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Breakin' it down: Walleye under the ice
Article By: Nathan Zelinsky, Tightline Outfitters
Every now and then, I hear fishermen say how hard it is to fish for walleye through the ice. Yes, it can be somewhat difficult, but it really can be a blast. Ice fishing for walleye is nothing more than building a pattern. Once you have that pattern built, all you have to make sure of is a quick hook set. What makes the fishing so rough is building that pattern. Sometimes it can take 4 or 5 hours on the ice to achieve it, and other times, it may take a couple of weeks. And in those couple of weeks, frustration can mound up and some anglers will end their season in those two weeks. Ice fishing for walleye is a challenge, but it can also be extremely productive. I’m going to talk about the things I look for when I’m ice fishing to build a productive pattern to stick some walleye.
So what I do is once I find my structure, I drill many holes anywhere from dead center on top of the structure, and maybe a couple on the sides of it, (still staying on top, just not centered) and then a few that I can fish all the way down the structure. I drill all my holes at one time, that way I’m not disrupting the feeding walleye if I have to move holes. Then I use my flasher, I prefer a Vexilar FL-18 (or FL-20), to start looking for either walleye or baitfish. A lot of times, I like to see the bait first, because then you have a couple of minutes to set up before the eyes move in. In the last few years of ice fishing seasons on the Front Range, I have noticed you usually get about 3 feedings per day. Most of the time, those feedings are taking place right on top of the structure. There’s usually a good bite in the first hour to hour and a half in the morning and the same thing in the evening right before dark. The bite that is tricky to pinpoint is the mid-day feeding. My pattern last year was between 1pm and 3pm. This is why building a pattern is so important, these walleye will hit like clockwork. You just need to make sure you’re in the right spot for the meeting.
Here is an example from last year. I was on a piece of structure that had about a 20-foot contour change around it and the top was 15 feet. The first time I fished it, I saw fish all over the structure on the top and the sides. I sat right on top of the bait, slightly off to one side. I caught 8 walleye that morning and I was happy. The next day, I went to the same structure and drilled more holes so I could experiment a little more. I was in the deeper water to the East side of the structure and I saw a ton of shad move through and then I saw the walleye moving in to feed on them. I caught a couple of walleye, but they moved out too quickly, so I moved toward the top again. I sat right on the edge on the East side where the shad was coming from. The top of the structure was 15 feet, so I sat in 15.5 feet with one hole and 16 feet with the other. I hammered them. After a few trips out there, my pattern ended up being the walleye were everywhere, but when they were on the deep sides, they were moving around too much and I couldn’t stay on them. Once those fish reached the top, they were still catchable, but a little picky. But when I would sit just slightly on the side, they were extremely vulnerable and open to taking a variety of baits. So in this example, it was only 6 inches to 1 foot that made all the difference.