At What Time Do Walleye Bite Best In Winter?
UPDATED 29 JANUARY 2021
by Bill Laney
If you want to ice fish for walleye successfully, it’s essential to know when their best biting times are. If you know when they feed most actively, you can focus your efforts on those times, resulting in a lot more fish caught in a shorter period of time.
Walleye feed most actively at night, with a peak in activity around dusk. The best walleye ice fishing is during the 30 minutes before and after sunset in winter. Following this peak, they continue feeding with lower intensity during the night, followed by another peak at dawn (though this second peak is not as strong as the one at dusk).
Walleye activity has been studied extensively by both scientists and anglers, so we have a fairly good idea of when they feed most actively. And while it is possible to catch them at all times of day and night, there are definite peaks in activity that are worth paying attention to.
Now let’s look at their top feeding hours in more detail, and we’ll also discuss where you can find them at these peak hours.
When do walleye bite best during ice fishing?
Scientists have studied walleye activity with telemetric tracking, and in one study conducted in Michigan in 2004/2005, they found that their activity is at an absolute peak during the 30 minutes just before and after sunset. Following that peak, their activity gradually declines, and is at a low point during the day.
These results are in excellent agreement with those of many ice anglers (myself included). Walleye bite much better at night compared to the day, and the very best fishing period is during the hour around dusk, with a second smaller peak at dawn.
|Time of day||Level of activity|
|Dusk||Peak feeding activity|
|Night||Intermediate feeding activity|
|Dawn||Second peak in feeding activity|
|Day||Lowest feeding activity|
Table 1: Walleye feeding activity over the day
Many ice anglers report catching only 1 or 2 walleye during a whole day of ice fishing, and then 5 or 6 in quick succession just before sunset. Armed with this knowledge you can focus most of your ice fishing efforts in the evening, from around 4:00 pm to 5:30 pm, which is the absolute best biting period.
Where can you target walleye during their peak feeding hours in winter?
Once you know the best biting hours, the next question is: where should you ice fish at these times?
It’s well established that they spend most of the day time in deeper water of around 20-40 feet depth. But when they start foraging actively towards the evening, they move into shallower depths of about 8-25 feet (for more details on this, take a look at our article on what depth should you ice fish for walleye).
So if you want to catch them during their most active feeding hours, you need to target these more shallow areas, which tend to be prominent underwater structures such as hills or saddles, extensions of shoreline points, or the edges of mudflats. The best way to find these structures is with a GPS hydrographic map that allows you to find them easily and then and then navigate to them quickly. For more information on this, check out the following articles: where to target walleye for ice fishing, and how to read a lakemap for walleye ice fishing.
How to take advantage of the evening bite
A great way to take advantage of the evening bite is by setting yourself up a few hours before the evening, and drilling a bunch of holes at different depth points between 8 and 25 feet. Then start jigging with ultralight lures to find holes with many small yellow perch.
If you find a hole with lots of perch, you can be fairly certain that walleye will show up there later during the evening, since small perch are among their favored prey. When you’ve found a place like that, set up a few deadsticks with live or dead bait, and in addition use your active rod to test some of the top performing lures (for more details, take a look at our article on the best walleye ice fishing baits and lures).
How to catch big walleye with night ice fishing
As already mentioned, the best fishing times are primarily at dusk and then at a lower level of intensity during the whole night. But there’s another aspect to this: you’ll probably catch mostly small to medium sized fish during the evening bite, the really big fish tend to bite later than that.
So if you’re interested in catching trophy size fish, you should really look into night ice fishing. While it seems a little daunting to spend the graveyard shift out on a frozen lake at freezing temperatures, the results speak for themselves.
The most important aspect of night ice fishing is having the right gear. You’ll definitely want to have a good shelter, and a reliable heating device, so you can focus on having fun. As mentioned above, a great strategy is to use several deadsticks or tip ups together with an active jigging rod.
The best performing lures for night fishing tend to be the ‘glow in the dark’ variety, which you can additionally bait with a minnow head. You’ll probably catch most fish on the active rod, but it’s always good to give the fish several bait options to choose from, since their preferences can vary a lot from day to day.
How to catch walleye during the day in winter
While walleye are much less active during the day, you can definitely still catch them at this time. But you’ll need to keep in mind that they’re mostly found in deeper water during the day, usually in basins that are between 20 and 40 feet deep, and tend to hold close to prominent underwater structures.
Secondly, if you want to ice fish for them during the day, you’ll probably need to use finesse techniques since they aren’t in active feeding mode. Finesse techniques rely on using lighter and smaller lures, and more subtle presentation methods that entice finicky fish to bite.
You should also be aware that most bites will be quite subtle at this time of the day – more like a nibble than a strike (even if you’re dealing with big fish). The best way to detect a bite is actually with an underwater camera, since you’ll be able to see bites that hardly register on your rod tip.
When you’re ready to take advantage of the evening bite, you may be interested in our review of the best ice fishing rod and reel combo for walleye to help you get those full bucket days.
Hungry to learn more? Check out our ice fishing guide for beginners.
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