Dave Genz, the recognized father of modern ice fishing, gets excited when he talks about first-ice walleyes. Just below the hard surface lies water that’s still laden with oxygen and still very close to their preferred temperature range.
The fish are aggressive, still willing to swim a fair distance for something to munch on. As a result, Genz is aggressive in his approach, and recent spoon design advances allow him to be even more aggressive in his fishing than the traditional methods he once relied on. For example, the Rattlin’ Flyer Spoon by Lindy Legendary Tackle lends a vertical look, flash, and sound plus the ability to “cast” under the ice that’s deadly when walleyes are nearby, he said.
Other baits are effective, but they peak in performance during the golden hours around sunrise and sunset. While those are still the best hours to have bait in the water, spoons help him catch fish all day long.
Where to Find Them
There is no such thing as a magic lure that will catch fish anywhere, anytime. You must still drill holes in their neighborhood.
In natural lakes, first ice finds walleyes near the steepest breaks on shoreline structure.
“The rule of thumb is that if you study a map and look for the fastest drop-off to the deepest part of the lake, that will usually produce walleyes,” he said.
Nearby creeks and rivers are pluses. He advises to target the mouths of them, but beware of current that can make ice thin.
Early ice is often the time to visit those shallow, prairie lakes that were too weedy to fish effectively in the summer. Focus on hard-bottomed spots, such as rock piles and even small structural features.
“A slight rise off the bottom can be a holding point for walleyes,” Genz said.
Stick with the shoreline structure on bigger lakes, such as Minnesota’s Mille Lacs or Lake of the Woods, too, he said. Check out spots where reed beds stick up through the ice.
“The edge of those will attract the walleyes,” Genz said.
As always, points are the prime real estate in reservoirs, but look for the ones with the sharpest breaks into the old channel, which will be the deepest water in the system.
Genz’s set-up for spoons centers on a rod with a stiff tip. If it’s too limber, you can move and jiggle it all day long and little of the action will be transferred to the bait. You also must be able to shake a Rattlin’ Flyer Spoon hard enough to make it give off noise.
“The tip must be stiff enough so everything your rod tip is doing, the lure is doing,” Genz said.
Use low stretch mono in 6- to 8-pound-test. If water is deeper, use super lines of the same diameter as the mono to increase your sense of touch. A nice by-product of the braided lines is that you also have a much stronger line holding the fish.
GPS helps locate spots you hopefully programmed in during open-water season when moving around to scout was much easier than during the frosty weather.
A flasher or electronics is critical. They offer the ability to detect walleyes that move close to your bait. You can also watch as the color changes as they move ever closer. Gauge their mood and the action they want by whether they continue to move to the center of the hole and take the bait or veer off. Too many near misses are an invitation to change jigging action or spoon color.
Genz keeps color choices simple.
“My story doesn’t change. In low-light periods, red Techni-Glo is my favorite because red glow is the brightest. When you charge it with your Tazer, fish can see it the farthest away, and in the golden hour (around sunrise and sunset), they will be attracted from a long ways.
The Rattl’n Flyer’s design causes it to glide away from the hole. It’s also effective on panfish.
“Blue glow charges longest, so it’s a good night color when bigger fish are more apt to bite” Genz continued. “Daytime colors vary according to water color. Chartreuse is always a good choice, but play with the greens, the oranges and the yellows. I adjust the color to what the fish are telling me.”
He adds that his electronics also play a big role.
“Using my electronics, I know when fish are coming by and not biting,” Genz said. “Then I make changes and adjust. A camera helps if you aren’t moving around a lot.”
Dress your spoon with a minnow head. He’ll use a bigger piece of fathead or shiner minnows if he wants to bulk up the bait or add more scent to the water.
Fishing a Spoon
The design of the Rattlin’ Flyer Spoon mimics its predecessor, the Flyer. They glide when they are dropped down the hole, allowing ice anglers to “cast” a 6-foot radius around their hole. What Genz does next is critical.
“Don’t lift it and let it pendulum back below the hole,” he said. “Drag it. Twitch it as you drag it. Now, you’re almost fishing like you would fish in summer.”
Walleyes often inhale it right from the bottom. But, if not, the next step is to pound it into the bottom over and over. It puts the “puff factor” on your side, Genz said.
“I call it ‘puffing the bottom’ — there’s always sediment on the bottom,” he explained. “When you lower the bait to the bottom and shake it or pound it, it will puff the sediment up. It looks like fish feeding on bloodworms and larvae. It can cause a feeding frenzy of perch and then the bigger fish come in to feed on the perch.”
The next step is to jig the bait aggressively to make the sound work for you. He said it’s like a dinner bell for a curious walleyes. A major mistake many anglers make is to lessen the intensity of their jigging when a walleye shows up on the flasher.
“Don’t freeze up and hope they bite,” he said. “Get the rattle working.”
Drag, Pound, Jig
If you do see fish turn away, then try modifying the action. So, the lesson is to first drag, then pound, and then jig the spoon.
If you like tip-ups, no problem. Just leave one hole for using a spoon. There will be times when you’ll use a spoon and get nothing, then quit for a moment and the flag of the nearest tip up goes up. It’s not hard to figure out what happened. You called the fish in with the spoon, but maybe it wanted sometime more neutral looking so it turned off and took the minnow on the tip-up instead.
The Rattlin’ Flyer Spoon is available in four sizes from 1/16-ounce to 1/4-ounce and in six different colors.
If spoons don’t do the trick, he’ll switch to a Genz Worm or a Fat Boy dressed with several Eurolarvae. Then, he puffs the bottom with them, too, pounding the jig to send sediment into the water to attract perch and walleyes.
“Same deal,” Genz said. But spoons are the first choice for aggressive first-ice walleyes.
“It looks so good, I want to eat it myself,” Genz said, laughing.
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