For those that don’t ice fish, it might be difficult to understand what drives an angler to forgo the comforts of his favorite chair in front of the fireplace on cold and blustery winter afternoon in favor of sitting on an over-turned bucket and staring at a hole in the ice? It’s actually a pretty simple answer really; it’s the same thing that drives every angler whether it’s on the ice or in the open water. It’s the anticipation and excitement of getting the next bite. It’s that same feeling that all fishermen long for anytime they wet a line. The key to satisfying that anticipation is to be successful … to catch fish. The ice angler that is catching fish will invariably be warmer and happier than the one that’s not catching fish. That’s one of those laws of nature that only an ice fisherman can truly attest to.
As the sport of ice fishing has grown over the years, another law of nature has become increasingly apparent … he who stays mobile on the ice catches the most fish. This has vaulted the ice fishing industry to such innovations as portable ice fishing shelters, durable gear sleds and power augers. It also has much to do with why such accessories as locators, GPS units and underwater cameras have become ice fishing standard equipment among a growing population of ice anglers. It has also brought about ice fishing strategies and techniques that work to put the angler on fish faster and more consistently.
For decades, walleye ice fishing has concentrated on targeting large feeding flats, reefs or similar shallow structure during low-light periods when the walleyes exhibited the most feeding activity. Basically the game plan was to drill a bunch of holes, fill them with tip-ups, and wait for the fish to move up to feed. That tactic does catch fish, and is still a viable way to put walleyes on the ice. But for the modern walleye ice angler, that’s not good enough. We’re used to the tactics we use in open water scenarios … cruising likely areas in our boats, using maps, GPS and sonar to find the fish, then utilize whatever tactics it takes to catch them. It’s this “run-and-gun” approach that you want to adapt to your ice fishing as well.
To target the walleyes that are not necessarily in feeding mode, you have to find them where they spend the majority of their time … in the deep water. That’s not to say that they’re out roaming the open basin of the lake, but they will be close to it. More likely, you’ll want to target staging areas where the deep basin runs close to the shallower areas where the walleyes are moving up to feed, and especially where the fish are holding in preparation for moving toward spawning areas as spring approaches. This may be a deep flat just out from the mouth of a spawning river, or even a basin area adjacent to rocky shoreline spawning areas. It could be a thirty foot flat that runs up along a main lake reef, or it might be the fifty foot shelf off the end of a main lake point. To find out for sure will take a bit of