category. Blade Baits like Heddon Sonars and Reef Runner Cicadas are classic lures that fish well without bait. The lure however that has opened the most eyes (no pun intended) is the Salmo Chubby Darter. In the right hands with the aid of a Vexilar or underwater camera, these baits come alive. The applications of the Chubby Darter seem to be much more extensive because the lure is so versatile. The Cubby Darter can handle so many different strokes and has all the right moves. Dare say that an angler can work a Chubby Darter in more ways than any other lure. In the end, working one of these lures is much like casting and reeling a crankbait or even trolling a crankbait. The analogies between using artificial baits for walleye under the ice and using crankbaits to catch walleye during the open water season are striking.

Aggressive fish are an obvious candidate but these baits also seem to have a knack for triggering big fish. Without the hassle of tipping, these baits are great for just dropping down the hole just to see if there is anybody home. Work a series of holes in fast order and you have the iceman’s version of a trolling pass. What is really fascinating to me however is how these baits seem to turn ordinary walleye into monsters. These same fish that would hit the traditional baits with the traditional “bite” would sometimes slam a Chubby Darter so hard you would feel the strike in your toes. You have to have pliers with you when you fish these baits because the bait is often gone. The hits are awesome, bone chilling and violent In the years I have spent ice fishing, gaining confidence with artificial lures and leaving the bait at home while ice fishing is the most revolutionary thing I have ever seen for walleye fishing. The Chubby Darter will change ice fishing like trolling tactics left a mark on open water walleye fishing. This kind of tactic is yet just another card many anglers are putting up their sleeves and the result is… you guessed it a more versatile angler.

The root of these lure’s effectiveness seem to draw from the fact that these particular lures have significant flash and vibration. These lures are capable of drawing fish into the cone angle of your Vexilar from a significant distance. Nothing beats this type of presentation for finding fish. You can bet that any fish in the vicinity knows about your bait. They come a running. Even if the fish choose to ignore this aggressive presentation, you still know you found fish and that is a big step to catching them. You can break down quadrants of water in a hurry because not only are you moving from hole to hole, covering water, you are also pulling fish into you from further away. Increasing the amount of water you are looking at dramatically.

Sonar is also a crucial piece of this presentation. All of the sonar units will work but the Vexilar is best for telegraphing the mood of the fish. When the fish moves, the signal has a tell tale flutter when using either a Vexilar FL-18 or FL-8. Knowing when the fish moves, stops or fans the pectoral fins to tilt is crucial to give you the mental picture you need to play this game. The only other alternative would be an underwater camera but the low light conditions of walleye fishing and or a cord in the way of a nice fish, limits the use of a camera. Watching down the hole to watch how your lure acts and moves is also a piece of advice I would give any angler using these lures for the first time.

From what I have found, you have to move the Chubby Darter to catch fish with it most of the time. That’s not to say that the traditional pauses and stops that work so well with some of the other swim baits don’t work because most of the fish still seem to hit at the bottom of the stroke. The lure shoots forward when snapped up and wobbles on the drop. A short hard snap will actually make this bait shoot in a “S” up and away. This particular move seems to bring optimum flash off the lure. Many anglers who have learned how to catch fish on baits like Jigging Raps and Nils Master keep the line semi tight on the drop. Keeping the line as tight doesn’t seem to be as important with the Chubby Darter because the fish seem to key on the whole bait more. Make sure you give the lure enough slack on the drop to get the lure to wobble. Also, a snap is necessary for optimum performance. I like a somewhat stiffer, no stretch line (Fire Line) for a few reasons, the line telegraphs bites well but most importantly, the lure doesn’t seem to twist on the line. Since the lure is moving and not standing still, the dreaded spin isn’t as much of an issue but twisted line will make the lure dart in different directions after each stroke. This can cost you fish because the game seems to be over if the lure shoots towards the fish.

Attracting fish in the first place isn’t too complicated. Drop an ice skimmer down the hole and the flash might bring in a fish. The art to using these baits comes at the moment of truth, the final few feet. To get a better understanding of what is happening, imagine the fish are wearing blinders. Fish seem to have blind spots around them. For example, you don’t want the lure to shoot below or behind the fish, the fish can’t see. There also seems to be a blind spot right in front of the fish’s nose. Now imagine this, a fish comes in on a lure hard, you jig the lure and the lure sails back by the fish’s gill plate. Usually, this is game over. The only move you have is to snap and pull the lure above and in front of the fish. When in doubt, pull up and away, hoping that the lure falls back into the fish’s line of site. This is why line twist will cost you fish, keep the direction the lure is going on the up stroke somewhat predictable. You don’t want the lure to shoot and go off in the opposite direction on the next snap.

Some fish come in so fast, so hard, that the hit surprises you even though you are using electronics. Needless to say, these fish are also some of the toughest to catch if they miss on the initial strike. When a fish misses and is right on top of you, trying to get the lure back in front of the fish isn’t such an easy task. This is why we often keep the lure somewhat higher than the fish so that we force the fish to rise up to the lure. This gives you an earlier warning of the stalk that is taking place on your lure. Also, usually there is a slight pause on behalf of the fish when they clear the bottom to gun you down. The pause on the fish’s part is a good indicator to start pounding or bobbing the lure. This keeps the lure in a tight easy to find place while still offering the wobble and flash to entice an aggressive strike.

Once an angler starts to catch fish with this presentation, many conceptions on winter walleye get thrown right out the window. If you have never caught fish this way, you will not believe how hard these fish will pound these baits. The game of deception and the way these fish get fooled into smacking these baits makes this style of fishing very enjoyable. I would rather catch a walleye on a Chubby Darter than anything else. Not to mention that the fish that hits these baits are usually bigger. In fact, a high percentage of the larger walleye over seven pounds that were caught out of Devils Lake last winter were caught on Chubby Darters. This is a pattern that will enable you to cover more water, pull more fish to you and you will on average catch larger fish. Ice fishing is no longer such a vertical affair.




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