Ice Fishing For Walleye

Moments after battling a nice walleye out of the hole at my feet, I glanced back at my flasher screen. Mere minutes earlier, there had been three fish showing, but now there wasn't a single mark. So, I grabbed my gear and stepped forward a few feet to another hole I'd drilled earlier. As soon as the transducer went in, I could see the water was three feet shallower, and that there was a fish on the bottom.

I dropped my lure, and the moment I lifted it from the bottom, the fish smacked it. Soon I had another good walleye on the ice. Over the next 10 minutes, I fished five more pre-drilled holes and caught two more walleye, each one coming out of shallower water than the one before. So it goes when you're running and gunning for winter walleye, quickly and efficiently following the fish as they move along, feeding from the depths to the shallows. Here's how to do it.

Patterning

The key to this tactic is understanding that walleye are less active during the winter months, with the cold water slowing down their metabolism. They don't move as much, and require far less food to stay alive. For most of the day, these lethargic fish drop into deep water to conserve energy and hide from larger predators.

Even though their metabolism has slowed, walleye still need to eat, however. I've found that normally happens early in the morning and during late afternoon. Just before daybreak, the fish will become more active and move from the depths into shallower water. Along the way, they'll inhale crayfish off rock piles, trap minnows against ledges and breaklines, and cruise sand flats and riprap areas, picking off a variety of unsuspecting aquatic creatures. Once they've finished feeding, they'll slide back into deeper water. Then late in the day, they'll repeat the process and once again move up from the depths into shallower water to feed, often' in the same areas as earlier in the day.

The beauty of this feeding pattern is its predictability, enabling you to get in position to intercept the walleye at both the beginning and the end of the day. Sitting in just one spot will only give you a short window of opportunity to catch the fish as they pass beneath, but if you can move with them, your bait will be seen by a lot more fish.

It's also important to note that the timing and duration of each feeding run can vary throughout the season. At first ice, walleye are still quite active, and they'll often move back and forth from deep to shallow water throughout the day. In the dead of winter, the feeding window may only be a few minutes, but in the days leading up to last ice, the fish will stay on the feeding grounds longer in the mornings and arrive earlier in the evenings as they bulk up for the spring spawn.

Preparing

Once you understand how walleye move during the day, the key to running and gunning is to drill a series of holes ahead of time well before the fish start moving. Otherwise, if the feeding sessions are short, you risk missing out on the action as you take time to drill holes. You also risk scaring away the fish by punching holes as they move into the area.

When fishing the morning pattern, it's essential to get your holes drilled well before daybreak. That way you'll be able to move with the fish as they travel into the shallows to feed, then follow them back into deeper water afterwards. When fishing the late-day pattern, it's best to arrive mid-afternoon, and have all your holes drilled at least an hour before sunset. Again, this lets you follow the fish from deeper to shallower water.

By the time the walleye reach the shallows in the evening, it's usually dark. That leaves you well positioned to safely get off the ice and head for home, which is what I typically do.

Don't be shy when drilling holes. Walleye can cover a large area as they roam around feeding, so having plenty of holes at the ready gives you more chance to connect with fish. I prefer to drill holes four to five feet apart, in a single, straight line from deep to shallow water. If I'm fishing with others, I'll drill a line for each angler, running parallel about six feet apart. That way, we can fish at different depths as we search for the walleye, or all fish at the same depth after we’ve found a school.

Running

Since the walleye are on the move and typically won't stay in the same place for long, you should also be prepared to keep moving. With that in mind, you need to pay attention and stay organized at all times.

Once all the holes are drilled, set up your flasher where you anticipate the fish will be, which is usually at the deepest hole. If you start seeing and catching fish, don't get too comfortable. Stay alert, and as soon as the action stops, move on to the next hole. If I go two minutes without seeing a walleye on my flasher, for example, I'll move; I keep doing that until I get back onto fish. In many cases, a hole may produce one or two fish. then quickly dry up.

When moving with the walleye you've got to be quick and efficient. To do that. I've developed a simple system for carrying my rod, flasher and other gear from hole to hole. With one hand, I carry my tackle tray, hole cleaner and spare rods in a five-gallon bucket, and with the other I carry my flasher and fishing rod. When I get to a hole, I set the flasher and pail on the ice, then drop the transducer followed by my lure down the hole. When it's time to move, I simply reel up, grab the flasher and head to the next hole.

Gunning

Since I’m targeting walleye when they're in feeding mode, I prefer to use flashy lures that flutter and vibrate as they fall. My favourites include PK Lures' Flutter Fish, the Leech Flutter Spoon from Clam Outdoors and HT Enterprises' Jig-A-Whopper Hawger Spoon. I like to work these spoons aggressively to mimic an injured baitfish or fleeing aquatic creature.

For running and gunning, I use longer-than-usual 30- to 40-inch fishing rods. With these longer rods, I can stand over a hole and fish it without having to bend over or sit down. They also make for solid hooksets, and provide backbone for battling big walleye to the surface. I prefer to use a spinning reel, because it lets out line quickly and easily.

I also rig and carry a couple of spare outfits in case I lose a lure or tangle my line. That way, I can quickly grab another combo without wasting time tying on a fresh lure or untangling my line. Again, the windows of opportunity can be short, so you want to be ready to take full advantage.

In many regions hardwater anglers can use two fishing lines. I take advantage of this by setting up a second line - usually a tip-up or a deadstick in a rod holder - a few holes ahead of me in the shallower water. That's the direction I expect the fish will be moving, so having a second line in the water acts as an insurance policy; if a fish strikes, I'll know the walleye have somehow moved past me, so I'll quickly hop a few holes ahead to get overtop of them again. Trust me, when you start catching these travelling walleye, you'll never want to get left behind again.

By Mike Hungle – Outdoor Canada