What Are The 10 Best Baits For Walleye Ice Fishing You Need In Your Tackle Box?
UPDATED 29 JANUARY 2021
by Bill Laney
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If you want to catch walleye on ice, it’s essential to choose the right bait. I’ve seen it so many times that an ice angler with one particular strategy will catch one fish after the other, while his buddy just a few feet away won’t catch a single fish with a different strategy.
When it comes to walleye ice fishing baits, you have these main categories to choose from:
- Minnows (live or dead)
- Artificial lures
- Both combined
Minnows and lures can each be extremely effective for walleye ice fishing, but there is a lot of variability in what works best on a particular day or lake. Because of this variability, we can’t give you one single bait as the absolute winner. Instead, we’ll show you the top 10 options, so you can experiment with them to figure out what works best for you.
Below are the top 10 baits that you can use to catch walleye on ice:
- Live minnow
- Dead minnow
- Rapala jigging rap
- Rapala slab rap
- Northland buckshot rattle spoon
- Leech flutter spoon
- Northland whistler jig
- Clam drop jig
- Spoon baited with minnow head
- Jig baited with live or dead minnow
Minnows are sold by most tackle shops, and include several common species, such as shiners, suckers, and rainbow minnows, among others. While all of them can be used successfully, it’s best to stick with the smaller ones. Big shiners are better suited for northern pike and largemouth bass instead.
1. Live bait
Live minnows are one of the top baits for walleye, and are most commonly fished with deadsticks or tip ups. A deadstick is a rod that is passively set up at an ice hole, and left there until a fish comes by and takes the hook. Usually a dead stick is set up with a slip bobber, and the live minnow is suspended under the bobber about 1 foot above the bottom.
The advantage of deadsticking is that you can set up several rods, and use them to cover a larger area that way, while at the same time using an active jigging rod on another ice hole.
How to hook a live minnow for walleye:
In order to get the best performance from live minnows, you have to hook them correctly. The ideal way to do this is to use a size 2 hook, and pass it through the nostril of the minnow (see image below):
Hooked this way, minnows stay alive for a long time, which ensures they’ll attract fish with their movements. You can also pass the hook through the back underneath the dorsal fin, but hooked that way they don’t last as long.
Keep in mind that live bait is not allowed everywhere, so make sure it’s okay on your lake before trying it out.
See also: best depth to ice fish for walleye.
2. Dead bait
While live minnows tend to perform better for catching walleye, dead minnows can also catch fish. They can either be presented passively with a deadstick, or they can be jigged actively up and down to attract fish. This is best done by using a jig head, and passing the hook of the jig through the head of the minnow.
In heavily fished waters, fish tend to be finicky biters, and have learned to avoid the hooks of anglers. In cases like that, they may prefer a dead minnow lying on the bottom, since that looks more natural to them than a suspended one. There’s a great YouTube video which shows walleye in a heavily fished lake ignoring a minnow suspended on a hook, but readily picking up dead minnows lying on the bottom.
See also: when do walleye bite best for ice fishing?
When it comes to lures for walleye ice fishing, 3 main types are used most often, and give the best results:
- Jigging swimbaits
Jigs and spoons have been around for a long, long time, but are both still incredibly effective for catching fish on ice. There are so many different variations of these that we can’t list all of them. Instead, we’ll show you some of the ones that we’ve found to be highly effective.
Jigging swimbaits are a more recent invention. Basically, these lures are designed to produce a lateral motion when you lift your rod tip up and down. Thus the lure moves sideways with a fluttering movement when you pull up your rod, and then circles back as you lower it.
These lures are among the most effective artificial lures for ice fishing walleye, especially on lakes where they haven’t seen a lot of them yet. However, spoons continue to catch big fish reliably every single season, and jigs are great when used with a minnow, or a minnow head, so all three types of lures should be in your tackle box when you hit the ice.
3. Rapala Jigging Rap
This is one of the top performing artificial lures for walleye ice fishing, and currently my absolute favorite lure. Unlike other lures, it is attached to the line in the center of the back, and together with the flat tail fin, this results in a strong lateral movement when you jig your rod up and down.
The Rapala jigging rap enables you to generate a lateral movement while fishing vertically on ice, which is great for attracting fish and for enticing them to strike even when they aren’t in feeding mode.
Another great feature is that it has hooks at both ends, as well as in the middle, which helps to hook a fish no matter what part of the lure it strikes. For walleyes, you should choose a larger model, size 5 or larger.
4. Rapala Slab Rap
This is another of Rapala’s jigging swimbaits. But unlike the jigging rap, it doesn’t have a flat tail fin, and as a result it moves less conspicuously when you jig it with your rod.
When fish are finicky, this can be the lure that saves the day, since it moves less conspicuously than the jigging rap. The round shape also gives it extra bulk, which can help to attract larger walleye, while avoiding the small ones.
5. Northland Buckshot Rattle Spoon
This is one of the top performing spoons for walleye ice fishing. One reason for its effectiveness is that it rattles when moved in the water, due to a hollow rattling chamber filled with noise generating balls.
The rattle spoon comes in many different color variations that are designed to mimic minnows of various kinds. This is an excellent lure to use in midwater when walleye are hunting pelagic fish like shad in early winter.
6. Leech Flutter Spoon
This is a classic lure that continues to produce reliably. It’s designed to resemble a leech shape, but can also pass for a small minnow, with a drop shaped body and feathered treble hook that resembles a tail fin.
The predominant action of this spoon is a fluttering motion in the water when you jig it up and down, which seems to be very effective at enticing fish to strike.
7. Northland Whistler Jig
These jigs are extremely effective for catching walleye, and come with several features that seem to drive the fish nuts. It has a propeller between the head and the hook, which rotates when moved underwater, and produces vibrations that attract predators.
The jig heads come in glow in the dark variations that absorb light and emit it underwater as a distinct glow. This kind of glowing lure can entice bites when everything else fails. And like all other jigs, the hook can be baited with a live or dead minnow.
8. Clam Drop Jig
The tungsten material of these jigs is very dense, which is great if you want to use a small lure size for finesse techniques on finicky fish.
Another great feature of these jigs is that the hook hangs down at a slanted angle, which really helps to improve the chances of setting the hook when you sense a bite. The hooks of these jigs also come in much larger sizes than most other jig models, which is excellent for hooking a minnow on them.
See also: best pike ice fishing lures.
Combining lures with minnow baits
One of the most effective ways to get finicky winter fish to bite is with a lure that’s additionally baited with a minnow, or a piece of a minnow. This works very well with both spoons and with jigs.
9. Spoon baited with minnow head
One of the best strategies is to hook a minnow head on the treble hook of a spoon. The head emits a strong smell of a wounded prey fish. When fish are attracted by the conspicuous movement and color of the spoon, they then experience the added stimulating effect of the minnow head, which often gets them to bite.
10. Jig baited with live or dead minnow
With jigs you can even use a whole live minnow, and hook it through the nose as described above. You then have the combined advantage of a colorful jig that you can move around, plus the sight and smell of a wounded minnow.
See also: where can you target walleye ice fishing?
All of the baits and lures described here can generate “full bucket” days when it comes to walleye ice fishing, but each of them has also been known to fail on some days. That’s why it’s essential to have a variety of them in your tackle box when you go out on the ice, since that will enable you to test which one works best on a particular day on your water.
If you want to catch more fish, also take a look at our in-depth guide to ice fishing.