More than 25 percent of the fish caught in Wisconsin are nabbed when the lakes have frozen over, which tells you how popular ice fishing in in dairy country.
Most fishing done on the ice starts in early December. This is when local fisherman brave 3-4 inches of ice and begin to go in search of walleye. This year is an exception. There is plenty of ice up north. This author was out on the Eagle River Chain of Lakes this past Thanksgiving. Although it was too early to get any flags in the spot I was fishing, my neighbor was able to get a monster on a lake nearby. He caught a 30″, 12lb Walleye! That would go on just about anyone’s wall.
Walleye and Panfish are the most popular fish to ice fish for, but if you can find a good Northern Pike spot during the day, you are in for a fun day of fishing. All of these fish are good through the ice. During the winter the meat on these fish is firm and delicious. Sometimes during the summer, Northerns and some pan fish get soft and grubby. This is not the case in the winter time. You would be hard pressed to tell the difference between a winter northern and a winter walleye in a blind taste test.
Panfish are usually caught by jigging. Some fisherman have good success on Tip Downs. Tip downs usually have a wooden stand next to the hole and a rod, wire, or even a piece of umbrella extended from the top. As the fish bites, the wire tips down. These are good setups for soft biting fish.
Walleye and Northern are usually caught on Tip Ups. These tip ups usually have a flag on a spring which releases when the fish bites. In my opinion the number one Tip Up is the Beaver Dam Tip Up. I don’t own stock in the company nor do I sell any of their products, they just make a damn good tip up. When using a tip up, it is important that it’s spool moves smoothly without grabbing. Winter walleye can be skittish and if they feel a tug from the spool, they will drop the bait.
On early season, I like to use medium and large shiners through the ice for walleyes. It is important that you hook the shiner just underneath that dorsal fin for walleye. Get that treble hook as close to the dorsal fin as possible. If you hook them to far into the body, it was what we call a “death hook”- your minnow is likely to die quickly and it will lack the movement that a well hooked minnow has. Northerns will hit a dead minnow but walleyes like them wiggly.
It is also important where you put your minnow in the water when you are walleye fishing. The best position is to have that minnow about 10-15 inches off the bottom of the lake. Use a depth finder first to mark the bottom. I sink my depth finder first, grab the line at the water line, pull about 20 inches of line up at put a wooden match stick through the line. Then I put on the minnow and let out line making sure that match stick is next to my spool when I put my tip up in the hole.
This should get you started on ice fishing. Remember, be safe and check the ice with a spud bar before going out.