Early Ice Walleyes
By: Cole Karsky
Edited by: Blake Tollefson
Hole hopping for walleyes is undoubtably one of my favorite ways to target them through the ice. Growing up in Minnesota, early ice is something I am always looking forward to. In most years, my first ice trip of the year is generally to Upper Red Lake. Nothing quite like getting back on the ice with good friends and a hot bite! The entire drive up, I am playing out the scenarios through my head on how I would like to target the fish. Whenever possible, I ditch the shack and stay mobile. This allows me to drill a series of holes and hop around in search of active fish. I have a specific plan I like to follow for targeting walleyes. The first thing I do is to set up my set line. This could be a dead stick, tip up or my personal favorite, a Finicky Fooler. This allows me to fight those fish on a rod and reel over the hand to hand combat of a tip up. A plain red hook and a minnow is always a good choice.
For targeting more active fish, I deploy run and gun methods. When it comes to actually fishing, I have a specific method I like to follow in order to be the most effective. I always carry a bait puck with me that has a scoop of minnows in it. This allows me to not have to haul around a minnow bucket and not have to go back to the bucket when I need a new minnow head. Simply take a minnow out, pinch it in half, and store the puck back in your pocket. I run a Marcum Lithium Shuttle, which is super lightweight and allows me to carry extra rods.
I always start each day with the same three rod system. The first rod I have rigged up is my most aggressive lure. I start each day with my most aggressive lure and adjust from there. I find that I generate more marks on negative fish with the aggressive baits even if they are not in the mood to bite an aggressive lure. This lets me know if I am on them or not. Some of the lures I like to use in this category include the 1/8 oz and 3/8 oz Eurotackle Z-Viber, as well as other jigging minnow and rattling style baits.
When fish are showing up but wont commit to super aggressive presentation, I move on to my second rod setup. This style of bait has a bit more finesse than the first style of lures. I personally like to send down a spoon that has a bit of flutter. Often the walleyes will see that spoon fluttering down and will come up and smack it on the drop. My favorite spoon for this presentation is an Eurotackle Live Spoon. I will use both the 1/16 and 3/8 oz sizes depending on the lake and situation. Sometimes you need to downsize to get the bites.
The final presentation I use is a similar to dead stick approach, as it doesn’t involve a lot of movement. Sometimes they want a bait that just hangs in front of their face so they can be lazy and bite finicky. During these times I rely on lures the T-Flasher and Soft Lock. The most effective sizes range from 1/16 oz to 1/4 oz. Rigging a minnow and letting it swim in front of their faces can often do the trick.
By having these presentations rigged up and ready to go, I am confident that I will be able to quickly work through an area and catch any walleyes that may be present. I use this strategy throughout all of ice season and tweak it on a lake by lake basis.