Early-ice Walleye Binge

Early-ice fishing tips for walleye by Brian Brosdahl

Early ice is often the best time of the winter for walleye fishing. Other species can also be good early, but some of the best times for crappies, sunfish and perch usually occur later in the winter.


Ice safety is key, especially early in the season when there are few established trails on the ice. Angler are responsible for themselves, with the main goal of having a safe trip.


Every angler needs to check the ice conditions themselves. There is plenty of good ice safety advice on the web, so I don’t want to cover old ground, or old ice for that matter. The main idea is to know what you are doing, and always err on the side of safety.


Once the ice is ready and anglers are able to get on the lakes, shoreline structure usually gets all the fishing pressure early in the season. I am always looking for good areas to fish from my boat in the fall, so I can come back early in the ice fishing season.


I want locations that are within easy walking distance from an access point, and I am looking for areas with features I think will attract fish on early ice.


Most years, there is somewhere in my part of northern Minnesota where anglers can walk out on the ice before the beginning of December.

Early ice walleye fishing tips 


Fishing usually starts out good as soon as anglers can get on the ice, and keeps getting better as anglers are able to access more areas on the lakes. The peak fishing usually happens in late December or early January, before the coldest part of the winter arrives.


Upper Red Lake and Lake of the Woods are two of the most popular ice fishing destinations for walleyes in northern Minnesota. Anglers from all over the Midwest come to both lakes during the winter to catch walleyes through the ice.


The winter walleye bite on both lakes starts out along the shoreline break, and moves further from shore as the season progresses. Some anglers walk out early, but quickly switch to ATVs and snowmobiles as the ice conditions improve.


Northland has made many awesome lures for all types of fishing over the years, with the Buckshot Rattle Spoon quickly becoming the classic jigging spoon for walleyes.


Now there is another classic spoon from Northland that works especially well in shallow water. The New GloShot Spoon comes with a replaceable glow stick built right into the spoon.


Tipping jigging spoons with a minnow head or half a minnow adds the right kind of scent and encourages the fish to strike the part of the spoon with the hook.


Anglers don’t usually have a lot of choices for structure early in the season. Turns or points along the shoreline break are usually it. Anglers can look for structural elements like green weeds, boulders, gravel, hard bottom areas or even just stretches with a steeper break leading into deep water.


Walleyes often follow edges when they get active and feed. If anglers can position themselves in the right area, walleyes will often move through their location when they get active. Sometimes will go through the same area on their way in and out of structure as they feed.


The peak bite is usually earlier in the afternoon and mornings on stained lakes, but in lakes with clear water, the peak bite is usually at dawn or dusk and after dark.


Once anglers find an area the fish are using, then it is a matter of breaking down the area to find the best location to put a portable fish house.


I have GPS icons I placed during open water that give me a starting point on structures. I usually drill some holes up and down the break to try locating the fish. I use the mapping feature on my Humminbird Helix 7 Ice, so it adds data to my map every time I drop the transducer down a new hole.


I use my AquaVu while I fish to check out what is happening below the ice. I use the Frabill Sentinel when I search for spots on foot, so I can haul all my gear in the fish house.


I like to have my hands free and well-protected from the elements with my Yeti gloves from Fish Monkey. They are the best gloves I’ve ever worn for the wet and cold conditions I run into when ice fishing.


Once it gets a little later in the season, I switch to the Frabill Bro Series fish house, so I have more room. My wife Heather likes to come with, but she likes to sit in the fish house while I like to keep looking for fish.


Heather likes to set up the Aqua-Vu in its own hole, so she can see the fish coming through. Heather likes to use a plain Gamakatsu hook and a split shot sinker with a minnow in one hole, and a GloShot spoon with a minnow head in another hole.


Anglers are looking for high-percentage areas where the fish are more likely to pass through when they are actively feeding. On shallow lakes like Upper Red Lake, the best structure is often just a slight turn on the breakline, a patch of gravel and rocks or a section of the breakline that drops quicker than the rest of the breakline.


Walleyes like to follow the base of the drop along the breakline, until they run into a school of baitfish. They often make feeding runs when they get active, and will continue to use the same areas until the food source is depleted, or fishing pressure moves them out of the area.


Anglers seeing schools of baitfish on sonar, but not catching any walleyes, may be in the right area at the wrong time. It is very rare for a concentration of baitfish not to attract some predator fish. It might not be happening every time you check the area, but it usually pays to come back later if you don’t want to sit there and wait them out.


First ice happens from the moment anglers can get on the ice until the cold weather and snow slows down the bite. Enjoy it while it lasts; it’s a long winter.


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