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Early Ice Walleyes: Jigging for Success in Lake Shallows

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Walleye is my favorite fish to catch. It's true that landing a bass I've been hunting has its thrill as I bust the lunker and bring it in. But the finesse involved in landing a walleye, the pure fishing skill required is something I truly enjoy. And as a chef, I love the walleye for its pristine, clearwater flavor. This article will talk about the ice fishing gear you might think about for early walleye ice fishing, and lake structures to look for when setting your walleye ice fishing rig.

Ice Fishing Gear to Use

In early ice, passive fishing with a good tip up jig set up is king. As with all walleye fishing, a conservative approach will often do best. Keeping your jigging to a minimum, and depending on the rattle from a rattling lure or throes of a proper-sized minnow will do better than an aggressive jigging strategy.

For live bait options, I tend to use a simple, hook and split shot rig with mini-minnows, red worms or grub larvae, or a Lindy Pounder in chartreuse (play with colors, as always) with wax or red worms. For lure jigging, I almost exclusively use specialty jigging spoons, both with and without a rattling feature. The key is to be flexible, as always. Sometimes, an early ice walleye will come from far away for a rattle spoon. Other times, it may just spook them. In general, with walleye, I tend to go easy in every way if in doubt. Let your experience on local waters and fish be your guide.

Lake Structure and Ice Fishing for Walleye

Early ice walleye will tend to stay in shallower water, and move out to deeper water as the season progresses. Look for water of about 6' to 8' in depth, and look for structural shifts. As an example, here in the North, the ice fishing season is about to begin in earnest at the time of this writing and Cisco Lake, Gogebic County, Michigan, will serve as an example. Most of Cisco lake is a flat mud bottom, but there is a small hump rise at GPS N46° 14.562′, W89° 26.758′. Just Southeast from the hump is where the lake islands concentrate, and in front of the entrance to these islands is a rock and pebble/sand bar structure jutting out straight from the lead island point. Submerged structures such as these provide great contrast to the surrounding bottom. Walleyes combing for food tend to hold in here, so these are ideal spots to lay down a series of ice fishing holes.

Paul Smith lives in the northwoods of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He is a martial arts teacher and avid outdoorsman. He is the webmaster for, a resource for ice fishing gear and other outdoor sports. He is also a regular contributor to outdoor blog, an outdoors-oriented weblog.

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