Man catching large walleye while ice fishing

Ice Formula: When Should I Set my Hook For Walleyes?

When fish strike, timing your hook-set can determine whether or not a fish emerges from your ice hole.

One of the best parts of hosting ice angling seminars is all the great questions I receive after the event. They provide great insight into what anglers are thinking, and help me hone my fishing tactics and future seminar topics year-round.

Terry Tuma
Terry Tuma

“When should I set the hook for walleyes?” ranks as a top five question I hear from anglers in the winter.

This question has a number of answers depending on the circumstances. First, if the walleye or any other fish delivers a pronounced thump, set the hook immediately. That fish has inhaled your bait.

If you sense (or can see on a camera) the fish chewing on your bait, reel up 3- to 4 inches, then jig very subtly or not at all. That subtle response may trigger a strike. Watch your Vexilar, and remember to always make that walleye (or any fish) bite up.

An aside here: Anglers in my opinion usually are jigging too much for walleyes. Think of jigging as minor ticks, and your default should be to keep it subtle.

When dealing with neutral or negative biters, I’ll sometimes drop my bait via some semi-slack line. That complete lack of tension sometimes can seal the deal with light biters.

Remember that a walleye can inhale or exhale a food source in half a second. So we have a tiny opportunity to assess a strike and react when marking fish. This demands concentration and experience, and you only build the latter by staying on the ice and working areas where you mark fish.


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