Changing Times for Early Ice Walleyes

The walleye action early in the ice fishing season can run white hot at times, and what the fuss is all about. It’s also why the most dedicated anglers do their level best to try and get on the ice just as soon as they can. Fast action and easy limits are what they’re hoping for, but it’s not always fast and it’s not always easy. It could be though, especially if you’re prepared.

Preparation includes trying to get a handle on location and will depend on just how far along the season has progressed, even if it’s just a matter of weeks. The thing is things change, especially when it comes to early ‘eyes. Some of the earliest spots to heat up are the shallowest and includes rocks, gravel, sand and weeds. You can certainly find fish in deeper water but it’s not always an option and will depend on how quickly safe ice develops. Shallow rocks, gravel, and weed beds are where super charged walleyes stack up and turn on but most of the action occurs during lowlight periods early in the morning and late in the day even in darker water. Dark water can definitely have an effect and be more conducive to daytime activity but on darker bodies of water the hottest action early in the season usually occurs during the first couple of hours after sunup and the last couple before sundown. On clearer lakes you might be looking at the first and last hour of daylight or less, and then on into the dark. The first hour or so after the sun sets can be prime time for being on the ice and well worth the effort it takes to stay out just a little longer.

Try that on a darker lake and you could be just wasting your time. Many have tried but most have failed when it comes to catching fish on the darkest lakes. It seems that lowlight is great, but no light is a real dream killer. Lakes that fall somewhere in between are going to require some investigative angling to determine if there’s any nighttime activity.

A typical walleye movement starts with fish that have been holding in deeper water moving up shallow as they become more and more active and is something to consider when you’re trying to put together a winning game plan. If you can get to deeper water close to your shallow hot spot you might be able to find active daytime fish. If not; you might have to stick with the shallows and try to find the spot on the spot and wait them out. Because the action can be short-lived there really isn’t a lot of time for making big moves and where you set up is basically what you’re going to be stuck with. That can be good or bad depending on how many hungry ‘eyes show up at just the right time. You can help increase your chances by looking for a quick breaking edge at the very top of a bar, or a little rock point or finger, or an inside turn in a weedline, or where a little gravel patch butts up or into the weeds. What you’re looking for is something different than all the rest, something that can help concentrate fish.

The early season hot spots can stack up with fish right away but don’t expect the action to last forever. A couple of good weeks might be all you get out of a good spot before it’s time to move on. When the action slows down (or comes to a complete stop) or fish no longer show up on a depth finder; that’s a good indication it might be time to find greener pastures. When it does happens it’s time to look a little deeper, and deeper, and so on and so on, depending on ice conditions. The deep to shallow feeding movement rule of thumb still applies though, so look for deeper edges to hold fish during the day and the top edges to load up early and late in the day.

Tactics can also change with a changing season and it would probably pay to adjust. Early on look for more aggressive techniques like thumping jigging baits to pay off, and something softer and more subdued to pick up the slack when things slow down. Noisier baits like the Northland Buck-Shot Rattle spoon are terrific early on and will keep on producing right through the hard water season but you may to have tone it down a little later on. You can start with a hard snap after snap to get noticed, but slow it down if you’re not getting hit. Jigging baits like the Mini Airplane Jig are another excellent option, especially in clear water.

Instead of a hard snap up the technique requires more of a pull, allowing it to settle out, and then following it up with another pull. Still baits like a small jighead and minnow suspended below a float can also produce and is a great one-two punch when set up in a hole next to the one you’re jigging. Fish attracted to the spoon will often hit the jig and minnow and will give you the chance to double up if you draw in more than one taker. A good flasher type depth finder like the Marcum LX-5 will allow you to see exactly what’s going on while you’re trying to figure it all out and whether or not the fish are attracted or put off by your technique. If you’re seeing fish and not getting hit it’s time to experiment, or find another spot.

Adjusting to changing conditions is the moral of the story which should help keep you on the fish. Instead of waiting for a good report you can take control and put together your own, but keep it to yourself if you want it to last. See you on the ice.