With ice conditions getting better and better, you're probably thinking about getting out to chase some hard-water walleyes.
At least I am. And if you're like me, you want to maximize your chances of catching fish this winter. Hopefully there's a real monster under the ice with your name on it.
Ice fishing for walleyes will obviously be different on each water body you go to. Depths, water clarity, and oxygen levels vary from lake to lake, not to mention habitat and population sizes. All of these things will influence whether you have a proper fish fry or some soggy fast food fish sandwich. These walleye fishing tips should help you locate more fish and catch more too.
Similar to summer fishing, there are several spots you can count on to consistently hold walleyes. Points, reefs, and drop-offs are a great start. Walleyes like to cruise the lake contours through different times of the day, and setting up on a point or reef can allow you to catch fish moving vertically or across such structure. If you can locate the weedline on a large point that drops off quickly, you can count on hungry walleyes to be on patrol.
Study lake contour maps to find some good starting points (TIP: lines close together on contour maps mean a faster drop-off). Then get out and drill a series of holes extending from shallow to deeper water. If you have a Vexilar or similar locator, you can quickly find the drop-offs you mapped and start fishing.
Best Time to Fish
It almost goes without saying, but low-light hours (sunrise and sunset) are generally the best time to be fishing for walleye. During this time, fish are cruising around looking for their next meal. As a result, hunkering down in a good ambush spot (one mentioned above) can expose your presentation to the most amount of fish.
When these magic hours pass, try changing your presentation first to convince a finicky fish. If that doesn't work or you're not graphing fish, don't be afraid to get mobile. Drill a couple more holes and find some other spots. Just don't be that person making swiss cheese of the lake by drilling a new one every three feet.
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Where you fish will dictate which lures to use and how to use them. For example, most states allow anglers to use two lines while ice fishing. This allows you to actively jig one line while having a more stationary approach on the other one.
Generally set your lures to be 6-12" off the bottom. You can always work them higher if the water clarity is really good or you are graphing fish up higher. A medium action rod is useful to jig aggressively and ultimately get a good hook set. There are four types of lures that really work well when ice fishing for walleyes: jigs, spoons, jigging rapalas, and lipless crankbaits.
Generally, you want to tip jigs with a minnow right behind the dorsal fin to keep them active and draw fish in. You can either jig the rod periodically or leave this on a tip-up for a stationary set-up. There are many jig styles, sizes, and colors to choose from (e.g., gum-ball, airplane, slo-poke, whistlers, etc.), so have a variety on hand to change if the bite is slow. Experimentation is the best way to find out what they're looking for.
A jigging spoon works when you jerk the rod up a foot or two and then let it drop back down. This fluttering motion combined with the shiny metal surface creates a wounded fish appearance that draws fish in to investigate the flashing. Spoons are typically more effective when tipped with a pinched-off minnow head, as this added scent can often entice a lazy predator to bite.
A jigging Rapala is a more aggressive lure to try out when the bite is on. Similar to a spoon, you want to lift and drop the lure again. However, the fluted tail makes the lure slowly circle its way back down to its resting position, creating an enticing movement for hungry eyes. You can try to use a jigging Rapala on its own if the fish are biting aggressively, or tip it with a minnow head if not.
The lipless crankbait is the most aggressive approach of the lures listed. This style of crankbait has no bill (lip), so it can be jigged aggressively and it will flutter back to its horizontal orientation quickly. They come in either minnow or shad shapes and many different colors or species. If you are fishing stained or murky water, you might want to try a crankbait with a rattle, such as a Rat-L Trap. This rattling noise can draw fish in from further away that might not be able to see your lure.
Ice fishing for walleyes is a great obsession...err, hobby. Hopefully you'll find time soon to try these walleye fishing tips out for yourself.