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Fishing does not have to end when the warm weather does. Ice fishing for walleye can be fun and successful if you know the right gear, techniques, and tips. From the optimal fishing times to ice fish for walleye to the best lures to use, you can learn the best way to locate and catch walleye in the cold weather.
New to Ice Fishing? Click here to read Ice Fishing 101: How to Ice Fish.
Safety When Ice Fishing for Walleye
Safety is the most important thing to remember when ice fishing for walleye. It does not matter how experienced you are or how skilled you are, ice fishing is risky, and you must be careful and prepared.
You will want to know what the upcoming weather patterns are. Keep an eye on the weather to know what is ahead for at least three days in advance. Animals, including fish, are in tune with the weather changes, and you’ll find that if a low pressure weather system is moving in, the fish will be preparing by feeding heavily. If you see that a low pressure system is on its way in a few days, you might want to get out there and take advantage of the conditions.
Best Ice for Ice Fishing for Walleye
Never fish on ice that is less than four inches thick. If you are using snow vehicles, you will want the ice to be at least five inches.
When it comes to the best kind of ice, new, clear ice is the ideal ice. It is stronger than older ice, or ice that is white and/or snow covered.
It is best to wait for five inches of fresh, new ice to form if on foot. If using a vehicle, such as a snowmobile, eight inches is recommended. The advantages to fishing on fresh, new ice is you are venturing out on new territory. No holes have yet been drilled in the ice and there has been no one out there seeking those prime locations if you are the first one out there. The weeks before the ice formed were probably too extreme to take the boat out on open waters, so the fish have been left alone for a good length of time and are ready to bite.
Materials Needed When Ice Fishing for Walleye
Have the right materials when ice fishing. Be sure to wear ice boots, gloves, hat, a headlamp, and an ice fishing bib. Bring along an ice pick, an emergency radio, and always let someone know where you will be. Have a charged cell phone with you, some light snacks such as granola bars, a warm drink in a thermos, a flashlight, and a small, portable GPS. Have a lightweight, plastic sled that will allow you to transport your items easily.
Another recommendation is a spud bar or chisel, so that when you go out on the ice, you can tap the surface of the ice and if it breaks through, you know it is not safe. You will either want to wait a day or two for the ice to thicken, or find another location altogether.
Gear Needed When Ice Fishing
You also want to have the right gear when ice fishing. The ideal fishing rod for ice fishing is generally shorter than the normal fishing rod. You will also want to consider a bucket of minnows, a portable depth finder, and a tackle box.
Know your locations. Be aware of the dips and curves, the drop-offs. There are some bodies of water that are not good fishing spots in the summer. However, they might be rewarding while ice fishing during the winter months.
The best approach is to ice fish at a location you are already familiar with, but no matter how familiar you are with the location during the summer months, you must be prepared and take precautions when ice fishing. Snow can cover familiar marks and leave an area looking completely different. You might end up feeling disoriented as you try to find those landmarks you thought you knew so well. Scope out your location before the actual fishing excursion and familiarize yourself with the scenery and marks and how they appear once covered in snow and ice.
When you search for your ice fishing spot, be sure to find new focal points to keep track of where you are. If you have a GPS with saved settings on your open water locations, all the better to use now. If you do not have any saved, use the GPS mapping screen to find the potential locations that are on a lake map.
When first starting out, stick to obvious areas and save the secret spots for when you are more familiar with ice fishing for walleyes. Go to the large, open areas where walleyes are sure to be.
The portable fish finder can help you find the right depth. To best use the fish finder, splash some water from your minnow bucket onto the ice. Then you will want to set the fish finder on top of that surface. This should give you a good reading of the bottom. This method works best when the ice is clear and not too thick. If this does not work, then drill a hole and put the fish finder into the water to obtain that depth information. Walleyes are usually found in depths of 15 to 25 feet.
Use contour maps and chart depths of different locations to find areas walleyes are more apt to be. On a contour map, lines closer together mean a faster drop-off. This is the golden ticket for ice fishing for walleyes. Also near the weedy edge, shore lines, next to drop-offs, near structures, humps in the middle of bodies of water are all great places to find walleyes. Walleyes keep moving in search of food. Walleyes swim along edges. Look for narrow funnels, and multiple edges facing each other, where it is easy to cut walleyes off.
Know the Sub-seasons when Ice Fishing for Walleye
When ice fishing for walleye, it is important to know that the winter season is divided into three sub-seasons: early-ice, mid-ice, and late-ice.
