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Fishing for Walleyes (Sander vitreus) or as others may know them, yellow pikes is a hard-hitting, sometimes dangerous sport popular in North America and Canada.
The thunderous adrenaline rush you get waiting for a bite in the icy conditions makes this a time-honored pastime for plenty of anglers whether they ice fish or fish all year round. But the good news is that with the ice conditions improving by the day, all of us can only think of getting out there and challenging ourselves to catch that ridgeback monster.
While it all seems like fun and games, ice fishing is serious stuff so, if you‘re looking to maximize your catch and get a ton of ridge-back rewards, here’s a guide that should help you learn more about fishing for Walleyes. With hints and tips on prep and presentation, choosing the best lures and more to get your fishing trip off to a great start.
Let’s get started with a few tips on Walleyes:
- Often found in large concentrations, Walleyes are schooling species.
- Although they are more active in low-light or dark environments, they feed during the daylight hours so daytime catching is possible. But dusk is a great time for Walleye fishing.
- They aren’t the most aggressive feeders which make for more challenging fishing, but this only makes the fight and reward all the better. And the good news is that you can use a variety of methods to catch them.
- Because of the color spectrum in which Walleyes see, the ideal lure is chartreuse (50% green/50% yellow) and orange, or orange/red.
- Walleyes are susceptible to baitfish.
The Best Locations for Walleye Fishing
Like fishing in the summer, there are several specific spots that serve as a breeding area for schools of Walleyes which could be certain points on reefs or drop-offs. Since Walleyes like to swim from one point to another on the total lake contour, setting up on one of these points can make catching the fish considerably easier.
If you locate the weedline on a large point which drops off quickly, you can have access to a center that’s patrolled by hungry Walleyes at certain times of the day. To achieve this tremendous feat, go through contour maps which should give you some appropriate starting points. Lines lying close together on the contour maps could mean a faster drop-off.
You could get to these points and drill several holes extending from shallow to deeper water, but it’ll be considerably easier to find the drop-offs using a Vexilar or a similar locator. Once you’ve found the perfect drop-off, you can begin to fish.
The Best Time to go Walleye Fishing
As experienced anglers will know, sunsets and sunrises, are usually the best time to fish for Walleyes, during these low-light hours, the fish cruise around looking for food. So getting down to an appropriate spot where you could plan your ambush accordingly could get you to trap an enormous amount of fish.
And if you’re going down to fish at any other time of the day, try to change your focus and presentation first to convince a fussy fish to fall for it. If that doesn’t work or you’re too worked up to graph your fish, then just drill a couple more holes in the ice to search for other spots.
Prep-Up and Presentation
The prepping up and the lures or baits you use will depend on where you go fishing. For instance, most states allow anglers to use two lines for ice fishing, letting you both jig a single line while keeping the other one stationary.
Ideally, set your lures at between 6” - 12” from the bottom. However, you can always get them higher up if the water clarity is good or if you are graphing your fish up higher than that.
A medium action rod could work really well giving strong jigs and properly gaining a nice hook set.
There are four types of lures which work well when fishing for Walleyes:
- Jigging RapalaⓇ,
- Lipless crankbaits.
Here’s more information on the individual lures:
A spoon or a jigging spoon works pretty efficiently when you have to jerk the fishing rod up to a foot or two before dropping it back into the water.
It creates a kind of fluttering motion and this, combined with the shiny metal on the surface of the water, gives the illusion of a struggling fish which draws the Walleyes in and hopefully, gets you a catch.
To make it more effective, tip it with a pinched-off minnow head which creates a more convincing illusion by adding a scent to the bait.
There are several jig styles, colors, and sizes suitable for Walleye fishing such as:
- Whistlers and more.
Having a variety allows you to mix things up in case the bite is slow.
Tip your jigs with a minnow right behind the dorsal fin to keep them active and attract more fish. You could tip the jig of your rod alternatively or periodically, or create a stationary set-up by jigging it earlier and letting it be (but not for too long though).
Experimentation with a range of jigs while you’re fishing, allows you to understand what the fish are attracted to.
3. Jigging RapalaⓇ
A Jigging RapalaⓇ can work more aggressively in luring the fish to the bait, especially when the bite is happening. It works in a similar way to the spoon allowing you to lift high up and drop again.
The fluted tail and the fish-like appearance of the RapalaⓇ makes the lure gradually go in a circular motion in the water on its way back down to the resting position. This creates an alluring and tempting effect for the hungry eyes of the fish who then pounce on the bait to eat it.
You can either use a Jigging RapalaⓇ on its own if they are biting more aggressively or tip it with a minnow head to lure them in.
4. Lipless Crankbait
The lipless crankbait is actually the most forceful and aggressive of the four lures we’ve mentioned here. It returns to its horizontal orientation quickly even if you jig this bait aggressively.
