Most good walleye anglers get real excited when the first good ice of the year appears. The fish are aggressive and still willing to swim a fair distance for something to munch on. As a result, it pays to be aggressive in your tactics to catch them. New rattling spoons and advances in lure design will allow you to be even more successful than traditional methods.
For example, the Rattlin’ Flyer Spoon offers the fish a vertical presentation, holographic flash and sound plus the ability to “cast” under the ice that’s deadly when walleyes are nearby.
Another new aggressive vertical jigging lure that is now available is the Lindy Darter. This bait can be pumped aggressively, has an irresistible, life-like action plus brass rattles which bring fish in.
Other baits can be effective, but they often peak in performance during the golden hours around sunrise and sunset. While these low-light periods are still the best times to have a lure in the water, aggressive tactics will help you catch walleyes all day long.
Finding the best location is the key to catching fish. While there is no such thing as a magic lure that will catch fish all the time and everywhere, you must drill holes in their neighborhood.
In natural lakes, first ice will find walleyes near the steepest breaks on shoreline structure. Study a hydrographic map and look for the fastest drop-off to the deepest part of the lake. Humps and points are good spots as well.
Early ice is often the time to visit those shallow prairie lakes that were too weedy to fish effectively in summer. Focus on hard-bottomed spots like rock piles and even small structural features. A slight rise or hard spot on the bottom can be holding areas for walleyes.
Stick with shoreline structure on bigger lakes like Mille Lacs or Lake of the Woods. Check out spots where reed beds stick up through the ice. The edge of the reed beds will hold walleyes.
As always, points are the prime real estate in reservoirs, but look for the ones with the sharpest breaks into the old channel, which will be the deepest water in the system.
It is best to use an ice rod that is fairly stout with a stiffer tip, like St. Croix’s Legend Ice - LIR24M. If the rod is too limber, you can move and jiggle it all day long and little of the action will be transferred to the bait. You must be able to shake a Rattlin’ Flyer Spoon or Darter hard enough to get them to make some noise and work well. Remember that whatever the rod tip is doing, the lure is doing below.
Start by using low-stretch mono in 6- to 8-pound-test. If you’re fishing deeper water, try using a super braided line, like Power Pro, to increase your sense of touch–detect bites, feel bottom, and transfer action to the lure.
A hand-held GPS helps to locate spots you hopefully programmed in during the open-water season, when moving around to scout was much easier than after the ice formed.
A flasher or electronics is critical. Humminbird’s new ICE 55 is awesome and easy to use. Sonar offers the ability to detect walleyes that move close to your bait. You can also watch the display color change as the fish move ever closer. Gauge their mood and the action they want by whether they continue to move to the center of the hole and take the bait or veer off. Too many near misses are an invitation to change jigging action or color.
Keep your color choices simple. In low-light periods, red Techni-Glo works well because red glow is the brightest. When you charge it with your Tazer (a small hi-intensity flashlight which is designed to light up glow lures), fish can see it the farthest away. At sunrise and sunset, they will be attracted a long ways.
Blue glow lasts the longest, so it’s a good night color when bigger fish are more apt to bite. Effective daytime colors vary according to water color and walleye preference. Chartreuse is always a good choice, but play with the greens, the oranges and the yellows. Keep adjusting the color to what the fish are telling you.
By using and understanding your electronics, you can tell when fish are coming by and not biting. If that happens, make color changes, adjust your jigging motion, or change lures entirely. An underwater camera can help if you aren’t moving around a lot.
Fishing a Spoon
The design of the Rattlin’ Flyer Spoon mimics its predecessor, the Flyer Jig. They glide when they are dropped down the hole, allowing ice anglers to cast a 6-foot radius around their hole. What you do next is critical.
Don’t just lift it and let it ‘pendulum’ back below the hole. Slowly drag and twitch the spoon as you bring it back. You’re “casting” almost fishing like you would in open water, thus covering more fishing areas from one spot.
Walleyes often inhale it right from the bottom. But if not, the next step is to pound it into the bottom over and over. It puts the “poof” factor on your side. There’s always sediment on the bottom. When you lower the bait to the bottom and shake it or pound it, it will cause the sediment to mushroom up. It looks like fish feeding on bloodworms and larvae. It can cause a feeding frenzy of perch and then the bigger fish come in to feed on the perch.
The last step is to lift the lure off the bottom and jig the bait aggressively to make the rattles work for you. It’s like a dinner bell for a curious walleye. A major mistake many anglers make is to lessen the intensity of their jigging when a walleye shows up on the flasher.
When a fish shows up, don’t freeze up! Keep jigging aggressively to keep the rattles working. If fish turn away, then try modifying your jigging action.
So, the lesson is: first drag, then pound, and then jig the spoon.
If you like fishing with live bait on a bobber, that’s not a problem. Just leave one hole for aggressive jigging. There will be times when you’ll be jigging and get nothing, then quit a moment and the bobber next to you goes down. It’s not hard to figure out what happened. You called the fish in with the rattles, but maybe it wanted sometime more neutral looking so it turned off and took the minnow on the ‘dead stick’ or tip-up instead.
If aggressive jigging doesn’t do the trick, try switching to a Genz Worm or a Fat Boy dressed with several colored maggots, or ‘spikes’ as they’re also called. Poof the bottom with them, too, pounding the jig to send sediment into the water to attract perch and walleyes.