In the early-ice season, walleyes are still in deep waters, the same locations you found them when fishing in fall weather. These locations include deep humps, sharp drop-offs to the basin, and prominent structures all within walking distances to the shore.
For mid-ice season, walleyes will move mid-lake because the deeper waters are warmer. The warmer water keeps walleyes active. You will want to locate the mid-lake humps where they are most likely to be.
You will want to search and find a connecting river or stream when ice fishing for walleye in late-ice season. These bring in warmer water. Also, you will want to look for gravel shorelines. Walleyes will have spawning in mind at this time of year, so look for pressure ridges that will have baitfish at this late-ice time of year.
Golden Hours When Ice Fishing For Walleye
During the golden hours of dawn and dusk, you will not have to drill a lot of holes. It is common knowledge that during these peak times, the walleyes will be swimming through, feeding and moving aggressively. But as the sun gets higher in the sky, you will need to drill more holes to try to find the walleyes that are not moving so aggressively.
To make the most of your location, you will want to drill several fishing holes in specific areas. Drill a few holes above the shallow area, a few along the transitional line, and a few holes above the deeper water. This way you can try each location and see where the fish are biting.
When ice fishing for walleye, it is important to remember that they do not just become inactive after dawn or dusk. They simply stop moving at the same depths that they were moving in during their busy time. So you will need to drill more holes to find where they have moved to, and what depth they are swimming at. You will also want to remember that walleyes are classic low-light feeders.
Ice Fishing for Walleye at Night
Dusk and dawn are known times that are best to fish for walleyes. But for consistently active walleyes that are feeding, you can fish from dusk until dawn, those long hours at night. The walleyes are considerably more active at night than during the day. Keep in mind that baitfish hide in the weeds during the day, but at night the sight of the walleyes improves and the weeds are no longer a hiding spot, but a feeding frenzy. The number one attraction for walleyes at dusk and dawn is the coontail moss.
After Peak Hours
It is relatively easy to know that walleye will be moving aggressively during the peak hours of dusk and dawn, but it takes more knowledge, patience, and skill to know their movements beyond those hours. During the peak hours, you can just drill a hole, wait, and be pretty confident that the fish will move through at some point and bite.
It is after these hours that you have to drill more holes, find out where they are, and what can entice them over to take that bite. In short, you go from waiting at one spot for fish to come to you to then searching for the right spot and going to where the fish are. If you are ice fishing at a location that allows you to fish with two rods, you can set one up to be a jigging rod and another one set up to be more stationary. Sometimes walleyes are aggressive and will approach the line you are actively jigging, but sometimes they are not as active, and they will be more apt to bite the line that is not moving as much.
When walleyes are on the hunt, they have a certain posture to their bodies. The fins are up, and the back is arched. This type of stance shows they are aggressively searching and moving to feed, and it is a great time to jig that lure in front of them. They are looking, and it is not hard to get their attention and lure them into biting.
When walleyes are not swimming and hunting for food, their fins are tucked up against their bodies. It is much more difficult to get their attention to get them to bite, although it is not impossible.
There are also times when walleyes are moving, but they are not in attack mode. Their fins are up against their bodies, and they are not aggressively feeding. It seems during these times that nothing can catch their attention. They have no interest in whatever is being offered.
An underwater camera works great for these types of observations. Observing and understanding what the movements and postures mean can bring you better success while ice fishing for walleye.
To Get a Bite
You will want to raise the bait up aggressively if fish are not biting. This time of year, fish will go up ten to fifteen feet . In clear waters, you can raise the bait up more so than in murky waters. Use a lure that moves side to side, perhaps in a darting motion. For best results, use a jigging lure with a minnow-type bait. Keep the jighead to ⅛ to ¼ ounce with a 2 ½ to 3 ½ minnow at the tip.
Inactive walleyes need more than passive presentation. Start jigging aggressively to get their attention and get them moving. This can get the vibrations going. So if the walleye is not moving as much or is turned the wrong way and doesn’t see the lure, the aggressive moving can stir bottom. This will cause the walleye to turn and see what is there, prompting the walleye to then bite. Another technique is to hit the bottom with your lure and then lift up. This gives off vibrations and also stirs up the mud and makes it appear like a fish trying to escape.
Jigging spoons are another great choice for this time of year. You will want to try out a variety of sizes and colors to find what works best for you and your location. The best method for ice fishing with a jigging spoon is to know where the lure is at at all times. Jigging spoons can move erratically, so use a swivel and an 8 to 10 inch piece of leader material, and this will help decrease line twists. You will want to add a pinched minnow head to the tip of this lure, and the scent can attract the walleye that are otherwise inactive.
