Ice anglers who hunt walleyes through the ice know the feeling.

Watching a promising thick line come through on your electronics, it holds for just a moment while you are poised, ready to set the hook to only watch it slowly fade away.

In spending many hours playing the game, there are certainly a few ways to “tease” walleyes and saugers into getting their teeth into your offering and ultimately putting more fish on the ice.

Walleye fishing can be challenging. The little things we do as anglers while fishing walleyes through the ice are often the missing elements in icing more walleyes.

Be Different.

It is easy to gravitate to your favorite lure that is your “go to”. If you are fishing by yourself, maybe a smart start. If you are ice fishing with others and they are using the same lure or presentation, start out using something different.  Being different will help you and your fellow anglers better understand what the walleyes want that day. Typically, a certain lure, color, bait and presentation will emerge as a pattern and others can then mimic what is working.

Hard to Get.

Sometimes walleyes are just like humans, they want what is hard to get. When that mark on your electronics is not responding to your normal jigging cadence, mix it up. One of the most successful teases for a walleye is what seems to emulate an escaping baitfish. 

Shake your lure while at the same time raising it up in the water column. When the fish starts to respond and rise up with you, do not stop! Keep it fleeing away, much like a minnow would do in trying to escape a predator. The tendency is to stop the lure so the walleye can catch it. Don’t do it!  This usually turns the walleye’s aggressiveness off. Keep just ahead of the predator, mark my words, they will close the gap.

Often times, a walleye will chase your bait half way up the water column or more. When they eat, they crush it pushing your bait up giving you slack. Be ready for it and set the hook!

When raising the bait in the water column, use your reel vs. lifting your rod with your arms. If you have raised your arms up too high, you not only have nothing left to set the hook with, if you are fishing in a fish house with a lower roof, you will actually hit the roof of the fish house with the rod when you set the hook. Using your reel to control the depth of your lure will keep your arms in the best hook setting position.

There are times when a walleye or sauger will chase you way up and slowly drift back down to the bottom.  Don’t get discouraged. Go after them again. Many times the walleye or sauger will respond numerous times before deciding to actually eat. 

Good electronics for ice fishing helps tremendously in understanding how the fish are reacting. Learning what each walleye wants and how they want it is invaluable. I grew up using a Vexilar and wouldn’t give it up. Electronics are an important part of icing walleyes and gives ice anglers a big advantage. 

Be Aggressive.

There is a time to speed up and a time to slow down. Getting erratic and aggressive with search lures, swimming baits, vibration baits and larger spoons can trigger the eyes to eat. This might mean pounding the bottom, fast high lifts with uncontrolled drops, constant shaking and jigging higher up in the water column. Much like a crankbait, going after the reaction strike can trick walleyes into hitting your lure when a normal presentation would not work.

Chill Out.

Of course, the opposite approach of targeting more neutral fish is to go more finesse. That might mean smaller lures, tipping your lures with smaller pieces of bait, less action while jigging or even setting your jigging line on a bucket simply watching for the rod tip to bend ever so ever slightly. Some very good ice anglers actually prefer watching their rod tip vs. using a bobber as they feel it is easier to detect light biters.

Deadsticking.

As much fun as it is jigging up a nice walleye, it is also fun being productive and catching as many fish as possible. This is why most ice anglers targeting walleyes will have down a deadstick, or a bobber line in addition to the jigging line. 

Some walleyes and saugers simply prefer a lively minnow vs. a lure. Some might be in a neutral mood and in other cases, it might just be their preference based on what they are eating, the pressure system, clouds or sun, how deep they are, etc., etc. The bottom line is we don’t always know why something works, but it just does so we keep using it. 

Consider these techniques to “tease” more eyes into taking your deadstick offering. 

Raise it up!

Similar to how walleyes will chase a lure up in the water column, I have friends who swear by keeping their deadstick offering, which is usually a hook or walleye ice jig with a live minnow, a few feet off of the bottom vs. 6 inches to a foot off as would be the norm. The thought again is, walleyes are used to feeding up when eating baitfish and this represents what they are used to doing. Many times I have set my rod down momentarily on a bucket or chair and watched a walleye slowly rise way up and take the offering. Keeping your deadstick offering high can be productive when the norm is not.

Dead bait.

It is one thing using dead bait such as frozen emerald shiners on Lake of the Woods when jigging. It is another when deadsticking. Walleyes never cease to amaze me. Recently while fishing in a permanent fish house on Lake of the Woods, a friend purposefully chose the dead minnow from the minnow bucket for his deadstick line vs. the live. 

Most anglers use a live minnow on the deadstick.  In this case, as the other holes weren’t setting the world on fire, he thought he would try it. Keeping his offering in the strike zone 6-18 inches off of the bottom, it was the hottest hole in the house. Who would have guessed!

Walleye fishing can be challenging. Learning special nuances will trigger walleyes into eating vs. watching that mark on your electronics slowly disappear which can really change the day for the better. The little things we do as anglers while fishing walleyes through the ice are often the missing elements in icing more walleyes.

About The Author

Joe Henry

As a long time guide, licensed charter captain, and tournament angler, Joe Henry has made fishing a part of his everyday life. Joe “cut his teeth” on MN lakes and rivers and has guided and fished walleyes throughout the nation. Joe’s home water is now Lake of the Woods, which he has fished for over 25 years. Professionally, Joe is an outdoor communicator and a media member of the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers (AGLOW). His professional background combined with his many fishing credentials lead him to his current role, Executive Director of Tourism for Lake of the Woods.