During Ice Season, Walleye can be one of the most rewarding fish to target here in Upstate New York and the Adirondacks. If you are an angler who likes to bring home your catch to eat, you may want to target them this winter as they are considered one of the tastiest freshwater fish species. They get their name from their unique, pearlescent eyes that give them the ability to absorb light in dark water conditions. Walleye can be more difficult than other hard water species, but by understanding their feeding habits and winter locations, you will be catching them in no time.
One of the biggest issues ice anglers have, is not knowing when and where to target walleye. Walleye actively feed at night and during low light conditions where they have the upper hand on their prey. So to give yourself the best chance of catching them, you want to be fishing during the evening, overnight, and first light hours. If you do try to target them during the day, you would want to do so when it will be overcast. The bite windows on these fish can be extremely quick, so usually your action will happen in a flurry. You can go hours without catching anything, but then as soon as it gets dark the bite could turn on.
I find first ice to be one of the best times to catch walleye because they will generally be holding on predictable walleye structure where they were found in the fall. These areas are shallow rock flats, isolated rock humps surrounded by deep water, and weed beds near sharp drop offs. In low light conditions these are the areas that walleye will move into to feed. Finding these areas can be difficult, especially if you are on a lake that you've never fished before. To help with this, you can download an application for your phone called “Navionics: Boating Marine&Lakes”, that will show you the contour of most lakes in New York. Once you find the lake you are going to fish, you can pinpoint those humps and dropoffs to provide a good starting point on where to fish. I also use “Navionics” throughout the year to mark places where I caught walleye during the open water season, because then in the winter I can fish those exact GPS coordinate spots.
Walleye can also be finicky, so it's good to have different, strategic bait presentations to increase your odds of catching fish. Setting tip ups with live bait in different depth areas is a productive technique that allows you to identify the areas that fish are feeding in. Some days they can be in less than 5’ of water and other times they could be in 15-25’. Once you find a depth area that is producing, you can move more baits there to really pinpoint the fish. Good tip up bait choices include Fatheads, Medium Shiners, Hunts, and small Suckers. Jigging can also be a great compliment to tip ups, as the erratic action of a spoon or jigging rap can draw fish in. Wherever you choose to jig, always have a tip up or automatic hook setter with live bait very close by. Oftentimes walleye will be drawn in by the jig and if they lose interest in it, they may still fall for the live bait. Tipping lures with minnow heads and dead sticking can also trigger more bites. Dead sticking is a method where you keep your jig motionless after some jigging movements. The subtle stop can sometimes tempt a finicky walleye to bite.
In the Adirondacks and Upstate New York, we are fortunate to have a bunch of lakes where we have the opportunity to catch walleye. Some good choices include Great Sacandaga Lake, Tupper Lake, Harris lake, and Saratoga Lake to name a few. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation continues to do a tremendous job stocking and ensuring their survival. Walleye present a challenge to the most seasoned of anglers, but there is nothing more satisfying then when you catch them after putting in the research and time.
To make things even easier you can also book a trip with me at ziehnertguideservice.com where I will be running ice fishing trips starting in mid December and going until early March.