When it comes to ice fishing gear, there's no shortage of stuff to help you catch walleye through the ice. Proven spoons and a well-balanced ice rod are the bread and butter for most anglers. Yet, these items are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg for hard-core ice warriors.
Many ice rods are sold in combos that include a reel, but keep in mind you get what you pay for as far as quality's concerned. Buying a reel separately is another option. Bragging-sized fish often unleash sturdy head shakes and line-peeling runs right at the ice hole. A quality drag's a must to subdue these brutes, so outfit the rod with a quality reel, like a Shimano Sedona FD, Sahara FD, or Saros F in 500 or 1000 sizes.
Like open-water sticks, ice fishing rods are becoming increasingly technique- or species-specific, and many are advertised as walleye models. A medium powered, fast action rod around 28-inches is a great all-around walleye jigging pole. Frabill, Northland, Clam Corp., Rapala and St. Croix all make ice fishing sticks.
Setlines and Accessories
When fishing a proven area, such as a mid-lake bar at dusk, setlines help signal the start of twilight bite and will help you catch more walleye. Deadsticking with rods or using ice fishing tip-ups are the two main methods.
Drawing the Line
Whenever possible, opt for line designed for the rigors and extreme conditions of ice fishing. Spooling up with monofilament, copolymer or fluorocarbon line in the 6- to 10-pound test range is one option. The properties of these lines deliver a bit of stretch, helping buffer the shock of an aggressive strike or head shakes.
Superlines between 8- to 14-pound test are also effective. Their no-stretch properties provide excellent sensitivity with straight-down presentations. Good options are Berkley FireLine, PowerPro or Sufix.
Using back to back unit knots to attach a fluorocarbon leader to superline has advantages in clear-water systems, with 6- to 10-pound test being a good range. Using a swivel to join the main line and leader is another option that eliminates line twist, common when jigging tumbling lures, like spoons. When chasing walleye in northern pike territory, upsizing to a 20-pound-test fluorocarbon leader lessens the chance of incidental bite offs.
When using tip-ups, fill spools with line specifically for this application, such as products produced by Berkley, Cortland or Frabill, then add a three to four foot mono or fluoro leader. Coming in either nylon or dacron, tip-up line is gentle on bare hands. Dark colors also make it easier to spot the string on snow, helping avoid tangles and making re-rigging easier after releasing the big one. A product like Bass Pro Shops Depth Finder Weight is also handy to position baits near bottom when setting lines without the aid of portable sonar.
Bear in mind that setline fishing relies on bait to trick walleye -- the fresher the minnow the better. Lively bait's just as important when tipping jigging spoons and other artificial lures. To keep baitfish in top shape use insulated and aerated containers, like the Frabill Min-02-Life Personal Bait Station or Aerated Bait Bucket products. Also carry a dip-net to keep hands dry while retrieving minnows.
A Fluttering Failsafe Fishing Bait
Spoons are extremely popular walleye lures. The bigger the bait's curve, the more dramatic its action. Some spoons also feature rattles to enhance their fish-attracting vibrations. A Northland Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon's a reliable producer in this category. Other spoons include the Bass Pro Shops Strata Spoon, Blue Fox Rattle Flash Jig'n Spoon, Northland Forage Minnow and Luhr Jensen Crippled Herring.
Horizontal Lure Offerings
Jigging minnows are another must-have item for serious walleye hunters. Northland Puppet Minnow and the Rapala Jigging Rap and Jigging Shad Rap are three dependable models. The horizontal profile of these lures will at times outproduce spoons. Jigging minnows have an incredible action. They shimmy seductively when lifted, then fall on a lazy downward arc on slack line to replicate an injured baitfish. At rest, subtle shakes are deadly for triggering onlooking fish.
A great tactic when walleye are neutral to inactive is using slow jigging moves with bait-tipped jigs. A generic round jig head is a good all-round option, but specialty models will help with more sophisticated rigging. Using wide-gap hooks like those found on Northland Fire-Ball Jigs improve hook penetration when fishing minnows. These same jigs also have an extra eyelet for attaching a stinger hook to stick light-striking fish.
Other Horizontal Jigging Lure Offerings
Another horizontal jigging lure is the Lindy Darter. Its erratic action and loud rattles call in and trigger walleye to bite. Lipless crankbaits are another trend, specifically the Rapala Clackin' Rap, to rip-jig trophy 'eyes. Bladebaits also have their place when pursuing aggressive walleye. Bass Pro Shops' XPS Lazer Blade and the Northland Live-Forage Fish-Fry Minnow Trap are two examples of these metal lures.
Fishing Tackle Storage
I keep my ice fishing lures and terminal tackle in small trays or large fly boxes, which I load into my outerwear pockets with all the gear needed. This way I have everything I need when hole hopping in search of fish. Clear trays make bait selection a fast process. Opt for low-profile boxes or line tray cells with foam to protect baits and reduce the amount they'll bang around, which can chip paint.
The above items represent a healthy assortment of gear and tackle you need to catch walleye though the ice. Not all are mandatory items. But as an angler's passion for hardwater adventures grows, so too does their reliance on sophisticated tools that are important components to their fish-catching strategies.