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How to Get Walleye to Bite when Ice Fishing?

How to Get Walleye to Bite when Ice Fishing?

A day out on the lake ice fishing feels a lot longer when you aren’t getting bites or catching any fish. Even if you catch a few, you may want to increase your odds of catching a big one.

There may be a whopper of a walleye in your future if you follow the tips in this guide. We’ll cover a selection of techniques you can try to attract more walleyes and tempt them to bite.

Near the end, we cover the preferred depth for walleye fishing through the ice and how to target bigger walleye. Read on for our best tips on getting more bites from walleye when you’re ice fishing.

How Do You Attract Walleye When Ice Fishing?

You can tempt walleye to bite using all kinds of different methods. Not every method will work in certain lakes or conditions, so experiment with different combinations.

Colorful Visual Presentation

colorful metal lures

The first thing you should be doing to attract a bite from a big walleye is picking a lure with a flashy visual presentation.

Walleye are predators with sharp eyes that they use to identify shimmering baitfish from a distance. Walleye will generally be tempted to bite what they can clearly see.

Bright colors that might work great include white, chartreuse, orange, pink, and blue. A reflective metal lure in silver or gold is also attractive to walleye. Not every color will work in every lake, so if you are not getting bites after a few minutes, change to a new color to test for interest. What the walleye bite may even change from day to day.

When possible, it’s best to combine a flashy visual presentation with a strong scent attractant so the fish have multiple reasons to bite.

Scent Attractants

bloodworms and maggots

There are a lot of scent attractants you can use for ice fishing walleye – and the rule is usually the stinkier, the better!

Minnows are one of the best scent attractants, either alive or preserved. If it’s legal in your lake, you can hook up a live minnow and let it swim around for the best combination of scent and visual attraction. You can also use dead minnows preserved by freezing or pickling. You can buy them this way or do it yourself at home.

Mealworms or bloodworms make for good natural scented baits, too. Maggots are another choice, and you can buy them in different colors. Worms and maggots offer real, live scent and are small enough to hook on a variety of different baits.

Some anglers have luck with real or synthetic fish eggs on the hook.

Most rubber jigs have at least a basic attractant scent to them, but some have been infused with strong anise or other smells

You can also buy an artificial scent and apply it to any lure or jig that you have. PowerBait  makes a scent specifically for walleye, but there are a variety of options.

Bait With Lifelike Action

Dr.Fish 5 Pack Metal Jig Jigging Spoon Lure

Another key to attracting the walleye bite is using a lure that looks and moves like a real fish.

Obviously, a live minnow hooked in a way that it can still swim around is the perfect example of this. But if you’re not using live minnows, you can still select an artificial lure that moves around rapidly to mimic a walleye’s natural meal.

“Jigging spoons” are designed in a way that when they fall vertically through the water column, they flutter around like a wounded baitfish. This will allow them to reflect light from all angles and catch the eye of any hungry predator fish in the area.

A few types of regular spoon dance around in the water like this. The best example is the Acme Kastmaster  or generic spoons in the same shape. I swear by a blue and silver ⅛ ounce Kastmaster for ice fishing.

Marabou jigs, or jigs with natural fibers forming the tail, have a lifelike swimming motion. They are also light enough to control precisely when you’re jigging and they don’t tangle the line as easily as a jigging spoon.

You can also buy hyperrealistic baits like a Rapala Jigging Rap  patterned after the primary prey species for walleye in your lake. These baits are built and balanced to swim around in a neat circle when you pull up on the line and let it down again.

Motion and Jigging

The Four Basic Ice Fishing Jigging Spoon Techniques Everyone Should Know

Of course, no bait really moves on its own. You have to do some work of your own to draw in the walleye.

Jigging simply refers to raising the tip of your ice fishing rod a few inches or more and dropping it back down again. This makes the bait rise and fall and move around in the water.

Which method of jigging will be successful depends on the fishes’ mood that day: some days they chase and bite a very aggressive style of jigging (raising the bait a foot or more each time), and some days they only bite a lure that’s almost stationary.

Experiment with a small, medium, and large jigging pattern.

If jigging isn’t getting any bites, you can try a very slight shaking motion for a subtle presentation.

Wiggle the fishing rod just enough to see the tip of the rod shake around in small circles. This will keep the bait moving enough to catch the light, but it will still appear slow and lethargic and may draw a bite from a more cautious walleye.

Use a Dead Stick

Deadstick Tactics w/ Tony Roach (Ice Fishing)

This is a technique that targets fish psychology. You are probably using an active presentation, i.e. jigging the bait up and down, to attract the fish. Jigging is the main method used to get the attention of walleye when ice fishing.

But sometimes aggressive jigging can deter walleye from actually biting. The fish will come up to your bait, look at it, and maybe even bump it with their heads. However, they won’t bite.

