Worthy Walleye Fishing Tips for Mid-Winter

Worthy Walleye Fishing Tips for Mid-Winter

Jon Thelen expected a tap at any moment. After pounding the bottom with his spoon, he had lifted the bait 6 inches or so off the bottom and had shaken it briskly to engage its rattles. A fish immediately charged onto the scene, showing up thick and red on Thelen's flasher screen.

As the flasher lines that marked Thelen's bait and the rising walleye merged he expected a solid tap, but instead, out of his peripheral vision, he saw the float in the next hole over dart out of sight. With well-practiced efficiency Thelen secured his jigging rod, snatched his other rod from it holder and set the hook into a walleye.

"The fish haven't quite moved to here yet," Thelen told me, "but they're close enough now that we can call in a few. Soon we'll start seeing more."

True to Thelen's prediction, a few other fish darted briefly into the range of our electronics while the afternoon sun was still above the tree line. One bit. A couple of others departed as quickly as they had shown up. All seemed to come in direct response to rattling or pounding. Then, just before dark, fish started to show up and to stick around. And soon it became evident that those fish had moved atop the structure with dinner in mind.

A lifelong ice-fisherman with a passion for hard-water fishing, Thelen is never random about the places he drills he holes or how he works those holes. He studies maps, considers specific structure and uses GPS coordinates during winter — for exactly the same reasons he would during the summer — and he is strategic in his approach.

Winter walleyes are spend almost all their time relating to structure and their movements through the ice season and through the course of a day are somewhat predictable. By learning walleye behavior and studying maps of the waters you plan to fish, you can vastly increase your chances of being in the right place at the right time any given day.


The coldest part of winter puts most walleyes in main basins of lakes and reservoirs, using deeper areas than they did during early winter or than they will toward the end of the ice season. Deep, of course, is a relative term, and mid-winter depths vary pretty dramatically from one lake to another.

The walleyes do move to the tops of structural features to feed at dusk and dawn, but they move back down the structure, often onto surrounding mud flats, during the day. And even the tops of the structures the walleyes move onto during prime feeding times generally top out deeper than the ones they utilize early and late in the winter.

Visibility can get quite low for walleyes through mid-winter for a few reasons. Beyond the fact that the fish are deeper, than at other times, the ice tends to be as thick as it will be all winter, and often with a heavy layer of snow on top. Creating sound can play an important part in the fishing attracting process at this time of year.

By day, the walleyes typically hang out just off the structure. For a hard structure, such as a reef, they're often close to the point where the hard bottom gives way to a softer bottom. On tapering points or humps they may just be down the slope. Either way, they'll be deeper and relating more to the basin than the structure itself but still in the vicinity of the structure. Those fish can be coaxed into eating some days, but they generally won't be very active.

Late in the afternoon, the fish will begin moving up the structure, gradually working toward key feeding areas on top of it. They follow edges of the structure that create natural paths.

The evening transition might take an hour or two, with the fish stopping beside boulders, breaks and other micro features as they work their way shallower. At this point, they are beginning to feed. By sundown many fish find their way to the tops of the structures, where they hang by the best cover available and feed until dark.

The same general process occurs in opposite order in the morning, with fish feeding well on those key spots right at daybreak, and then gradually working their way down the structure and feeding somewhat less actively as the sun begin to light up the day. Within a couple of hours after sunup, the fish find their way to those main-basin resting areas, where they typically spend the bulk of the day.


Because walleyes feeding activity tends to be so concentrated during early and late windows, how you structure a trip is very important. If you arrive a little after daylight and spend a while getting your holes drilled and other stuff in place, you could set up on the best part of the best walleye structure in the lake, but the fish could be gone by the time you start fishing.

Winter Walleye Fishing, Fishing for winter Walleye
Catching walleyes calls for a strategic approach to understanding a lake's structure.

If you're going to target walleyes in the morning, you really need to grit your teeth and get out there and get set up while it is still dark. (Check local regulations about times you can be on the ice on any given lake.) Morning outings are also best suited for lakes that you know well or where you have a good idea about where you want to set up initially. The ideal is to have GPS numbers from past winter outings or summer scouting that allow you to set up atop good structure.

If you don't know quite where to start, a more productive approach is to get out by early afternoon and use the first part of the afternoon to scout a bit, drilling holes just off the edges of a few different potentially productive structures, looking with your electronics and fishing those holes. The walleyes may not bite early, but yellow perch and other panfish may.

More importantly, if you mark several good fish that won't bite along the edge of a particular structure, those are probably are walleyes, which tells you that this is the structure you'll want to work as the sun starts sinking.

Of course, if you're a die-hard and already don't like the shortened days of winter, you can do all of the above, starting early on what you think is your best spot, scouting and fishing for panfish through the day and then using what you learn to select the best area for late afternoon and evening.

