Each year I look forward to hunting season. Early mornings followed by early evenings at deer camp leave us with time to relax, share stories and talk about what else…fishing! The topic tonight is early season ice fishing for Walleyes. Smaller lakes tend to freeze up much faster than larger, deeper basins and lakes, so if you are headed out soon you may want to try your luck on smaller bodies of water first. It can be easier to locate schools of Walleye and you can find them in shallower depths versus early season on a large body of water such as Lake of the Woods, etc.
We plan to do some exploring this winter on small lakes in our area. With each different lake our strategy to locate packs of Walleye will be the same; we call it the 1-2-3 approach. First, try the deeper edge off of extended points or shorelines. As I have mentioned in most of my previous articles, extended points are one the best places to start looking for groups of fish on any new body of water. Secondly, move around and explore different areas on mid-lake structures, try to find the “spot on the spot” where the Walleyes may group up. Last but not least is number three, soft bottom flats. When fishing flats spread out and drill a few holes in different areas so you can cover water and increase your success.
The best time of day to try for Walleye is right before sunset, and at sunset. Each day this will be the peak time to catch them. Early season ice conditions can be dangerous and unsafe, never travel alone and be careful when you head out on the hard water, especially when you are scouting new and unfamiliar lakes.
Tackle selection doesn’t need to be complicated; a few small lures with a slow presentation and you are set. A jig with live bait or a 3-4 inch soft plastic minnow bait like such as the TriggerX Minnow can be one of the best applications for enticing finicky Walleye. This will work all year round, not only early season. When you are using soft plastics make sure you experiment with many different colours until you find the colour that works on that particular day. I am a big believer that colour is important. I have personally seen days in open water and ice fishing where one person has caught at least double the amount of the fish than everyone else, while using the same lure, just in a different colour. Sometimes when a certain colour works well we all put on the exact same thing. When working the bait we first try it on the bottom, and then we try jigging it one foot off bottom which can trigger them to bite.
Light spoons, with or without a rattle, in bright colours have brought us success as well. I usually tip the end with a piece of salted minnow or a piece of scented soft plastic for extra appeal. Favourite colours would be chartreuse and pink. Small lipless crankbaits such as the Rapala Rippin’ Rap or Rattlin’ Rapala can be great if the fish are active, and it is also a great way to get their attention and attract them in. Once you lure them in a great “closing” bait is the Jigging Shad Rap. It is my go-to bait year after year for Walleyes through the ice, all winter long, they love it!