Prime Time Walleyes

By Mike Frisch

Ice fishing’s early season, the first few weeks of safe ice, usually offers the best walleye fishing action of the entire winter.  Here is a look at suggestions that can help tip the odds for ice fishing success in your favor should you chose to get in on this “prime time” fishing pattern!

The first tip involves where to start your search for fish.  For me, those first walleye spots of the ice season are often the last places I found fish on during open water.  In fact, this “last open water to first ice” pattern has proven reliable many times.  Walleyes holding on structural elements like points, humps, and turns during the last few days of open water will often be on, or near, those same places when safe ice forms.  Simply trading the long rods and boat for ice rods and a portable shelter is often the only change needed to transition from late fall fishing success to early winter fishing success!

Early ice walleyes found on structure like mentioned above are often found in fairly shallow water.  Combine shallow fish location with thin, clear ice and you have a recipe for fishing disaster as this scenario can mean spooky walleyes. Therefore, I like to get to my fishing spot well before the “magic hour” (the last ½ hour of the day into the first ½ hour of evening), drill the fishing holes, and set up a portable shelter.  Being set up early and then limiting motion and noise during prime time will increase the odds for a successful fishing evening.

Though I prefer to be stealthy with my movements when it comes to fishing spot set up and organization, the actual bait presentations that usually work best at first ice often involve aggressive bait movements.   Jigging spoons or glide baits worked with aggressive jigging strokes in an attempt to “call in” fish to the bait usually do the trick.  Once a fish shows on sonar, slowing up and barely moving the bait might be required to tempt reluctant fish.  However, reverting to an aggressive approach is usually key to attracting fish any time none are seen on sonar.  

The Tikka Mino is a glide bait that’s been around a few years now, fishes aggressively, and has earned a spot at the top of my winter walleye lure selection list.  Also, the new Rattlin’ PT Spoon has a tantalizing fluttering action and noisy rattles that combine to make it a great bait for calling in and catching early ice walleyes too!

The final piece of equipment for me, an ice flasher sonar unit, is a necessity in my mind.  A flasher unit allows me to see bottom, my bait, and any walleyes that appear.  This allows me to monitor how the fish are responding to my jigging strokes and lets me know when it’s time to adjust.  Seeing fish responses and adjusting to their moods allows me to maximize my catch.  The FLX-30 sonar that I use has great signal clarity, a ton of features, and comes with a lightweight lithium-ion battery that stays charged for days.

It’s ice fishing season in many parts of the Midwest now.  That’s exciting for those who love spending time on hard water.  If catching a bunch of early ice walleyes is your goal, consider using some of the tips just offered.  Heading to your favorite walleye waters and employing the ideas from above can, in fact, tip the odds  for success in your favor when it comes to “prime time” walleyes this season!

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