If you can tolerate the colder temperatures, ice fishing is one of the most rewarding ways to fish for Walleyes.
When you are ice fishing, you are not limited to where your boat can access or by where you can cast from the shore; you essentially have complete access to every corner of a lake or river.
That being said, ice fishing walleye is not like shooting fish in a barrel. It does require knowledge of:
- The water you are fishing
- An understanding of Walleye behavior during the winter season
- A little luck and patience
Before heading out to your favorite ice fishing spots this winter season, let us take a few minutes to review some of the essential ice fishing basics that apply to Walleyes.
You may already be an expert and have a proven track record of success; however, it never hurts to learn a few new tricks.
Below you will find some great advice for the best ways to catch Walleyes during the ice fishing season.
What is the Best Way to Catch Walleye – Ice Fishing?
Ultimately when you are ice fishing for walleye, you are pretty limited in your fishing techniques due to the restrictions of fishing through a hole in the ice.
No casting, no trolling, just simply a line in the water through the hole you have created in the ice.
That being said, the best way to catch Walleye while ice fishing is by jigging. Jigging is more than just quickly raising your rod up and down.
There are special methods of jigging that are used to entice the sleepy and sometimes not to be bothered Winter Walleye.
Pound the Ground
The first technique to consider for successful jigging is the “pound the ground” technique. Walleye in the winter season can often be hard to entice into striking.
The “pound the ground” technique is one way to attempt to wake them up.
To perform this technique, first, let your jig down through the water until you feel the lake or river bottom.
Next, let the jig settle for a few minutes. Once you feel your jig has settled, go ahead, and flick your rod tip up and down several times, letting your jig strike the floor.
You should be able to feel the bottom each time you strike it.
What this does is it first creates a vibration that nearby Walleye can potentially feel.
Second, it creates a small cloud of sediment that rises from the floor that looks like a small baitfish has disturbed the bottom.
See Also: How To Locate Walleye When Ice Fishing
Create the Chase
Another technique to consider while jigging is the “create the chase” technique.
If, after pounding the lake or river bottom for a while and jigging aggressively, you have no action, try the chase technique.
First, slowly raise your jig up a few feet, then reel in the slack. Let it sit for 3 seconds, then repeat.
This can entice a Walleye to give chase and seek out your walleye ice fishing lure. If at any moment you feel any resistance or a bite, stop and jig slowly for a few seconds.
Ideally, this will give the Walleye the idea it wounded the bait, and slowing the jig for a few seconds will give it time to strike.
What Depth Do Walleye Like in Winter?
Walleyes like to migrate to depths throughout the winter as well as throughout the day.
Understanding the combination of these two contributing factors will help you find the ideal depths to drill your ice holes.
First, as the winter season progresses:
Walleye prefer shallower depths early in the season, deeper depths in the midseason, and again shallower depths closer to spring.
These seasonal migrations are mostly due to the migration of the baitfish they feed upon.
Baitfish like small perch, shiners, and minnows migrate from shallow water to deep and then back to shallow as the season progresses; therefore, the Walleye will follow the same pattern.
Walleye depth migrations throughout the day can be associated with sunlight. The eyes of a Walleye are extremely sensitive to light.
Therefore, if you have a bright sunny day with few clouds, you will find the Walleye in the deeper basins and drop-offs in a body of water.
Early in the morning and closer to sunset and at night, you will find the sunlight is less intense. When that is the case, the Walleyes will move into the shallows to feed.
It is important to remember that it is not so much the time of day but rather the amount of sunlight at any given moment that causes the Walleye to move to deeper or shallower waters.
If you are fishing mid-day and a large cloud cover or snowstorm moves in, Walleyes will move in shallower as well.
Also Read: Best Ice Fishing Flashers
What Depth Should I Ice Fish for Walleye?
Like we discussed before, Walleye depth is a combination of the time of the season and the amount of sunlight or time of day.
Here are some general guidelines for lakes and rivers in North America:
- Early Winter: In early winter, when the first ice has accumulated on the water, Walleye can be found closer to shore in 5 to 10 feet of water. Baitfish will be in these depths, usually around or near vegetation.
