Get Active for Early Ice Walleyes

By Nick Simonson

First ice provides an excellent opportunity to connect with aggressive walleyes, and Runnings has all the lures, line and rods to help you set the hook on the excitement of the early hardwater season. Whether they’re fish in a shallow prairie slough or a larger lake or impoundment, walleyes are finishing up their fall feeding binges, making now the best time of the winter to target these fish that get a little more fickle later in the season. Using a combination of active lures can help locate them to get you on the action faster and keep you on it as fish roam a feeding area under the first ice of the year.

Spoon Fed

Bright flashy spoons shine for walleyes in the early ice season and those that kick out a little extra noise go a long way in reaching walleyes in a hot spot.  Offerings like Northland’s Buck Shot Rattle Spoon, and Lindy’s Rattl’n Flyer kick out the noise and have good motion and fluttering action when jigged or ripped under the ice. Slender spoons like the Swedish Pimple also have a place in many tackle boxes for ice walleyes, and a wide variety of colors and hook options make these lures customizable to just about any water. Stock up on sizes from 1/4- to 3/4-ounce, depending on the prevailing size of the walleyes in your lake, going bigger for those larger fish that are lurking under the ice. Connect them with a loop knot, such as the Rapala knot, to maximize their motion under the ice, or utilize a quick-change snap to move through options and find what works best. Bait spoons with a minnow head, a full minnow or an artificial option like Berkley Gulp! to complete the package.

Rip spoons on a medium rod rigged with six-pound test (or heavier, if the quality of fish dictate) and consider using a superline like Fireline Micro Ice to deal with not only the teeth of walleyes which can sometimes be a factor, but also to account for other predators like northern pike which may also be in the area. When a walleye shows up on a sonar display, work the bait aggressively above the fish and see if it will rise. At this time of year, it is likely they will, but sometimes they’ll need some convincing and it may take a few moments of your chosen pattern to set them off. Utilize varying cadences of lift-fall-pause-jiggle, noting that many early ice walleyes will snap up an offering as it drops back toward them. Use the sonar to detect any sudden movements and be ready to set the hook if the combination of motion on the screen and a dead-weight sensation on the rod come together.

High Profile

Fish profile baits like the Salmo Chubby Darter and Rapala Jigging Rap also are ideal active lures for early ice walleyes and working them properly can help draw in fish and elicit rod-jerking strikes. As with the spoons, utilizing an open loop knot as the connection will give these baits freer and more natural motion under the ice and allow for a better presentation. Tip the middle treble with a minnow head for added scent and flavor to seal the deal for walleyes.

Before dropping these baits down to the bottom, check their action out in the hole and see how your jigging motions impact their movement. Mimic the way minnows move in the wild by giving them a series of slight raises before ripping them up and away from walleyes to trigger a chase or set off a snap when the lure falls back to them. Good beginning patterns for these lures include a series of slight raises and jiggles or taps on the rod blank with an index finger to give the lure a minnow-like vibration just before a solid eight-to-ten-inch rip of the rod to give the bait a fleeing feel that sets walleyes off, as if their easy meal is about to depart the area.

Line Up

While it is time consuming and adds a little bit of expense, it is important to re-line reels with new monofilament heading into early ice. Having spent the off-season coiled tightly around the spool, most ice lines will have significant memory and as a result will produce significant spin when used to present spoons at first ice. The oddly-rotating lure will be a turn off, even to aggressive walleyes, and as a result the line should be replaced to produce the best opportunities for success this time of year. Remember too that the aggressive jigging action of spoons can produce line twist, so from time to time it is wise to cut the line, retie the spoon and get back to business with an offering that doesn’t rotate and turn fish off on those very vital pauses in the jigging pattern. Running’s has a wide selection of popular ice lines to keep all reels rigged up and ready to roll this time of year as soon as the ice is solid and the fish are on the bite.

Matching the aggressive nature of the fish this time of year with active presentations is a great way to put more walleyes on the ice and add more memories to your winter fishing journal. Stop in at your local Runnings for the lures you need to connect and for advice on where the best bite is going in your area at early ice. From small items to stock up a tackle box to those bigger investments like augers, sonar and portable ice shacks, Running’s has the gear to get your ice season going.