Minnesota is one of America's premier walleye ice fishing destinations, and if you haven't tried to catch one of these fish, well, you should.
Minnesota's state fish is a good fighter, tastes excellent and is common throughout most of Minnesota.
Minnesotans are so proud of their walleye fishing that two communities – Garrison and Baudette – each claim to be the Walleye Capitol of the World.
- When to fish
Generally, walleye can be caught from the opening day of fishing season in May through the last Sunday in February. But know that limits and dates can vary from place to place, size restrictions may exist and fishing for them in a particular lake could be closed or limited.
Statewide regulations apply in many lakes, rivers and streams entirely within Minnesota. As mentioned above, some Minnesota waters have special regulations specific to a particular waterbody. Regulations also may differ on Minnesota's border waters with Canada, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
Complete and comprehensive fishing regulations are in the fishing regulations booklet. The most up-to-date version is available online. Printed copies, which do not include the most-recent updates, are available where fishing licenses are sold.
- Where to fish
Many Minnesota lakes and rivers contain walleye but not all so, if you intend to target walleye, a good place to start is our LakeFinder tool, which contains fish population information for more than 4,500 fishing lakes.
You will find walleye in winter in many of the same places you found them in summer and fall – points, humps, narrows, drop-offs, saddles between humps or holes and other types of structure. Many walleye anglers fish in shallow water – perhaps 10 feet or less – during the low light conditions of dawn and dusk and move to deeper water during the brighter times of day. Lakefinder includes underwater topographic maps that can help you find some of these prime locations.
Those serious about catching a walleye through the ice may want to consider focusing their efforts on some of the state’s largest lakes that contain walleye. Specifically, Upper Red, Mille Lacs, Leech and Lake of the Woods are popular winter walleye fishing destinations.
- How to fish
Ice fishing for walleye is largely about drilling holes where walleye typically feed then jigging near the bottom with a lure tipped with a minnow or minnow head.
Walleye ice fishing lures come in many different styles, shapes, colors and sizes. It is best to bring a variety with you because sometimes walleye prefer small spoons and jigs while other times larger lures perform better. Similarly, sometimes a thin flashy fluttering spoon is the ticket while other times a virtually motionless jig in the shape and color of a minnow works the best. So, experiment. In time you will discover what lures catch the most fish in the water you fish, and which lures you feel the most confident using.
While some walleye occasionally suspend higher in the water column most commonly caught within a few feet of the bottom. In fact, some anglers like to occasionally drop their lure onto the bottom, thereby creating a small sediment plume that may attract the attention of a walleye. Though some walleye anglers fish with a slip bobber the majority prefer fishing without a bobber. They set the hook as soon as the fish strikes.
Walleye are piscivores, which means they primarily eat fish. That’s why tipping the hook of your lure with a minnow, minnow head or minnow tail makes sense. Some anglers hook their minnows through the tail. This tactic presents a live minnow to the walleye, indeed one that is often adding motion to the lure as it occasionally pulls this way and that.
Because you can use two lines while fishing in the winter in Minnesota, take advantage of this opportunity and suspend live bait under your second line in the hole next to you or deploy a tip-up no more than 200 feet away. A tip up is a spool of line with a flag release that will signal you when a fish has taken the bait. You can then walk over to the tip up, set the hook, and catch the fish. Tip ups allow you to cover a couple different depths and can be very productive when fishing with a group of licensed anglers in order to cover ambush locations on a larger structure.
- Auger for drilling a hole
- Scoop for removing ice and slush from the hole
- Rod, reel, lure and live bait
- Plastic bucket or chair to sit on, or more commonly a pop-up fishing shelter
- Warm clothes and boots
Useful & handy
- Sled or plastic bucket for hauling your gear
- Emergency ice picks to stab into ice in the event you break through
- Pop-up ice fishing shelter
- Propane heater
- Disposable hand and toe warmers
- Face mask
- Sunscreen to prevent sunburn
- Fish-finding sonar unit
- Underwater camera
- A Smartphone app (they are quite inexpensive) that will show you lake depths and where you are in relation to bottom contours
- Small towel or rag for drying hands
- Warm, waterproof gloves
- Head-lamp or flashlight for seeing in low light conditions
- Tackle box with a variety of lures, weights and bobbers
- Ruler for measuring fish if fishing on a lake where special sunfish regulations are in place
- Compass in the event snow squalls prevent you from being able to see shore
- Slip-on ice cleats for your boots
- What's important to know
- Walleye tend to bite most frequently during the low light conditions of dawn and dusk. The 90 minutes prior to and just after sunset are prime fishing times. Still, some lakes – especially those that are turbid – can produce good walleye bites all day long.
- Common walleye rod-and-reel combinations include a two- to three-foot semi-stiff rod rigged with an open-faced spinning reel spooled with six-pound test line.
- A lot of walleye fishing occurs far from shore on traditional fish-holding structure. This is especially true on big walleye lakes. As such, the only way to access these spots is by driving on a plowed road maintained by a local resort. The resort will charge you an access fee. When paying the fee ask questions about fishing techniques and lures that have been effective.
- Many resorts and fishing guides provide daily or weekly updates on ice conditions and walleye catch rates. If you are planning a walleye fishing trip do an internet search to get the latest information and help make an informed decision on where you want to go.
- Those fishing in roomy ice fishing houses often use “rattle reels,” which are reels that are attached to the wall of the shack. These reels (there are no rods) contain noise makers that make an audible signal when a fish is unspooling line. If you are fishing in a shack that has rattle reels a good approach is to jig with one rod and use the rattle reel for your second line. In Minnesota you can use two lines when ice fishing.
- Some walleye attack lures at full speed without hesitation. Other walleye swim slowly to your lure, inspect it at length and then opt to bite cautiously or swim away. Either way, snap your rod upward when you feel a hit.
- A sonar unit is particularly helpful for locating and catching walleye. Underwater cameras are also beneficial for determining what the bottom looks like, bait fish abundance and other helpful information.
- When cleaning your catch it is common to see small black spots on the fillets. These pepper-like appearances – called neascus – are not harmful nor does it alter the flavor of the fish.
- Basic biology
- Walleye are a member of the perch family.
- The walleye is named for its pearlescent eye, which is caused by a reflective layer of pigment called the tapetum lucidum that helps them feed at night and in low light conditions.
- Adult walleyes eat mostly other fish. In summer they often feed on insects emerging from the lake bottom.
- Walleyes have a distinctive white spot on the bottom of their tail.
- The state record walleye weighed 17 pounds, eight ounces.
- Helpful information
- An internet search of "how to ice fish for walleye" will yield various articles and videos that further expand on how to catch walleye.
- An internet search of “ice fishing augers” is something you may want to research because drilling a hole is the very first step to catching fish. Hand and power augers come in a wide variety of price ranges and styles with battery powered augers increasingly popular because they start reliably with the flip of a switch. If you choose a hand auger, you may want to consider one with cutting blades no larger than five inches in length. That’s large enough for bluegill yet easier on your body because you will be making a smaller diameter cutting through less ice.
- An internet search of “ice fishing electronics” will yield various articles and videos on sonar units, underwater cameras and GPS units. These days the majority of ice fishing anglers use some sort of fish-finding technology rather than, as they say, “fishing blind.”