Icing Early Season Walleyes
by Ron Anlauf
Early ice walleye angling is never better than the present, with peak activity surrounding the first few
weeks of the season. The action starts out hot, and slowly cools off, as the season progresses. As the ice
fishing season wears on, oxygen levels begin to drop, and so does the action. Although good catches can
still be made, late season walleye angling is usually never as intense.
The first and most important step, to cashing in on the fun, is finding out just where old marble eyes is
hiding. One of the real shortcuts to locating first ice walleyes, is to pick up where open water anglers left
off. If you know, or can find out, just where late season anglers have been last known to be consistently
catching walleyes, you will have nailed down a great place to start your search.
Good early season action usually surrounds hard bottom areas, like rock and gravel bars, reefs, humps and
breaks. A quick break into deep water, doesnít have to be rock or gravel to hold walleyes. On Mille Lacs
Lake, in Central Minnesota, sand flats that drop quickly into deeper water, hold plenty of fish.
Another top producer could be whatís left of the green weedline. The last stands of green weeds can
attract walleyes, and may be your best option, depending on whatís available. The deep edge, of the
largest weed flat you can find, is the place to start looking. All things being equal, a weedline that breaks
into deep water would be preferred. An even better scenario would include a little rock or gravel,
interspersed amongst the deep weed edge, with a drop into deeper water.
Regardless of whether itís rock, gravel, sand or weeds, size does matter. Larger structures have more
feeding opportunities than smaller ones, and thus posses the ability to attract and hold more predators. The
only factor than can alter your chances of finding enough biters, on larger structure, is fishing pressure.
If the best looking area of the entire lake has too many anglers plying itĎs depths, you may be better off
settling for smaller, lesser known spots, that receive considerably less pressure. Look for small, less
obvious spots, in close proximity to the main structure. Quite often, thereís little humps, fingers and breaks,
lying close to the larger, fish holding areas, but are totally overlooked. The fact is, many ice
fisherman look for anglers, instead of looking for fish. By taking a little time to locate your own secret
spots, you just might find a real honey hole, and have it all to yourself.
Finding fish holding spots on your own, requires the use of a good depth finder, like the Vexilar FL-8.
Vexilar was the first electronics company to take the ice fisherman seriously, and still leads the way. The
Fl-8 is a flasher type depth finder, that can be read by shooting directly through the ice. To do so, simply
pour a little water on the ice, and hold the face of the transducer tightly to the surface. Another option for
wetting the surface, would be to carry a small butane torch with a starter, and simply heat the ice, which can
be done in mere seconds.
By shooting directly through the ice, can you see how deep it is, determine
bottom density, and mark fish. All of this can be done without ever drilling a hole, which can save you
valuable time, especially when youíre looking for the spot on the spot.
The best time to fish these spots, is as soon as you can safely get to them. While itís been stated that you
can walk on two inches of ice, three or four is better. Good ice doesnít always develop lake wide, and you
can be on two or three inches here, but on something much less over there. As ice is developing, heavy
winds can break it up, and leave some areas open, or with nothing more than a thin skin. Itís the thin skin
that can really get you into trouble, and you wonít know without constant testing. If your on good ice and
intend to make a move, you better keep checking thickness by punching it with an ice chisel.
It would also be a good idea to bring along a pair of ice picks, like the ones available from Normark.
Keep them in an outside pocket where they would be easy to reach. The picks can give you the traction to
pull yourself back onto the ice, and out of danger. It pays to be prepared for the worst, which would
include falling through the ice. If you did go through, how are you going to get out? The weight your
clothing will pick up, by becoming soaked with water, may make the job almost impossible.
Once your on the ice, and youíve found a good looking spot, itís time to get busy. One of the quickest
ways to a bunch of early season walleyes, is jigging a spoon, tipped with a minnow, or piece of a minnow.
While set lines, fixed with a plain hook and minnow, suspended below a float, do produce, you can usually
do much better by aggressively jigging a spoon.
Some of the new jigging spoons, like the ones available from Lindy/Little Joe, have a built in rattle.
If you havenít tried rattles, you should. They can definitely make a difference, and it wouldnít hurt to have a
Early ice walleyes will often demand an aggressive jigging technique, and may turn their noses up at
more subtle offerings. As mentioned earlier, their activity levels are never higher than right now, and a hard
snapping spoon may be the only way to get their approval.
Smaller spoons, in the 1/4 to 1/2oz. range, tipped with half of a larger fathead, or all of a smaller minnow,
are a great way to get started.
To jig a spoon, it pays to start at the bottom and work your way up.
Drop the spoon to the bottom, and take in enough line so that the bait is resting, just off the bottom, with
the rod tip pointing toward the hole. The technique includes snapping the rod up hard, and following the
slack line back to the original position with the tip. As the bait settles back, watch the line. Quite often
youíll see the strike, by a twitch in the line, or you may notice that the bait didnít get back down all the way;
Time to set the hook. Most of the time you wonít see, or feel, a thing; Itíll just be there, when you start the
While jigging an area, donít be afraid to work the bait up several feet off the bottom, and more. Walleyes
can often be found riding up high, especially when they get active. Start at the bottom, and work the jig for
several minutes, before taking up a crank or two on the reel, and start the process all over again.
Good spooning rods have medium action rod tips, with enough stiffness to actually snap the bait. Softer
rods will simply pull the bait, and canít duplicate the hard pumping action of a stiffer rod. Baitcasting
combos, like the Berkley Lightning Rod, model LSIC36MH-R, in the two and a half to three foot range, are
the ticket, and can get a bait down a hole quickly, while providing superior feel.
Although first ice can make for some great fishing, donít feel bad if you find the going a little tough , the
first time out. It can take a little time to find the specific areas, where active fish can be caught. And donít
expect last yearís hot spots to be the same this year. While they may be a good place to start, you better be
ready to move.
See you on the ice.