- 3/8th Ounce PK Spoon Red Dot Glow
- 1/8 Northland Buckshot purple tiger UV
- VMC Tingler 3/16 UV
- Clam Rattling Blade Spoon
- VMC Tumbler Spoon
- Lindy Ratling Flyer Spoon
Also ensure the jigging spoon is big, but light for its size. Choose a spoon with a pattern and multi-colors. Nature is full of colors, not just one solid color, and you want the jigging spoon to blend in with nature.
Placement of the Lure
The ideal place for this lure is approximately six inches above the bottom when the tip of your rod is tilted above the fishing hole. When you move the rod, pull it back and then set it back in place. The lure will slowly descend back to its location of six inches above the floor, and then it will spin and sway in place in imitation of a dying baitfish. This will attract the walleye. As mentioned before, you might also want to add a second fishing hole not far from the first and use a jig that is tipped with a minnow head. You will want to set this about a foot from the bottom. Walleyes might be attracted by the more aggressive lure, but sometimes they end up biting the less aggressive one.
A jigging Rapala is the most aggressive approach when ice fishing for walleye. Much like the jigging spoon, you will want to lift and drop the lure. The Rapala circles slowly as it drops back to the bottom. If the walleye are biting aggressively, the Rapala can be enough. If the bites are slow in coming, you can add a minnow head to the tip.
Best Line to Use When Walleye Ice Fishing
It is up to you on what kind of line to choose. Monofilament leaders do not need to be re-tied as often as flourocarbon leaders. But flourocarbon is better in colder weather because it is stronger and floats faster to the bottom.
Color of Lures
Silver colored bait and lures when fishing in clear water is best as these colors resemble minnows and reflect the light that attracts fish to it. Early in the season is when the silver color works best as it is less snow covered and walleyes are still in shallow parts of water. For water that is not as clear, snow-covered, or just low light in general, use bright colors. In the murky water, bright colors are more apt to get noticed by walleyes. Add some random jigging to the lure so fish can be attracted by the vibrations.
Another great choice when ice fishing for walleye is lipless crankbait. This is the most aggressive approach when it comes to lures and ice fishing for walleye. Crankbait come in many colors and forms and mimic the movement of baitfish that walleye will aggressively pursue. If you are ice fishing in particularly murky waters, use a crankbait that has a rattle on it. The rattling noise can alert fish that might otherwise not notice the crankbait. The noise should draw them in.
With the tip-up, you will want to have it pre-rigged and ready for walleye. Set it up approximately twenty feet from your jigging area. For nighttime fishing, be sure to use a lighted tip-up. If you do not have a lighted tip-up, be sure to remove the tip-ups after sunset. Otherwise, you will have a tangled mess to deal with.
You will also want to use a two to three foot leader attached to the nylon tip-up with a small snap swivel.
When using a tip-up, a double hook or single circle hook in size 8 or 6 works best. These hooks are easier to dislodge from a caught fish and will not do as much damage as a treble hook. At about seven to eight inches from the hook, you will want to include two small split shots to keep the minnow from hitting the bottom.
Tips to Remember
If the walleye are not biting, try to mix it up a bit. Shake the tip of your rod as fast as you can or tap on the butt of the rod to get the vibrations moving down to the lure. When it is during a cold-front, mid-winter, and the fish are not as active, live bait is great to use.
Change it up. If nothing seems to be biting, change the color of the lure, change the size, go for a different location. Switch it up and see what works!
Using a small bobber can keep the line off of the bottom and when the fish bites and runs with the bait, the bobber will not drag and catch on anything.
You will want to use wide-bodied baits. Hook a minnow through the middle of the back so the minnow can remain in a horizontal position and be as it would normally. Hooking the minnow through the nose limits the movements.
A winter sonar unit can give you an advantage when it comes to seeing where your lure is in relation to the bottom and if the walleyes are approaching. Through this unit, you can be made aware of any fish nearby and if it is a good spot to stay.
Ice Fishing for Walleye
Ice fishing for walleye does not have to be difficult. With planning, knowledge, and practice, you can become a successful angler when it comes to ice fishing for walleye. Be aware of what part of the season it is and act accordingly. Be patient and use different techniques and lures until you find what works for that particular time and location. When you are searching for walleye and enticing them to bite, a lot of factors come into play. Knowing these factors and putting in the time and putting action to the techniques will make ice fishing for walleye a fun and productive activity.