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Early Ice Walleye Fishing

Lakes are finally covered and it’s time to start drilling holes in search of the ice bite! 

Walleye are the perfect species to target during the early part of ice because of their activity level during this stage of the year. They will still be transitioning out of their fall locations and can be caught shallow by mimicking the bait fish they are actively feeding on. 

Early ice also means it’s likely the fish haven’t seen a lure in several weeks due to the changing water conditions and the inability of anglers to get out. The lower fishing pressure and increased activity level is the perfect combination to start ice fishing off right. 

Here are three things to consider when going after early ice walters!


Where were you catching walleye right before the ice came? Chances are they can still be found around those same areas. Walleye will still be in the fall/winter transition and can be found shallow before they make their move out into main basin areas.  

There is still plenty of bait around shallow reefs that attract walleye during this time of year. Focus on areas that have easy access to deep water. Shallow ground attached to main lake points that drop into deeper water are great places to start. As the winter progresses, fish will start to move and stay out deeper. They prefer areas where that transition can be done in a relatively short distance. 

Once you’re keyed in on the desired depth and structure, make sure to stay nimble. If the bite slows in one spot, pick up and move. There may only be several “active” fish in a location at any given moment and waiting on them to fire back up could waste valuable time. 

Baits to Use

Since there will still be a supply of bait fish around the shallows, walleye will be keyed in on larger profile lures instead of the small ice jigs we typically see throughout the winter. Using a lure that closely matches the size of the baitfish present will get you more bites throughout the day. 

Larger profile spoons or jigging baits are a perfect place to start. Several great options are the VMC Rattle Spoon, Rapala Jigging Rap, or the Rapala Ultra Light Rippin’ Rap. All of which have a variety of sizes and weighs to precisely match the hatch. 

Along with matching the size of bait to your lure choice, you will also want to pick a color pattern that closely resembles the baitfish. If there are perch present, use a perch pattern. If they are primarily feeding on panfish, throw something with green and orange in it. If there are shad, try a metallic option. 

The water clarity will generally be best during this time of year due to fish being located in shallower water, thinner ice present and less snowpack. This makes realistic color options a better choice. It isn’t until the light penetration and visibility greatly decreases when you want to throw the bright fluorescent colors. 

Scent is the third key feature that should be considered for early ice. Tipping each lure with a minnow or minnow head will also match the smell of what the walleyes are keying in on during this time of year. 

With these three things in mind, you are sure to attract and catch more fish. 


Just like in any other time of the year, it’s key to pay attention to what the fish are responding best to. 

Since walleye will generally be more active, start with a slightly more erratic presentation. They are more likely to travel distances for a meal and any noise or vibration that can call them in is a plus. Short, rapid jigging is a great starting point. 

Other perfect options with a spoon/jig is to swim or bang it against the bottom and kick up sediment. Both variations can be done at different paces as well. 

One thing to keep in mind is that the presentation that called them in might not be the one that makes them commit. Pay close attention when you are marking a fish. When did they bite or decide not to take the bait? Both situations can get you closer to dialing them in. 

With any good jigging strategy, make sure to keep a dead stick present. A small jig with a minnow is the perfect combination to catch any walleye that may have been called in and are not ready to commit to something moving more erratic. 

Now go out and catch some fish!

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