What you don't want to do (and what far too many anglers end up doing) is to arrive a little too late, fish most of the day, conclude that the walleyes aren't biting, and leave about the time the fishing is likely to get good again.


No matter what time you decide to fish, a good walleye plan actually begins at home, with lake maps — either paper, on the computer, or on your fish finder/chart plotter. If you know a lake well, including the parts of the main basin walleyes use through mid-winter and maybe even the locations of specific structures, you have a big head start.

If you've fished the lake, but only during summer, and have waypoints for deep rockpiles or reef tops that produce when it's hot, don't overlook the values of those numbers. Even if you don't have a GPS in your ice electronics, you can input the numbers in a handheld GPS (which you probably have in your phone) to get to that spot.

Lacking that baseline knowledge, you might actually begin with a little online research or a visit to an area bait shop. You need not ask about specific spots. You can find those on a map. Just ask about general areas that walleyes use through mid-winter and basin depths within those area.

Winter Walleye Tactics
Within primary areas, walleyes relate to major structural features such as points, ridges and reefs, with the best structures being the most complex ones and those bounded by the "right" daytime depth for that particular lake. In lakes that lack significant structural features, smaller reefs or rockpiles can be important to the walleyes.

Study the map and identify a few of the best-looking features that are a reasonable distance from one another. Prioritize bigger and more complex structures that are in the main basin. Study each structure and seek to identify key ambush spots high on the structure, fringe areas around the structure, and natural paths between those areas.

If you have the capacity to do so, create waypoints for key spots on each structure. Otherwise, circle them on the map, and bring the map onto the ice so you can line up with shoreline points, islands and other landmarks and then look for appropriate depths.

Assuming you arrive while the sun is fairly high in the sky, begin by working the deep outer edges of a structure. Drill several holes around the edges before you ever drop a line and then some time working from hole to hole. Scouting for later is the most important task through the middle of the day, but you might as well fish while you look.


No matter what overall strategy you choose, be certain you are to the top of the structure and settled in the area that you expect to be the best enough before dark that you are set when the fish start coming in. The best bite of the day normally occurs just before dark, and you want to be in place at that time ready to catch walleyes

Get Your Fish On.

Plan your next fishing and boating adventure here.

Recommended for You

If you've been catching catfish with the same method for years, it's time to change it up and learn a new baiting technique. Fishing How-To

Your Guide for the Best Catfish Baits

G&F Staff

If you've been catching catfish with the same method for years, it's time to change it up and...

Experts agree record channel cat caught in 1949 was actually a blue catfish. Records

Upon Further Review: 70-Year-Old Catfish Record Voided

G&F Online Staff - May 22, 2019

Experts agree record channel cat caught in 1949 was actually a blue catfish.

Our picks for stuffable protection against any weather.

Field Tested: Lightweight Raingear

David Draper - May 30, 2019

Our picks for stuffable protection against any weather.

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos


Costa's Award Winning Waterwoman Sunglasses

Costa's Amanda Sabin tells OSG's Lynn Burkhead about all of the great features that made the new Waterwoman frame a big winner at the 2019 ICAST show as well as out on the water.

Electric Filet Knife from Bubba Blades

Electric Filet Knife from Bubba Blades

As OSG's Lynn Burkhead looks on, Josh Neville shows off the cordless and corded versions of a new electric filet knife from Bubba Blades.

MLF Pros: What

MLF Pros: What's Your Go-To Lure?

When all else fails, here's what these pros tie on.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

Dozens of different bait types are commonly used for catfish, including these great options. Catfish

12 Great Catfish Baits

Jeff Samsel

Dozens of different bait types are commonly used for catfish, including these great options.

Unlike many game fish, catfish can be harder to catch during the spawn. Here are some strategies. Catfish

Understanding Catfish Spawning

Keith Sutton - June 06, 2006

Unlike many game fish, catfish can be harder to catch during the spawn. Here are some...

We all have our Catfish

10 Secret Catfish Baits You Didn't Know About

Anietra Hamper - April 02, 2015

We all have our "swear by" bait for catfish. For me, it is chicken liver, live shad or my...

See More Stories

More Walleye

While misunderstood by some, fishing bottom bouncers can be a very productive technique for walleyes in early summer. Walleye

How to Fish Bottom Bouncers for Walleye

Mark Sak - May 23, 2019

While misunderstood by some, fishing bottom bouncers can be a very productive technique for...

Trolling crankbaits is a go-to on Lake Erie. Here's how to fill your livewell. Walleye

Cranking Up Lake Erie Walleyes

Dan Armitage

Trolling crankbaits is a go-to on Lake Erie. Here's how to fill your livewell.

When asked how many walleye they had in the vehicle, the driver said, Conservation & Politics

Michigan: Dozens of Walleye Confiscated After Anonymous Tip

G&F Staff

When asked how many walleye they had in the vehicle, the driver said, "Too many.”

See More Walleye

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.