Want to learn how to ice fish for walleye? Ice fishing for walleye is a test in patience and mettle. Often times you have to sit on a frozen lake for hours, waiting for the tentative bite of a walleye. If you’ve never ice fished for walleye before, you might miss your chance when the bit finally comes. So how do you ice fish for walleye?
In this article we’ll go over the most popular ways to ice fish for walleye, the best tackle to use for ice fishing for walleye, and the how-to ice fish at different points in the season. We’ve researched what time of year is the best for fishing for walleye, as well as what ice fishing techniques are most effective in different situations. Soon you won’t just be ice fishing for walleye, you’ll be ice catching!
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What are Walleye?
Walleye are freshwater fish that belong to the perch family. Walleye are native to North America and live in many of the Great Lakes as well as Canada. They are long and thin, olive in color with a white belly. Their mouths are home to many small sharp teeth, and they prefer hunting at night for small baitfish. Walleye often grow up to 3 feet long and can easily weigh up to 20 lbs.
Where and When to Find Walleye
Depending on the time of winter, you will want to look for walleye in different locations on the ice. The best place to ice fish for walleye variers for early season, midseason, and late-season ice conditions
Early Season Walleye Locations
As fall transitions to winter, walleye can still be found in shallower water and close to underwater structures like logs and grass. Their prey (insects, crawfish and other small baitfish) like to hang out in these areas. Baitfish also haven’t spawned yet so the walleye stick around the areas they like too. As it begins to get colder, walleye like areas that have access to the deeper water. When the ice first starts to form, they often stick around close to shore for a few weeks up to a month. This is often in November and December.
Midseason Walleye Locations
As it continues to get colder in January and February, the walleye begin to stay in the deeper portions of the lake where the water is warmer. Look for mid-lake humps by following the contour lines in the ice. The reason the walleyes like the warmer water is because it allows them to be more active and hunt for food. This makes it a prime location for you to drop your bait!
Late Season Walleye Locations
As winter begins to transition to spring in March and April, walleye begin to think about spawning. The more shallow water also begins to get warmer, so the walleye will be more comfortable going back to areas closer to shore. The best place to fish for walleye during this time is both shoreline structure as well as any inlets with freshwater flowing into the lake. Both areas are where spawning walleye like to hang out, and also feed on creatures flowing in from the river. Just be careful of thin ice! As temperatures increase the ice will begin to melt.
In general, walleye like to swim a few feet off the bottom next to logs, rocks, or other underwater structures. These structures provide the walleye with shelter and often a source of food. As mentioned before, walleye also like having access to deeper water. This means that steep declines and cliffs underwater are also great places to fish for walleye. If you’re using a depth finder, this means spots where it goes from 5-10 feet to 15-25 feet.
Once you’ve found your perfect spot for fishing, drill 10 to 15 holes per location. Use a grid pattern or in a zig-zag to cover the most area in your spot. You should try and jig each hole for at least 10 to 15 minutes before moving on to the next one.
Tackle Needed to Ice Fish for Walleye
Walleye fishing setups can range from simple to rigorous. For this article, we are going to focus on the more simple setups for catching walleye. You’ll need a rod, reel, fishing line, lures, weights, bait hooks, and either natural or artificial bait. We recommend buying one of these ice fishing reels depending on your budget.
Now that you know where to look for walleye and have the appropriate tackle, let’s go over popular active and inactive walleye ice fishing techniques.
Active Walleye Ice Fishing
Many types of lures work well for active ice fishing for walleye.
- Jigs: Buzz Bombs, small candlefish, and minnows all work well for ice fishing for walleye. Let your jig drop to the bottom, then reel up several cranks so it’s resting a few feet of the bottom. Jerk your rod up a few feet and let the lure flutter back down to the resting position. Do this rhythmically every two seconds, or whatever speed the walleye seem to like.
- Spoons: spoons also work well for ice fishing for walleye. Let your spoon drop to the bottom, then reel up several cranks so it’s resting a few feet of the bottom. Jerk your rod up a few feet and let the lure flutter back down to the resting position. As with jigs, repeat this action at different speeds until you find one the walleye like.
- Rapala: Rapala lures can also work with the jigging motion. The Rapala lures will flutter to the bottom more slowly than the other types of lures, which will attract more tentative walleyes.
Depending on the clarity of the water you should use different shades of lures. For clear water, use silver or lighter colored lures. This allows the light to reflect on the lure and attract walleye from a farther distance. For murky water, use brightly colored lures. This will help walleyes spot your lure and give you a larger range of effectiveness.
Inactive Walleye Ice Fishing
For inactive walleye ice fishing, all you need is a hook, split shot, and bait. Minnows work great for walleye – both dead and alive. Hook the minnow through its upper lip so it can still swim effectively and doesn’t die right away. Walleye will think the fish is injured and hopefully strike the slow-moving minnow. Just like active walleye ice fishing, you should allow your bait to settle several feet off the bottom. Then you just need to wait and check your bait every 15 minutes to makes sure there something on the hook.
There you have it! You’re now ready to ice fish for walleye in all stages of the season. Whether you’re just starting out or a seasoned walleye fisherman, we want to hear your walleye ice fishing stories. Hit us up in the comments below with your craziest walleye ice fishing story!