Early ice walleye

BIG PLAYER: John Crane and an early ice walleye that ate a Tikka Mino last winter.

The first few weeks of the ice fishing season usually offer the best fishing action for walleyes of the entire winter season. 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!

Fish last, first

The fist fishing spots I target when ice fishing are often the last places I found walleyes during open water. In fact, this “last open water to first ice” pattern has served me well many times. Walleyes holding in remnant weeds or 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!

Get your stealth on

Early ice walleyes are often found in fairly shallow water. Combine shallow fish location with thin, clear ice and you have a recipe for fishing disaster unless anglers use some precautionary measures designed to prevent spooking fish from their shallow haunts. I like to get to my fishing spot well before the “magic hour,” (the last half hour of the day into the first half hour of evening) drill the fishing holes, and set up a portable shelter. Having everything set up early and then limiting motion and noise during prime time will increase the odds for a successful fishing evening.

Be aggressive

Though I prefer to be stealthy when it comes to setup and organization, the actual bait presentations that usually work best at first ice often involve aggressive bait movements. I prefer using jigging spoons or glide baits and work them with aggressive jigging strokes in an attempt to “call in” fish to the bait. Slowing up and barely moving the bait might be required to tempt reluctant fish into biting that appear on the sonar screen. 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 fishes aggressively and caught the ice world by storm last year for its fish-catching abilities and will continue to be a big player in my winter walleye fishing lineup. Also, the new “Ribbon Leech Flutter Spoon” has a tantalizing fall and noisy, flashy flapper blade that combine to make it a great bait for calling in and catching early ice walleyes too!

See ‘em

I never leave home at early ice, or any time during winter for that matter, without my ice flasher sonar unit. 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 adjust if necessary. Knowing 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.

In some parts of the Midwest, ice fishing season is just days away. That’s exciting for those of us 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 “primetime” walleyes this season!

As always, enjoy your time on the ice and remember to include a youngster in your next outdoors adventure!

Mike Frisch hosts the popular “Fishing the Midwest” TV series. Visit fishingthemidwest.com for more “fishy” stuff.

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