First ice is a special time for walleye anglers, bringing some of the best hardwater action of the season. And this action is a direct result of the stable conditions created by ice-up. Once a layer of ice seals off the underwater realm, wind no longer churns up the lake. And without waves mixing the water, the lake stops turning over, and temperature and oxygen levels stabilize throughout the entire water column. This stable environment, combined with the walleye’s urge to bulk up for winter, leads the fish to stack up and aggressively feed.
Every winter unfolds differently, and depending on the weather, these early-season conditions can last between three and eight weeks. The end comes when cold fronts and storms start affecting conditions under the ice, and the water just under the surface starts to cool. Snow accumulating on the ice will cut off oxygen to the lake, meanwhile, causing oxygen levels to fluctuate and decline from the top of the water column down to the bottom. Once the stable first-ice conditions finally break down, the walleye will disperse to different locations around the lake. But before that happens, you can enjoy some of the season’s best action.