Targetting walleye during the hard water season

While winter certainly has its drawbacks in Canada, ice fishing is the shining beacon for many and allows anglers, young and old, to get outdoors after far too many days cooped up inside. What better way to spend your day than ice fishing and catching a delicious walleye dinner.

Avoid the crowds

Winter is the great equalizer for anglers. While fishing most lakes during the spring, summer and fall are restricted to the boat owner; ice fishing is an entirely new game. An ice auger, some warm clothes, fishing gear and everyone, is on the same playing field.

You will always see anglers at the same spot on the lake, they gather like seagulls on a discarded french fry.

All you need is one or two huts in one location, and the next day there will be 25. Sure they catch some fish, and I am not saying don’t fish there, but by doing a bit of research, you will find plenty of fish that aren’t as pressured as the highly fished spots.

Fish with a game plan

Walleye fishermen will tell you that the fish have three distinct areas during the winter. At first ice, they are shallow and feeding aggressively. In February, walleye head to the deeper pockets of the lake with feeding slowing down and by the end of March, they start to make there move to the spawning areas. While this holds true, fishing structure will produce consistent results and up your catch rates, not only in the winter but year round. You can repeatedly catch walleye in all four seasons at the same location by fishing rockpiles, quick drop-offs and deep pockets with the only change being the presentation.

Walleye are notorious nocturnal feeders. Early morning and at sunset is when you will have the most success. Fish what I like to call the ‘two-hour window.’  The two hours following sunrise and the hour before and after sunset.

Navonic web app
The Navonics web app and the Navonics Boating app are invaluable resources to help you identify the structure that will hold walleye.

Before heading out, fire up the computer and visit the Navonics web app site. The website is a great resource to get an idea of some possible locations that will hold walleye. Look for deep pockets, fast dropping shoals, points and pinnacles. These areas will all catch fish year round. Navonics Web App is a completely free website and data contained here is invaluable and will prevent you from randomly drilling holes until you stumble upon the walleye. Keep in mind that not all lakes have been charted yet.

Once you are out on the lake, the Navonic Boating App is a must-have for your mobile phone in my books. A small investment ($20ish) that will pay dividends countless times. You will be able to pinpoint your exact location and drill your holes where you know the fish will most likely be.

Choose your tackle

For me and walleye it is all about jigging. There is nothing better than feeling the fish smash your lure while you are holding the rod knowing that your jigging action enticed it to strike. Using a deadstick approach can work well, but for me, I want to take my fishing fate into my own hands.

Jigging allows me to fish aggressively, subtly or a combination of both depending on how the fish are striking and reacting to the jig. I have three go-to jigs that I use 90 percent of the time. Northland Buck-Shot, Rapala Rippin Rap and the Rapala Rap (shout out to the old blue and silver Little Cleo as well) with the Blue Buck-Shot garnering most of the use.

Collection of walleye jigs
My most used walleye jigs. Bottom row is Northland Buck-Shots with Rapala Rippin Rap (Top right) and Rapala Rap (top left).

Jigging

Lunkerhunt Wax Worm Bait Jar

When I bring up the topic of jigging for walleye I am met with the same response, ‘Oh I hate jigging it does not work‘ or the ‘I just use a minnow it is much easier.’ Sure, dropping a minnow down the hole is simple but if you want to up your catch rate ice fishing, you should turn to the art of jigging for winter walleye.

Try tipping your walleye jig to increase your catch. The tried and proven method of a minnow head works great. I am of the belief that big bait equals big fish so if I am fishing big water, where I know the monsters live I will use the whole minnow. Another very useful bait to tip your jig is Lunkerhunt Wax Worms. They are deadly, and if there are perch in the area I will use these most of the time. Tip each hook with one or two.

How to jig:

The Twitch – The most efficient style and continually produces the highest catch rate for me. The twitching motion takes full advantage of the ball-bearing in your jigs. Adapt to your surroundings, on mud or rocky bottom I will typically allow the jig to strike bottom stirring up debris.

  • Start with your jig a foot or so off the bottom;
  • Lift the rod up quickly, approx 3 feet, allow the jig to drop down and settle just above the bottom (strike the bottom if you know you will not get hooked up);
  • Twitch the rod 5 or 6 times by lifting the rod tip a few inches quickly. Let the jig settle for a few seconds, repeat the twitching motion;
  • Rinse and repeat the jig pull.

The Double Pull – A solid style for those aggressive days. Once again depending on the bottom structure don’t be afraid to let your jig hit and settle on the bottom for a second or two.

  • Start with your jig a foot or so off the bottom;
  • Quickly lift the rod 3 to 4 feet, allow the jig to free fall back down;
  • Immediately lift the rod 1 to 2 feet, allow the jig to freefall back down;
  • Let the jig settle for 5 to 6 seconds;
  • Rinse and repeat the jig pull.

Mix things up with bigger and smaller pulls, more and less twitching until you find what works for you.

The final piece of advice I have might be the most important, stay mobile. If you are not catching fish or getting knocks move the hole to a new spot. Generally, 30 minutes is enough time to know if the spot is going to produce.

Goodluck, keep your rod bent and save a few for someone else.

Author

The coordinator of Manitoulin Expositor Salmon Classic. Avid four season angler with a passion for walleye, perch, speckled trout, rainbow trout, lake trout and salmon fishing. Live, learn & breathe fishing. Please follow me on Facebook and Instagram.