It is a common question heard among anglers on Lake Winnipeg, “you fishing naked?” Don’t worry, they are not asking if you are fishing without clothes, they are asking if you are tipping your lures with bait or not. You are probably asking why on earth, would it matter. Sometimes it can make all the difference in catching a bunch of fish or nothing at all.
Lake Winnipeg is famous for the innovation of using lipless crankbaits, originally designed for open water fishing, thru the ice. Lures like the LIVETARGET Golden Shiner and Northland Rippin Shad. Fishing them naked means you are fishing the lure without tipping the hooks with any kind of meat. Using the lure right out of the box allows you to fish it more aggressive. You are able to rip the lures vertically three feet each rip. The lure will drop on a slack line where the bites often happen. As you go to make your next rip, your rod bends but your rod tip doesn’t move but a few inches as you just set the hook on a giant greenback.
The next step up from fishing naked is using scents on your lures. There are several brands and styles of liquid scents but I have found that Pro-Cure Bait Scents work the best. Pro-Cure is made from real bait, then they super charge it with amino acids that trigger fish to feed. I like the Super Gels which are made from a sticky base that sticks to lures for an exceptionally long time. The scents also include UV enhancements which makes the lures stand out and easier to see. Some of my favorite flavors of Super Gel are the Walleye, Emerald Shiner, Garlic Minnow, Gizzard Shad and Smelt. I simply smear the gel onto my lure and start fishing. Even if I decide to tip the lure with meat, I will still smear on some Pro-Cure super gel. It gives me the added security to know that even if the meat falls off, there will still be enough scent on the lure to entice a strike.
Progressing from fishing naked and using scents, is to give meat a chance. The most common meat used are “Salties”. Locally around the Lake Winnipeg area, salties are typically emerald shiners which were commercially caught in Lake Winnipeg, dredged in salt and then processed and packaged in a plastic container. They can be found in all the bait shops and at several gas stations around Winnipeg and along the Red River. I often will make my own brand of salties at home and bring them up. Live bait is not allowed when crossing from the States into Canada but preserved bait is allowed. I typically stop at Scheels and purchase a few scoops of fat head minnows. I usually will get one scoop per day per angler. So for a group of four fishing for two days comes out to be eight scoops. Scheels bags them up and my next stop is the local grocery store to pick up a box of canning & pickling salt which costs about two dollars. When I get home I will drain off the water from the minnows. Then I will add in enough salt to coat the minnows. It doesn’t need to be a lot, just enough so they are coated. Toss them around a little to make sure they are all coated well. Lastly, I will take a few small zip lock bags and put one to two scoops in each bag and then place them into the deep freeze overnight. Now you have some fresh salties to take fishing.
There are several ways in which anglers use their salties. We usually start out by tipping the belly treble hook with just a minnow head, pinching off the body. This presentation adds a lot of flash as the minnow head darts back and forth as you jig your lure. As we add more meat to the lure we typically will jig it less aggressively to prevent the bait from fall off. In fact, last year my buddie Dave Wasness was catching a few fish but some of us were catching more. I checked out his rod while he left to get a snack. He was fishing naked and we were all tipping with minnow heads. I snuck a minnow head on this treble and put it back down the hole. It wasn’t 30 minutes before he iced his personal best greenback.
The full meal deal is when we use a full shiner or maybe even a few shiners. If using a lipless crank we will hook the salty in the head using the front hook and then in the back using the belly hook so that the minnow will suspend directly below the lure in a piggy back fashion. The last few years some friends have been having success using big spoons. They will take a larger salty and hook it on all three of the hooks of the treble. Others may place a whole salty on each individual hook of the treble hook.
We often find in fishing that we need to try different speeds, sizes, colors and scents until we find what trips the walleyes trigger. Fish that are more aggressive will allow you to fish faster without any scent but as fish become more neutral, that scent becomes a trigger that may just put a few on the ice for you to take home.