Mike Hungle

Ice-fishing Friday: 5 expert tricks for early-season walleye

First-ice fish

For some awesome action, take advantage of these unique early-season conditions

Mike Hungle
Mike Hungle

#3 Gear

You need several important items to work this first-ice system, starting with a gas- or battery-powered auger. Avoid hand augers; even though first ice is relatively thin, expect to drill 50 or more holes on a single outing. A 10-inch blade is best because it cuts a perfectly sized hole for turning a walleye’s head skyward. Plus, 10 inches offers plenty of room to land a double-digit fish without it getting stuck in the hole.

A flasher unit is essential to view real-time images of the lake bottom, your lures and any fish in the immediate vicinity. Even more importantly, it shows you how the fish react to various jigging motions, allowing you to adjust your presentation accordingly. For the best results, place the transducer right in the hole you’re fishing.

For walleye, select an ice rod with a fast-action tip and a stiff backbone. The sensitive tip lets you jig small lures with finesse and detect even the lightest of bites. The strong backbone serves well when fighting fish, especially the bigger ones. And use a rod that’s 26 to 36 inches long. This allows for big, sweeping hooksets and helps you control the fish as you battle it up from the lake bottom and onto the ice.

I like a mid-sized spinning reel with an instant anti-reverse handle for immediate and powerful hooksets. The wider spool lets the line out smoother and helps reduce line twist in the cold. Fluorocarbon in four- to eight-pound test is ideal, as it’s near-invisible, extremely sensitive and abrasion resistant, with just the right amount of stretch for hooksets. I use fluorocarbon line as my mainline, but if you’re running braided line, you can simply add a fluorocarbon leader.

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