If you are looking to ice more walleyes and catch some monster fish with gator heads and teeth like a crocodile, listen up. I’ve got an ice fishing tactic that works better than dynamite and the results are absolutely explosive. This method is smokin’ hot and will work on inland lakes, reservoirs, Great Lakes and frozen rivers. It is perhaps my best kept fishing secret for icing supertanker walleyes when other anglers can’t buy a bite. What is my secret technique? Well, I’m using set-lines.
I learned the deadly tactic on Michigan’s Saginaw Bay years ago when winter walleyes would get lock jaw and refuse traditional baits tipped with minnows. At first I took a page from the In-Fisherman walleye secrets and used a single hook with split shot about 12-20 inches from a live minnow. But catch results were poor. One outing after a splendid morning bite I snoozed in the mid-day sun waiting for sunset when hungry Bay ‘eyes would go on another feeding spree. That’s when I sent down little Swedish Pimple spoons tipped with lively minnows and I placed lures about 3-5 feet off bottom. Out of nowhere came a big red band on my Vexilar indicating a walleye was on the lures. I lifted them from the rod holders and gave them a twitch but the walleye disappeared. The next time a big fish appeared I tried a different strategy. I lifted the rod tip, slowly pulled the offering away from the fish and POW! Fish on! That’s when I learned the most valuable lesson about negative walleyes; they simply do not want a flashy lure darting, dropping, and dancing in their face. It seems they are centering their attention on the live minnow, dead ones draw no fish. If you take their prize away they get aggressive and slam the offering.
More importantly, set-line fishing will guarantee strikes when other anglers cannot buy a bite, when fish are turned off, in a negative mood and often the strikes come during broad daylight when the sun is bright and other fishermen are headed to shore for lunch. Perhaps the most important point about this tactic is it appeals to big’ole monster fish. I’m talking adult walleyes that can be difficult to fool, wary fish with an eye the size of a golf ball and teeth like an angry Florida gator. On more than one occasion I’ve used this deadly strategy to ice huge supertanker walleyes that placed in the top five in the Saginaw News Shiver on the River ice fishing contest. One hawg pushed the scales 12 pounds 4 ounces.
Last winter was a classic example. Professional walleye angler Erik Furseth from East Lansing joined me on a Great Lakes outing. The sun was high, the day bright when the first 10-pound plus fish slammed the tiny silver Swedish Pimple tipped with three lively minnows. Erik was next to see a huge band on his graph and he slowly lifted the lure while giving it a slight didle-didle twitching action. Wham! He was fast into a hawg that went at least 32 inches long and had a belly like a pregnant pig. By days end we landed 10 fish and iced 7 walleyes over 10 pounds. I would estimate that if you weighed our top 5 walleyes we would have pushed the scales over 55 pounds! But there is a lot more to set-line fishing than simply suspending lures.
If you want walleyes through the ice and big fish with teeth like Godzilla on steroids you need to use live minnows. Not just any minnow but crappie size silver beauties that are full of life, active and stay alive when in the strike zone. I’ve tried larger walleye-size minnows with limited success and fat heads seem to draw less fish because they lack the bright silvery flash that walleyes can see at tremendous distances. I seldom use just one but adorn the treble hook with two or three chrome silver minnows.
The trick is to hook them barely through the lips and keep them alive on the hook. Make certain to pin them so they ride straight up in the water. If you put the barb sideways through the lips the minnow will lay on its side and fights to get straight, the action wears down the minnow and soon it is dead and lifeless. In this game you can see on your electronics if minnows are lively by giving the rod a shake and minnows will respond by providing a vibrating line on the electronics. If there is question, reel up the lure, replace old or lifeless bait and drop down new.
If a walleye approaches but does not bite, again change to fresh minnows. Some days I’ll go through four or five dozen crappie minnows because I’m changing bait frequently. When you remove dead bait pinch off the head with your thumbnail, squeeze out the air bladder and drop fish parts down the hole for chum. Chumming with minnows is a deadly tactic to draw walleyes that smell the baitfish and are attracted to the silvery fish parts on bottom. Hey, chumming is the best way to draw big cats too. But that’s another story.
I keep minnows super charged by placing them in an eight-gallon black pail with oxygen aerator. When I drill holes I immediately replace bait shop water with fresh lake water and I purge slowly so minnows do not suffer from temperature shock when mixing bait shop warm water with cold lake water. The black bucket is necessary to keep minnows colorful. Ever notice how pale and dull looking minnows are from a white foam bait container? By putting them in a dark container they take on a dark color and walleyes can see high contrast heathy minnows at long distances. As a rule of thumb, the bigger the minnow bucket the livelier the bait.
