Walleye is a good source of healthy fats (omega-3 fatty acids), crucial for the brain’s development and heart performance. The freshwater fish has yellow/golden skin, and it’s a popular catch for most anglers.
This fish loves migrating and moving around the water in search of food. If you want to catch walleye during winter, you’ve got to use the best techniques and tips to get it out of the water. Ice fishing walleye is one of the best methods during such a season.
But before you embark on this fun trip on the ice water, read this helpful guide with detailed tips and techniques on ice fishing for walleye.
If you want to go out for walleye fishing, know how to do this before setting out. However, this is only possible after understanding the basics of walleye ice fishing. First, you should know that walleye is a fish eater and mostly eats perch, lake herring, sucker or smelt. It resembles pike and perch with olive/golden skin and has teeth and a high appetite. It prefers dark, deep, cooler waters and is sensitive to light.
As you prepare for ice fishing walleye, you’ve got to identify the best spot to catch it regarding their movement and migration pattern. Plus, the fish’s feeding times and hiding corners. Below is an explanation of all these in detail;
Understanding Walleye Migration Pattern
When you embark on ice fishing for walleye, it’s good to note that these are long-distance migrators. The migration pattern for walleye mostly depends on the location and the distance. Walleye will migrate in search of food or when the season changes from summer to spring, and it’s looking for the best spawning ground. During such a time, walleye will be on rocky or muddy beds, which requires you to be attentive when selecting the areas to drill holes.
However, walleye don’t move much in winter, which requires you to employ the best tricks and techniques to get them out. During this time, walleye will be nearing their spawning areas with full stomachs waiting for spring. It will hardly move in ice water because of the cold-water temperatures and slow metabolic rates. So, you need to learn their daily movement patterns in such a time to catch them successfully.
Walleye Ice Feeding Movement
If you want to have an easy time ice fishing walleye, it’s best to time them when they come feeding. The best time to do this is one hour to dusk, and it can continue for some minutes into the evening. So, you need to target this fish and prepare well, especially if you like ice fishing for walleye in the evening,
Note that walleye tend to be inactive in the morning during winter, so it’s better to fish for them in the evening. Arrive in the ice water around mid-day, and drill holes in the right areas depending on the fish movement pattern. Then start from deep, coming to shallow waters.
How to Ice Fish for Walleye
1. Assemble The Right Fishing Gear
To trick this aggressive fish out of the ice, you’ll need to carry the right fishing gear. You will need live baits, which are best for walleye ice fishing. It will help you fool walleye into biting. Use live minnows when jigging with one rod. Then set up the bait in your favorite way. But ensure you use bigger baits to reach the deeper dark ends where walleye stay in winter.
However, artificial lures can also do in this case. Try using different lures like spoons, soft plastic tubs or crayfish. You will also need jigging rods, fishing lines, hooks, jig heads, weights and an ice drill for drilling holes in the ice.
2. Locate Walleye for Ice Fishing
After understanding how walleye migrate and behave during winter, its right to identify the exact location they’ll be hiding. As you’ve read above, walleye will only get out when looking for food in winter.
To succeed in this, learn their feeding cycle and the prey. For example, if you realize there is a school of baitfish in the transitional area, that’s a perfect area for ice fishing walleye. Additionally, you need to know what’s underwater to help locate walleye in shallow ends. During winter, walleye can also be found in shallow depths in murky waters or big clear lakes.
You can use maps to help you locate walleye while ice fishing walleye. A map is a reliable though old-fashioned way of identifying this fish hiding spot in the ice. It will tell you the average depth and different structures. You can get such a map at a local bait shop.
But a more modern way to locate fish underwater when walleye ice fishing is using a fish finder. It will show you the underneath structures and the fish location, making your work easier while fishing. All you need to do is place the transducer in the ice hole and let your work be to read and interpret the signals.
3. Cast And Be Ready to Retrieve
You should then cast the jig and patiently wait for a bite. Do this in the areas you identified to have more walleye. Be ready for some struggle as walleye have teeth that it uses to fight while it tries to unhook.
But once you catch one, more fish will keep coming to the hole, enabling you to get a good harvest. Don’t forget to attach visible baits that resemble live fish to attract walleye. Alternatively, you can jig aggressively when using artificial lures to make the fish come to you.
However, most anglers prefer the tip-up technique when ice fishing walleye as it covers a lot of ground. Drill holes in different points at varying depths to create your fishing base when you opt for this. This trick will help you increase the possibility of getting more walleye out of the water. Don’t waste time in a particular hole, especially the unproductive ones.