- Mid-Winter: During the peak of the winter season, Walleye will be deeper in the 30 to 40 feet of water range when the sun is strong. When there is intense cloud cover or close to sunrise and sunset, the Walleye will move to the 10 to 25 feet of water range. The 10 to 25-foot range applies to nighttime ice fishing as well.
- Late Winter: As the winter season progresses and we enter the later part, Walleye are preparing for the spawning season. The best ice fishing will be in the 10 to 20-foot range and close to areas where small streams or rivers flow into a lake.
What Are the Best Lures for Ice Fishing Walleye?
Three types of ice fishing lures have proven successful over the years for targeting Walleye.
Those three main types of lures are jigs, spoons, and swimming lures. Here is a description of each type.
- Jigs: Jigs work best with live bait and can be actively fished. You can use a weighted jig with a nightcrawler and pound the bottom or use a floating jig with a slip weight to get the jig to sit right above the weed line. Jigs also come in a variety of colors to accommodate different water and light conditions.
- Spoons: The job of a spoon is to imitate a dying or fleeing baitfish. The flat and concave shape of the spoon creates a lot of vibration in the water and reflects light to create flash. Spoons come in different shapes, sizes, and weights and are most effective in clear water conditions.
- Swimming Lures: These types of lures are designed to look exactly like a baitfish. They have different weights and characteristics to create different darting and erratic movements in the water. These movements can induce reaction strikes from Walleyes. These are best used in shallower waters and near underwater structures like weed beds and rock piles.
Whichever lure type you choose, remember to try different combinations with live baits and to change colors based on water and light conditions.
Also Read: Ice Fishing for Rainbow Trout
What Is The Best Live Bait for Ice Fishing Walleye?
The simplest baits are sometimes the most effective baits for ice fishing for walleye.
Nothing is more simple than live bait. Also, live bait in combination with a jig or spoon is extremely effective as well.
Here is a small list of the best live baits for ice fishing Walleye.
Waxworms are always a good ice fishing bait. These worms are actually the larvae of the bee moth, and all fish species find them irresistible.
Though waxworms are more common with pan fishing, put three or four waxies onto a larger jig to attract larger Walleyes.
There is also the added bonus of catching a few crappies or other fish if the Walleyes are being too picky on a particular day.
Nightcrawlers are another universal live bait that attracts every type of fish. For Walleye ice fishing, simply put a nightcrawler onto an ⅛ ounce jig and pound that bottom.
The jig will stir up the bottom, and Walleyes will take notice of that giant nightcrawler and strike.
The most common minnows for ice fishing are fatheads, shiners, and suckers. All of which come in different sizes, so purchase a variety of sizes to change it up depending on the size of the fish in your fishing hole.
Make sure to hook the minnow under the dorsal fin to keep the minnows alive for as long as possible.
Leeches kept in the refrigerator will acclimate to cooler water temperatures and prove to be effective for ice fishing walleye.
If you do not do this and keep the leeches at room temperature, they will curl up into a ball once they enter the water, and they will not wiggle to entice Walleye.
If treated properly, Leeches are generally a tasty bait that Walleyes love.
What are the Best Locations to Catch Walleye Under the Ice?
The best locations to catch Walleyes under the ice vary again by the time of the winter season.
The winter season is separated into three phases: first ice, mid-winter, and late season. Here is what to look for in each of the three phrases.
- First Ice: Walleyes are highly active during the first ice phase of the ice fishing season. During this time, you will want to go into shallower waters less than 10 feet deep and look for shallow bays, mudflats, and weed beds closer to shore.
- Mid-Winter: In the heart of the winter season, you will want to fish deeper waters between 20 to 30 feet. You will want to look for underwater hills, humps, and saddles along with edges of mudflats and weed beds in these depths. Also, extensions of shoreline points are a great place to drill your ice hole. You can use GPS hydrographic maps and nautical charts to help you locate these identifiable underwater structures.
- Late Season:Late in the winter season, you will want to look for river mouths and inlets where Walleye will gather to prepare for spawning right before spawning season. Also, if you know of any gravel beds, even better. Gravel beds can be a honey hole for Walleyes right before it is time to spawn.
Tips for Ice Fishing for Walleye at Night
Ice fishing at night can not only be rewarding by providing a plentiful catch, but it can also be good fun with a few beverages, great conversation, and a radio in the background.