There are a variety of lures that work for set-lines but after testing zillions I’ve been impressed with two lures both made here in Michigan by Bay de Noc Lure Company in Gladstone. My top producer is a size #3 Swedish Pimples and my second best is a size #1 Do-jigger. My hottest colors are silver, here’s why. When the lure is stationary and the minnows are swimming, the triangular-shaped lures reflect the chrome-sided flash of bait through the water in every direction, like a mirror. Wary walleyes hugging bottom see the frantic action, glide close for a peek and when they slip beneath the offering they cannot resist stalking kissin’ close. Silver is the hottest color going but sometimes they want gold and the tape on the side of the lures is colored chartreuse, green, orange, pearl, and other shades to get their attention.
When set-lining you need a steady rod holder where you can place the rod after lures are set 3-5 feet off bottom. The whole trick to success depends on how stationary the lure remains. Move it and fish disappear, leave it stationary with minnows wiggling, light reflecting off the chrome lure and fish will come to investigate. Sometimes active fish will charge the offering and slam the offering before you can reach the rod.
Once I’ve dropped lures to bottom, raised them off bottom and set rods in stationary holders, I sit back and relax. This style of fishing is like being on stand for a trophy buck and requires patience and attention to detail. Often you will see the bottom suddenly rise a bit; the graph will wiggle like something is below the offering. Then, a red band appears on bottom and slowly comes up, toward the bait. Other times huge fish will simply appear on the electronics as a suspended fish coming close to investigate. When fishing 30 foot depths I’ve had good success placing lures 8-10 feet from the bottom.
Now, here comes the real secret to set line fishing that most anglers overlook. When that monster fish shows on the electronics slowly take the rod out of the rod holder and do not move it. Most anglers make the fatal mistake of immediately jigging the offering when a walleye shows and they spook fish and send them to bottom. Instead give the rod tip a little jiggle, just enough movement to wake up the minnows and excite them into franticly swimming. The action of the violently swimming baitfish reflecting off the mirror-like silver lure drives walleye into a closer look. Lethargic winter walleyes seldom gulp offerings, instead they slowly stalk into kissin’ distance and vent the minnows by sucking water fast as lightning and grabbing the bait with their lips. Once again, if fish show on the electronics do not jig the spoon, instead lift it stair-step fashion a few inches at a time while you lightly jiggle the rod. Often fish will follow the offering several feet off bottom, tilt upward, stand on their tail in a complete vertical position. Sometimes they chase the offering and strike only a few feet under the ice. The key to fishing success using this method hinges on how seductively you wiggle-wiggle, didle-didle and dance the offering upward.
Now, I know this is a complete contradiction to those who pump spoons or bounce them off bottom. Some angles like to catch walleyes by disturbing bottom debris and I’ve used this tactic to catch some fish. But I’m talking about limit catches of tuna-shaped monster fish. Try my suggestions and I guarantee you will catch more and bigger fish.
Last winter I caught at least a dozen 10-pound plus fish. Most came on shiny silver lures tipped with crappie shiners set far off bottom. Part of the reason this tactic is so deadly is bottom hugging walleyes can see the offering at long distances. If you place lures close to bottom you attract far fewer fish and your catch rate decrease because you are not drawing fish from long distances.
I’m so impressed with the power of set-line fishing that even when the ‘eyes are snapping in early morning or late afternoon I always have one set-line sitting in the rod holder. Often hot fish come to the rod I’m pumping, jigging and allowing the lure to flutter. But once they come close and get a peek at the live bait presentation they strike the set-line.
If you are the kind of fisherman that lacks patience and simply needs to be constantly jigging a spoon, jigging Rapala or other fast action lure there are days when you will hammer fish. But on those slow days, often after a cold front the fish go negative, that’s when set-lines come alive.
I must admit, I’m a trophy walleye hunter. I’m not interested in a sled full of eater 17-21″ walleyes. I want a fish that zips line off the reel drag when I set the hook. I want another Shiver on the River ice contest winner that tips the scales over 10 pounds. I seek the thrill of the fight, the excitement of doing battle with a sled-sized huge walleye with teeth like an attack German shepherd. My goal is to hook into a 30-plus inch monster, battle the supertanker to the surface and enjoy the excitement when a walleye long as my arm zips past the hole. I like them big and I like to catch lots of them. Most importantly I’m using the deadliest monster walleye tactic going and it puts me miles ahead of the rest of the pack or average fisherman. In some ways I’m off the charts when it comes to icing those trophy pre-spawn hawgs. All because of a simple ice fishing tactic called “set-lining”.
What about you? Are you ready to catch big fish when most are having trouble getting bites? Are you ready to try a deadly new fishing trick that works all day? Try the above methods and I guarantee eye-popping success.