Winter Walleye Tactics | Fish, Location & Presentation
By TJ Erickson | December 11, 2022
Your rod is doubled over, your drag is peeling, and your heart is pounding as you see a quick flash of gold pass by right below your feet. This is what winter in the north country is all about! As many fishermen know, winter walleyes can be incredibly fun, yet incredibly finicky. With the short winter bite windows, having the right gear is an essential part of capitalizing on your bites. A quality rod paired with a reel like the Piscifun Carbon X 1000 will give you the sensitivity and strength needed to land more fish. While having the proper gear is important, there are a few considerations that need to be made prior to drilling your first hole. Fish + Location + Presentation has long been the formula used to target any species, and for good reason. It works. Today, we are going to walk you through the F-L-P of winter walleyes.
(1 of 5) Fish
Before we get into the location and presentation, there are a couple important characteristics of the walleye that we need to consider. In the winter, a walleye’s metabolism slows and they consume only one percent of their body weight daily. This is significantly less than the three percent that they consume during the prime summer months. Additionally, due to the cold water and slower metabolism, walleyes are less nomadic in the winter months. Once they establish their wintering locations, large movements or migrations are often limited. Finally, walleye feeding movements are stimulated by changing light levels despite light penetration decreasing through the ice. Therefore, first light and last light are often prime feeding times, with the peak being in the evening.
(2 of 5) Walleye Location
With that information as our backdrop, let’s talk location. Walleye location is relative to the size, makeup, and forage in the body of water that you are fishing, but one thing remains consistent. Walleyes love structure. This doesn’t mean they will be on every piece of structure at all times of the day, but if there are main lake points or mid lake humps, there will likely be walleyes close by. I especially like to target mid lake humps that have high traffic areas like steep breaks, inside turns, or saddles that are adjacent to deep water. For a more in depth look into my favorite locations, watch the video below.
(3 of 5) Presentation
Once you have located a “fishy” spot, now it is time to dial in your presentation. During the short bite windows of the winter, it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact presentation that the walleyes are looking for, so utilizing multiple lines can be key. This can include tip ups, deadsticks, and jigging rods, to name a few. With that being said, make sure you check your local regulations to ensure you are not exceeding the number lines that you are able to use. In my home state of Minnesota, we are allowed to have two rods during the hardwater season. In order to utilize both lines most effectively, I am usually running an active presentation on a jigging rod paired with a set line, such as a tip up or snare rod, for a more finesse presentation. When I am fishing inside my portable shack, I like to use a jigging spoon or rattle bait on a 32” medium light rod paired with the Piscifun Carbon X 1000 reel for an active presentation. For my deadstick approach, I will often use a 32” snare rod paired with the Carbon X 1000 and a small tungsten jig or plain octopus hook with a shiner or fathead. If I am hole hopping outside my shack, I will use a similar set up for my active presentation, but with slightly longer rods. For my set-line I will upsize my set up to a 40” medium rod with a Carbon X 2000 and use a tip up such as an iFish Pro or Finicky Fooler. On the terminal end, I will use a bigger minnow on a plain hook with a split shot set about a foot up. For a more in depth look at my favorite walleye presentations, watch the video below.
(4 of 5 ) More Tips
Another important tip while fishing structure is to arrive at your location early in order to drill your holes first. This will help to eliminate spooking fish and will also allow you to move with the fish more effectively. When fishing structure in the evening, walleyes will generally move from deep to shallow in order to follow the forage. Depending on the depth and makeup of the structure you are fishing, I generally like to start at the deeper base of the breaklines and move toward the top. If you are using electronics, you will generally see bait start moving in first, followed by the bigger marks of walleyes. Once the walleyes move out of the area, it is time to move shallower to the next hole that you have drilled. Doing this will allow you to maximize the amount of time your bait is in front of walleyes during their prime feeding time.
(5 of 5) Final Thoughts
While targeting winter walleyes may be challenging at times, with the right gear, knowledge, and time spent on the ice, it can be an incredibly fruitful venture with memories to last a lifetime!