Browsing through online tackle store pages or the aisles of your local tackle shop can be overwhelming. Everything looks good, yet many rigs are what my good friend calls “broken clock” lures—tackle that only works twice a day. When choosing ice fishing rigs for walleye, thinking quality over quantity will allow you to get by with three main lure types in a majority of the situations you encounter. I rely on these lures guiding anglers for walleye all winter long.
Spoons have long been a producer for hardwater ‘eyes, but throw a rattle on it and they become deadly. As with any spoon, cadence is key. When no fish are present on your electronics, vigorously shake the spoon for a few seconds to call them in, but then slow it down. One of the biggest mistakes anglers make with rattle spoons is to think you need to be constantly making noise. Once fish are in close proximity and interested, a slight thump and bump from the rattle is all you need.
When it comes to rattle spoons, one of the most iconic is the Northland Buckshot. For more than 20 years hardwater anglers have been rattling up walleyes and perch on this lure. Its compact body style makes it very efficient when fishing in current or deep water. Use the smallest weight you can get away with to stay vertical and show up on electronics.
My other go-to rattle lure is the Silver Streak Rattle Streak. The Rattle Streak has a flatter and slightly wider body style compared to any other rattle spoon. This simple but different design causes it to glide or kick out erratically on slack line. The unique body type makes it more difficult to fish in current but provides a deadly action not found in other lead spoons.
For whatever reason, when the bite gets tough, walleyes like a bait that is just hanging there horizontally. If you can figure out why this is the case, you can probably quit your day job. Horizontal jigs and jigging raps can be fished aggressively, only to tame it down in a second’s notice. When jigging horizontal jigs, a slight amount of slack will allow the jig to swim in a complete circle in three to four strokes, just like a dying minnow. One knock on horizontal jigging lures is that they can be tough to keep fish hooked. Regardless of the brand, you should cut off the bottom treble hook and replace it with a larger, premium treble hook.
The Clam Tikka Mino is unique in that it is completely made out of zinc. The zinc construction causes the body to swim differently, and fish seem to notice. A huge added benefit is that there isn’t a plastic fin to break off—a frustrating element of this type lures in the past. The attractive finishes are pleasing to both anglers’ and fishes’ eyes.
The Northland Puppet Minnow is a lead version of the classic horizontal minnow jig. While these will catch plenty of walleyes, the newer rattling version seems to be the best of both worlds. When walleyes are reluctant to bite, don’t be afraid to quiver the presentation in place like anglers do with panfish plastics. Lures like this don’t always need to be swimming to get clobbered.
A majority of the ice anglers I know don’t even carry one of the simplest yet most effective ice lures going. This open water standard is the perfect follow-up lure when walleyes are reluctant to commit to the rattle spoon or horizontal jig. Many times, simply placing this rig on a bucket to be used as a dead stick is the most effective tactic.
Up until recently, I had to home-make these jigs or repaint factory steelhead jigs to get exactly what I wanted. The reason is that you need a quality hook that will not flex on the hookset, yet a wider gap than is found on most jigs. A 1/0 hook will have thin-enough gauge wire to get good hookups but will provide enough gap even when tipped with a large minnow.
The Clam Tg Jig is made from tungsten, allowing it to have a much smaller profile than most jig heads of the same weight. This allows the jig to penetrate slush in the hole and get deep quickly. The oversized, sticky-sharp hook is necessary for the soft finesse bites hardwater walleyes are famous for. The plain collar is also advantageous when threading an entire minnow up the shank.
The Long Shank Northland Fireball Jig is a modified version of the game-changing Fireball Jig. This design is perfect for dead sticking or finesse jigging walleyes. It has many of the same attributes as the Clam Tg Jig except it is made out of lead. This will cause a slightly slower fall rate, which is helpful when fish are extra finicky. Additionally, it has another eye for attaching a stinger hook, which can be crucial when using large minnows or if the fish are short biting.
You can experiment all you want with newfangled rigs and lures, or you can maximize your time on the water with these three proven winners. Fished correctly, I can promise they’ll put more ‘eyes topside than anything else.