When fish are lethargic like this due to some environmental factor, try fishing a “dead stick” to see if they are looking for a more docile meal.

Set up a dead stick by drilling a hole in the ice 2-3 feet away from your jigging hole. Lower a bright-colored or flashy jig with some attractant (live bait, frozen minnows, mealworms, etc) to the same depth as your primary jigging bait. Now put the dead stick down in a rod holder and let it sit still in the water.

Many of the foods walleye eat naturally move slowly, traveling on underwater currents. If they are feeding on this type of organism, they may be intimidated by a vigorous jig presentation.

You can use your up-and-down movements to draw the fish in from afar, and when they come to examine the movement they will notice the nearby deadstick presentation too. This will look like an easier meal and will get many more bites when the walleye are in a slow-feeding mood.

What Depth Should I Ice Fish For Walleye?

track down Walleye when ice fishing

Walleye can be tough to track down, so if you have the liberty to hole-hop using an ATV, a gas-powered auger , and an electronic fish finder , this is the best method.

To give you some idea of where to start, you can look at certain depths during specific parts of the season. Typically, walleye are in shallower waters (10-20 feet) early and late in Winter. During the coldest days of mid-Winter, walleye should be hiding out in water as deep as 30-40 feet. They follow the baitfish and other food sources that move with the seasons.

Similarly, walleye tend to start each day in shallower water and head out to the deeper parts of the lake during the midday hours. In the evening, they will return to shallower areas. Use these principles to guide your search.

Remember that finding a steep drop-off area is great for walleye as they use this terrain for hunting.

When you locate the right depth of water for the season, you can start jigging with a pretty aggressive presentation 3-5 feet off the bottom to try and draw in walleye from afar.

After you catch or get a bite from a walleye, you should typically jig within 2 feet of the bottom as that is where a lot of the walleye’s natural prey will be hanging out.

How to Target Big Walleye Ice Fishing?

to catch big Walleye

The first step to catching big walleyes (we’re talking 20-30 inches) is to go where the big fish are. Not all lakes can support fish of that size. The lake should be large, deep, and have a strong gene pool to breed larger walleyes. Ask around or read up online to know what to expect from your lake.

The first thing you can try to target bigger walleye is to use bigger bait! You can try jigging spoons of 1 ounce or heavier. You may also want to try the large-size Rapala baits  that are 3 inches or longer. You might wait longer for bites because smaller fish will hesitate to bite large lures, but this is the simplest way to increase your odds of catching a big fish.

Similarly, you can usually use more aggressive presentations (lifting and dropping the lure 1 foot or more) on larger fish who are less likely to be spooked. Offset this approach by always using a deadstick.

Larger walleye are more likely to be found in deeper waters (30 feet or deeper, if your lake has those areas). Use a lake map to find these areas more easily.

Walleye love to hang out near steep drop-off points. If you can find the areas where the lake gets rapidly deeper and set up your holes on either side of the drop, you have a good chance of finding the big walleye. They use these terrain areas to hunt schooling baitfish, and the bigger walleyes are the best hunters.

Should I Keep or Release The Big Walleye?

Big Walleye - catch and release

When you catch a big walleye, you may be tempted to throw it in the cooler, show it off, and fry it up. But you should always consider leaving large fish in the lake. Here’s why:

These are the fish with the best genes to pass on and increase the length of future walleye generations. The fish you catch may even grow longer before you or another angler will catch it again on another day. Taking too many of the large fish out of a lake threatens the lake’s ability to produce big fish in the future.

It’s not just that, but there are selfish reasons not to harvest the biggest, oldest fish. They tend to have a dull flavor compared to younger adults and their meat contains more chemicals, including mercury. They generally make a poor meal compared to eating several medium-sized walleye.

To make sure the fish recovers when you release it, have your pliers and camera ready so you can quickly snap a picture and remove the hook. Avoid laying a fish down on the ice as it can damage the fish’s eye and cause blindness.

When you release, place the fish gently into the hole (head first) and grasp the tail until the fish starts to wiggle and kick its tail. Releasing it before it starts to flip its tail can make it difficult for the fish to catch its balance.

Taking care to release bigger fish alive will benefit the whole ecosystem for better trophy fishing in the future.


This article presented many techniques you can use to attract more walleye bites. It’s best to prepare yourself to try two or three of these methods every time you go out ice fishing and see what is working on that particular day.

If all your efforts in bait presentation still don’t result in more bites, make sure you are at the right depth for the season and time of day to find where the walleye are actually hanging in the water column.

Hopefully these tips help you bring in more walleye and especially more big ones! Good luck and happy catching.

Ray Fredin

Wednesday 22nd of February 2023

Vary good help with catching bigger walleye! Thanks for that.