Tips And Techniques for Ice Walleye Fishing
Go To the Water Early
Ice fishing walleye is not a walk in the park as you’ll encounter various challenges while on the go. One of the main challenges is the ice melting unevenly while fishing making it hard to maneuver around. To avoid this, go to the water early when ice is intact and can allow you to walk without sinking. Ensure the ice is between 4 and 5 inches thick to be safe and support your weight.
Pound The Ground
If you want to trick out the suspicious walleye, pound the bottom with your jig for some time. Doing this will result in sedimental clouds, which creates a delusion that fish have disturbed the bottom, which walleye like. There will also be vibrations attracting the fish’s attention bringing them near the lure as this happens. Jig while pounding to enable you to receive more bites and increase your catch.
Use Scented Lures
Scented lures have a way of attracting walleye. So, incorporate it into your walleye ice fishing tricks to get more bites. Use a minnow head on the ventral hook attached to a chubby darter and see how walleye will be flocking that way. You can then tease the fish by passing the hook through its mouth and other body parts.
When ice fishing, walleye avoid being noisy as this fish is sensitive to sounds. It won’t sense any danger when you’re quiet and come out towards the lure. If you make noise while on the water, it will sense danger and go back to its hiding place, wasting your time.
Avoid moving too much as the fish will hear your footsteps. If you can move when walleye are moving to prevent them from sensing your footsteps. Also, drill the holes before the fish arrives at this place to have a smoother experience.
Target The Shallow Depths
During early winter, the best place to time walleye is on shallow depths closer to the shoreline. Target the structures around this area like weed beds or rocky drop-offs. When ice fishing for walleye here, you should jig aggressively using lures that attract attention. This will help you create equal aggressive strikes bringing walleye for a bite.
Attract The Fish Up
You can spot walleye on cameras, but it may not bite the jig. To provoke action, lift the lure some feet higher than where it was initially. If you do this, you will get this fish’s attention, and it will try chasing the lure. Then stop the game and jig. Don’t forget to retrieve the fishing line in the process.
Ice fishing walleye will, at times, compromise your safety. You can sink or slide on the ice, which can be risky. It’s advisable to let your friends or relatives know where you’ll be fishing. Also, carry some safety equipment like an ice axe and don’t forget your phone. Then test the ice with a heavy stick before you start fishing.
Use Live Fresh Baits
If you want to see wonders while ice fishing walleye, use live baits and keep them fresh. Fresh and live bait will be lively on the ice attracting the fish to bite. Regularly change the live bait to create tension in the water, which tends to be calm and attract the fish. Use the best live baits like shiners, red tail or fathead.
It will never be easy handling the ice as you look for walleye. To avoid complications after coming out of the water, dress warmly. Put on heavy clothes so that the cold winds won’t penetrate through easily. Cover your hands with gloves to avoid wet hands on the ice. Also, carry extra gloves and towels to save your back on the ice. To avoid carrying too much, wear all the heavy clothes before leaving the house.
Fish At Night
Walleye are more active in the evening and at night than in the morning when it’s extremely cold. Take that to your advantage and set out for ice fishing walleye at that time. Before you go out, ensure you have the right equipment like lamps, gas heaters and some good company.
Also, make your holes earlier before you start fishing. Then fish in the shallow waters of depths between 8 and 15 to be safer. Use glowing/flashy lures which will attract them to bite. Regularly recharge the glows before recasting in water.
Map The Location
You should know where to find walleye in winter to have an easy time fishing for them. Use fish finders or maps to help you locate the ideal location. You can also identify where their prey is and wait for them as they come to feed.
What’s The Right Water Depth for Ice Fishing Walleye?
Winter has three phases: first ice, mid-winter and late season. You won’t target the same water depths when you’re ice fishing for walleye. So, it’s best to know the phases beforehand.
During the first ice, walleye are more active and roam about looking for food. They stay in shallow waters of about 10 feet around the water bed or shoreline. You need to jig 10 feet deep to get walleye for a bite.
You will have to move deeper in mid-winter as walleye migrates to deep ends. The water depth to go ice fishing for walleye is between 20 and 30 feet. Such are areas around the humps, underwater hills or saddles. You can extend to the shoreline extension points. Use a GPS hydrographic map to identify the underwater structures.
When winter is about to end, target the areas around the spawning ground for walleye. This is around the river mouths, inlets and gravel beds. This can be between 8 and 15 feet deep.
Ice fishing walleye can be an uphill task if you don’t have the right tips and techniques. Know the ideal location to find this fish and depend on scented lures to attract it for a bite. Don’t forget to jig at night with enough light and be warm and safe in the ice water.
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