True to its name, this kind of bait doesn’t have a bill or lip. It comes in either a minnow or shad shape in a variety of colors and designs so it’s one you could have a collection of, seeing which the Walleye are biting on.
If the water you’re fishing in is murky or unclear, try using a crankbait with a rattle, such as a Rat-L TrapⓇ. The rattling noise of this lure will draw in fish from afar even if they don’t see it the first time.
Attracting the Eye and Trigger Action
Every jigging motion you make will have an attraction and triggering phase. First, you need to attract the fish and get them to bite the bait after you’ve successfully drawn them in.
The lifting and falling of the bait is the attracting maneuver, and the pause in the motion allows the Walleye to bite the bait. The series of the jiggles you may add during or after the maneuver might be small, but you must make considerable variations to get the desired result.
Maneuvering the Jiggles: A Short Guide
1. Swimming Jig
When you’re using a swimming jig, you really need to observe the jiggles. The best sequence to follow is:
- A quick lift-fall pause action spanning 3-5 seconds,
- Two sets of jiggles (jiggle-jiggle, jiggle-jiggle, jiggle-jiggle),
- Finish with another lift-fall action.
Jig the bait only enough to get it to roll from left-right on its axis. This creates a kind of flash similar to that produced by crankbaits.
A swift lift-fall action that has an anchored minnow should be subtle by comparison so it doesn’t look like the obvious bait.
Be gentle while lifting the jig with the minnow, lift it about a foot, then let it flash and flutter right down to its starting position where you began.
If nothing happens, try pausing for approximately 30 seconds, letting the minnow flutter around before repeating the lift-fall motion.
Go by the lift-fall-pause action through frequent sequences, pausing for some time with the rod resting, and letting the minnow do its dance.
2. Rip Jigging,
Rip jigging is an old technique lying on the other end of the presentation spectrum relying on the fundamental theme for jigging - the lift-fall-pause action.
Ripping can efficiently work in shallow, fertile and dingy waters that contain large schools of Walleyes. This method brings the competitive nature of these fish, making them react more strongly to the bait.
Here you’re free to create your own rhythm in you want
Get a lure having a heavy vibration pattern, lifting it sharply a couple of times and letting the lure go back down on the end of the line before ripping again.
Follow this with the triggering pause which requires you to wait for anywhere between 1-10 seconds before beginning again. A very aggressive fish might hit on the subtle thump-down that occurs between the rips.
A few of these lakes are usually part of the Lake of the Woods. And some conspicuous shallow lakes are Oneida (New York), Devil’s Lake (North Dakota), Spirit Lake (Iowa), Lake Poinsett (South Dakota) which will provide you with ample opportunities for fishing Walleyes.
Spirit Lake and Lake Poinsett welcome enormous populations of Walleyes, making for perfect ice fishing grounds in the winters.
Contour Ice Fishing
Experienced anglers have closely observed the whirl of activities of the winter Walleyes so much that they have developed a step-by-step procedure to take advantage of the situation. And the best part is there’s nothing complicated involved!
- Make a classic, conventional structure by late midday,
- Pre-drill several holes to cover potentially deep, mid-depth and shallow feeding spots (more often than not, the initial flurry of Walleye activities take place in the deeper holes).
And soon after, they would show an indicator or flag, or someone would jig a Walleye out of a moderately deep hole.
These holes could continue to give off fish for 10-15 minutes while somebody else might pull up a Walleye out of a shallow set. The trick is to jig at the top of the structure.
In December and January, the whirl of Walleye activity by sundown gets totally charged up.
As the days get shorter, the cruising of big schools of Walleyes increases in the significant Walleye-fishing spots, allowing you to enjoy spectacular scenes of frenzied Walleye activities for about 20-30 minutes before the whirl calms down.
Around March or April, when the days are longer, the activity increases. This is the spawning season, and they feed way more than their usual diet around this time, as their energy demands increase for maturing the ripening eggs.
The 30 minutes of madness at first-ice we previously mentioned, usually triples to about 90 minutes at last-ice around this time!
So, that brings us to the end of our guide to ice-fishing for Walleye. While we didn’t get to cover every single aspect of this fun yet challenging activity, there should be enough info in this guide to get you off to a great start.
The last tip would be - when fishing for Walleyes - be patient! They can be hard suckers to catch, but once you start it‘s hard to stop, so dig in and your patience will be rewarded.
As always, be prepared and be safe. Never ice fish alone and ensure you’ve got the right clothing and kit with you on the ice.
Check to see if you need a fishing license or permit before you start fishing.
Hope you learned plenty of new things today and are excited to get back to fishing.
Till next time…!