How to Find & Catch Winter Walleye (A Quick Guide to Walleye Fishing)

Winter walleye can make you believe that it is inactive and finicky.

On the contrary, it is the same aggressive predator as it usually is in the summer. But it now has some important habit changes.

Many experienced anglers break down the winter fishing season into two parts; early and late winter.

During early winter, the fish will move to deeper water, whilst during late winter they will migrate to their spawning grounds.

What is the best time to get on the ice? Is it at dawn like many species, or is it better at dusk?

Find out in the article below, where we talk about the winter fishing season, and which lures to use to catch some fierce walleyes.

Table of Contents

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Early Winter

If you want to catch a lot of walleyes, knowing their habits is crucial.

As mentioned above, winter walleye isn’t a lethargic fish. It is true that once the ice has settled, the fish is less active most of the day, but it still has to feed itself.

happy angler with autumn walleye fish

Classic advice is to think like your target.

The first question you should ask is; ‘where would I go once the water gets colder?’ Well, it would be in deep water close to a river or lake bed where there are structures, such as rocks and algae.

They usually occupy deep-water areas close to steep drop-offs. Drop-offs are well-populated areas where many species thrive, which means that they are excellent feeding places for hungry predators.

It is common for the walleye to follow the movement pattern of fish schools. It can be quite difficult to anticipate how they move, so an easy way is to speculate on where those fish schools might be.

Most of them are likely to be found where they can feed themselves. They might be feeding in the weeds as well as rocky beds or even muddy ones.

Since walleyes stay close to drop-offs, a smart move would be to drill holes at different depths. That way, the most populated areas will be covered, which will dramatically increase your chances of catching some walleyes.

the huge walleye and tackle for fishing on the ice

Late Winter

Between late winter and spring, the spawning period begins, which means that walleyes will migrate closer to their spawning grounds.

Mature males and females alike will initiate the migration. It is important to note that both sexes don’t have the same behaviors.

Females will visit the spawning grounds in shallow water briefly. They do so to broadcast their eggs and attract males to increase the chance of successful reproduction.

This behavior will be ongoing until their egg sac is emptied. Once the female has achieved its purpose, it will leave the spawning grounds for the season. This explains why most fishermen’s catches are male walleyes.

Males, on the other hand, will reach the spawning grounds first. After dusk, they swim to shallow water in order to find females broadcasting their eggs.

During the daytime, males retreat to deeper water to avoid the sun’s bright light. It is common knowledge that walleyes have sensitive eyes, which gives them a great ability to hunt in dark, muddy or troubled water.

Hence, fishing after dusk during late winter is a huge time saver. One could also say that fishing when the sun isn’t strong and the sky cloudy, chances of catching fish increase.

The same stands for a lake’s color, whenever the light level is diminished it is beneficial for walleye winter fishing.

big walleye in hands of fisherman

Use a Rod to Jig

Jigging a rod might be the most effective technique besides the usage of live baits such as worms and minnows.

The rod that you will jig doesn’t require a live bait, but rather a soft bait, hard bait, spoon or anything else that might attract a walleye.

From time to time, you can move that rod to another hole to see if you can catch a beautiful specimen elsewhere. Whenever you check your fishing rods, do not forget to jig them a bit too.

There are a few jigging techniques that can be used to attract walleyes. The classic way of jigging up and down is the most common.

Tapping your lure at the bottom might also be a good thing to implement in your technique. It makes the sediment rise and makes the fish curious since it could represent a prey to them.

Though it is a good technique, do not constantly make your lure hit the bottom because it might spoil the fish, and the intensity of your jerking might also affect your chances of catching a walleye.

Walleye often attacks lures when there is a pause, and as soon as the jerking is resumed, they go for it.

As mentioned previously, it is common knowledge that walleyes have light-sensitive eyes. They can hunt their prey in the darkness with more ease than some other species.

That being said, using glowing lures and shiny ones can still improve your chances of catching walleyes.

Don’t forget to check out the TOP 6 Best Walleye Fishing Lures and My TOP 7 Walleye Trolling Lures for 2022.

Summary

If you want to catch winter walleyes, think about the early and late winter seasons.

In the early season, look for drop-offs and deep water. At that point of the year, walleyes feed themselves where minnow schools go.

It isn’t recommended to start fishing at dawn unless you are targeting other species at the same time.

Dusk is the best time to catch the walleye, our target species. It is the time at which walleyes usually start feeding themselves.

During late winter, walleyes are preparing for the spawning season. They get closer to shallow waters to reproduce.

The females are more elusive than the males, since they go to their spawning grounds in shallow water to broadcast their eggs.

Males will spend more time in the spawning grounds to increase their chances of fertilizing some eggs.

They will do so at night, to protect their precious eyes, since it is much brighter in shallow water in the daytime.

Cloudy days increase your chances of catching this amazing species because it reduces the brightness of the light.

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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