So, bring your best gas heater, an ice shack, and a good friend, and enjoy a night on the ice.
Before ice fishing for Walleye at night, it is important to remember a few simple tips.
Find Fishing Spots Before Dark and Set Up Before Sunset
Before you set up shop for the night, walk the ice with a GPS and mark some waypoints of locations where you might want to set up a tip-up or place your ice shack.
This is much more easily done during daylight hours.
Also, place your ice shack and tip-ups and drill your holes before sunset. Though you should have a headlamp with you, this is still better to do a couple of hours before sundown.
You do not want to miss out on the 30 minutes before and after sunset as well when feeding activity is ultra-high.
Move to Shallower Waters for Night Walleyes
When it is dark out, Walleyes prefer shallow waters. Make sure you drill your holes and set up your fishing shelter in the 8 to 15-foot range of depth.
Be Prepared for the Entire Night
Make sure you pack smart, especially if you are sleeping in your shack.
Bring plenty of food, warm clothes, sleeping bags, sleeping mats, lanterns, headlamps, beverages, a radio, or device to watch movies on, decks of cards or board games, and a good friend to keep you company.
Headlamps Are Critical
Headlamps are the best for ice fishing because they allow you to be hands-free and use both of your hands to drill holes, place tip-ups, tie lines, or search for an item you need.
If you are in an ice house, then a quality lantern will be particularly useful as well.
Yes! Glow-in-the-dark lures can produce incredible results while ice fishing walleye at night.
Walleyes are active all through the night, and a glow-in-the-dark lure can be seen by these creatures from extremely far distances.
Make sure to recharge their glow every so often by placing them directly under your headlamp.
Most importantly, nighttime ice fishing should be fun. Play some cribbage, have a few beers, and do not stress if the fish are not biting.
Bring plenty of snacks and delicious food and enjoy the time away from the stresses of work and family.
Tips for Ice Fishing Walleye During the Day
Although night fishing is incredibly fun, most ice fishing occurs during the day hours due to practicality.
When ice fishing during the day, the same rules apply as nighttime ice fishing; however, remember how Walleyes migrate throughout the day according to the amount of sunlight.
Shallow water closer to sunrise and sunset, deeper water mid-day when the sun is strong. Shallower waters during snowstorms and overcast.
An added tip that is just common sense is to dress warm and in layers. It might be warmer out with the sun, but once a patch of clouds moves in or the wind changes, the temperature can drop quickly.
What Effect Does Weather Have When Ice Fishing for Walleye?
There are two main aspects of weather that affect ice fishing success when fishing for Walleyes.
First, we have the amount of sunlight which we have discussed above several times. Second, we have barometric pressure.
Barometric pressure is essentially the weight of the air. The heavier the air, or the higher the barometric pressure, the quieter the weather.
High barometric pressure systems contain stable air masses that block out approaching storm systems.
Low barometric pressure creates a less stable environment that is susceptible to storm systems passing through. Fish respond to these different types of pressure.
High Barometric Pressure: High-pressure conditions produce little to no results. Walleyes can feel the pressure in their air bladders, and it makes them uncomfortable and inactive. They will usually retreat to deeper water basins and be lethargic.
Low Barometric Pressure: Expect average to better than average fish activity as Walleyes are more comfortable and more active with the lower pressure.
Rising Barometric Pressure: If the air pressure is rising, there will be a short period of initial activity followed by a giant lull in overall activity. This is when Walleyes will begin to move from the shallower waters to the deeper waters.
Falling Barometric Pressure: When air pressure begins to drop rapidly, it is a good indication that a storm is approaching. This is the best time for fishing as Walleyes will go into a feeding frenzy right up until the storm arrives. Place yourself directly on the weed line or above any other structure, and get ready for some intense activity.
Happy Walleye Ice Fishing
Walleyes are by far one of the most delicious fish to eat, and at the same time, they make for an exciting ice fishing experience.
By considering how Walleyes migrate during the day and through the winter season, how they react to different weather conditions, and what kinds of lures and baits work best, it is my hope that you will have a great and enjoyable upcoming ice fishing season.
Remember, the most important thing is to have fun when ice fishing walleye.