Subtle Tweaks to Ice More Walleyes


Joe Henry offers veteran tips for catching walleyes and sauger in winter.

Depending upon where you are fishing, several criteria can determine a walleye’s mood. How much they ate yesterday, a change in the weather, a pressure system rolling through, how much forage is available to them, clear or stained water, are you fishing shallow or deep, how much traffic is on the ice around you, and other aspects combine to make fish behave the way they do, when they do.

We don’t necessarily need to figure out why their mood is such, but rather, what their mood is, which dictates how we fish them. The key is figuring out what you need to do to get them to bite.

Using electronics is super effective in figuring out how walleyes are acting. Simply knowing fish are coming through is important. You can learn fairly quickly how fish are reacting or not reacting to your presentations, which triggers changing up baits or your presentation.

Working a jigging line along with a deadstick is important, as each has their own set of nuances. Some key principles apply to both and will allow you to hook more walleyes.

Work together and don’t be lazy

This is a simple one, but an important one. If you are fishing with another angler, work together to crack the code. Start out with different lures. This means size, color, vibration and rattles. If a change in lure or hook is warranted, have your tackle easily accessible so switching lures isn’t a big deal.

Use a radical presentation

When I say radical, I mean possibly ripping a Rippin’ Rap or using a gliding minnow bait—something that attracts a lot of attention. In some cases, these lures will get hit. In most cases, even if they are too much for the mood of the fish that day, they will attract fish to the area you are fishing, increasing the overall success of your deadstick or of other anglers fishing with you.


When I see walleyes (and saugers if they are in the system) coming through and not responding favorably to my baits, downsizing is a strategy that has put a lot of fish on the ice.

With the jigging line, this might be using a very small jigging spoon with a small minnow head or a small piece of a minnow tail.

Tweak the presentation

I normally start out with a jig, jigging it and letting the lure settle into what I call the strike zone: The area of the water column where I think the fish will feed, or where they are located if I can see them on my Vexilar.

When I see a fish, do my norm and they don’t hit, I immediately adjust the presentation, dropping the lure on the bottom, lifting it into the strike zone and holding it steady.

No reaction? I shake the lure like heck, almost like vibrations. I don’t want to be too erratic so as to spook the fish, but rather shake the lure for a couple of seconds and then hold it steady in the strike zone.

Finally, I shake the lure with super-small jigging motions and slowly reel up at the same time, so the lure rises up in the water column. I call this “thrill of the chase.” Many times, when you can get a fish to start following, instinct will kick in and that fish will chase up and feed.

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A couple of tips on this technique: I used to raise my lure with my arms, but have learned to use my reel. When I use my arms to raise up, if the fish follows up and hits, I have nothing left to set the hook, as my arms are already extended all the way up.

Second, when fishing in a collapsible fish house, I have lost many fish by raising up with my arms, setting the hook and hitting the roof of the fish house. Using the reel to take in line and raise your lure up will give you full hook setting range and no faux paus in hitting the roof!

When a fish is chasing, don’t stop the lure. It seems natural to let the fish catch up to the lure, but too many times, I have done just that and the fish loses interest and swims away.

When they are chasing up, keep the lure just ahead of them, shaking the lure while you are raising it up. If that fish wants it, it can close that gap quickly. I think it is instinctive, the way they naturally need/want to catch minnows much of the time.

Remember, when a walleye flies up to hit your lure, it won’t be a tug, but rather them pushing your lure up, so you will get slack. Between setting the hook and simultaneously reeling, you can catch up to them. Talk about fun!

Adjust your weight

When using a deadstick, I normally start with a sinker on the line about eight inches or so above my minnow. On a tough bite, I have had success moving my weight much closer to the minnow. This creates less range for the minnow to swim away. Fish in a neutral mood normally don’t like to chase, and this slight adjustment can make a positive difference.

Plain hook

On your deadstick, there are a lot of good lures to use combined with a minnow. If the walleyes are passing them by, I have to say, over the years, using a plain hook has been a staple, and has put many fish in the bucket when other lines were not getting it done. It is very simple: It is both natural and active, and non-active fish will hit it.

Rise up in the water column

There have been many times when I pulled my jigging line up a few feet, just for a moment, when I needed to step away from my holes, thereby avoiding my line getting pulled into the water, just in case something bit on it.

So many times, I have watched fish slowly rise up to my bait, stationary with a piece of minnow head or tail, and hit it. When I have gone to jig my lure as they are rising, they have often darted away. They seem to want it just left there, and “thump,” I see the tap and set the hook.

Because of this, if I am not catching a lot of fish, I will set my deadstick line a few feet off the bottom, rather than 6 inches to a foot off, which is where I normally start. This can be a triggering affect for fish, getting them interested when a minnow hanging right in front of them does nothing.

Walleyes can be finicky. When they come through below your hole, you often have seconds to crack the code and get them to eat. Oftentimes, the subtle tweaks you implement in your offerings will turn a day of fishing into a day of catching.


For more ice fishing insight from the pros who know, check out the winter issues of MidWest Outdoors, available by subscribing on our website.