Ice Fishing for River Walleyes

Ice Fishing on Rivers for walleyes can be as productive as it is exciting.

Ice Fishing on Rivers for walleyes can be as productive as it is exciting.

If you are fortunate enough to live in a state with rivers that freeze up nice and firm in the winter you may have a unique opportunity to try, ice fishing for river walleyes. I live on the North Branch of the Susquehanna River and have managed to get on the frozen “Susky” nearly every season for the last thirty years. River ice fishing is not for the faint-of-heart, but if you have some experience on lake ice, the transition shouldn’t be too difficult.

Ice fishing for river walleyes is a time honored tradition.

Ice fishing for river walleyes is a time honored tradition.

When it comes to ice fishing for river walleyes your first task will be finding locations that hold fish and have ice that is safe for you to stand on and move about. You will be seeking out river eddies. As water temperatures drop with the approach of winter, bait fish begin to accumulate in the slower moving waters in eddies. Fish being cold blooded are not as active in winter. They survive by expending less energy and staying out ot the main force of the river’s current. Once bait have moved into the eddies the larger predatory species follow. To begin, get out a map of better yet get on your computer and use Google Maps. Find your river of choice and look for spots where feeder streams enter the river. Zoom in to see it the outwash from the stream has caused an eddy to form downstream from its entry point. Not every stream will produce and eddy of sufficient size to make it worth ice fishing but in my experience the odds are in your favor, many do.

The quite water on the backside of this island will freeze in a few months and be a prime spot for ice fishing.

The quite water on the backside of this island will freeze in a few months and be a prime spot for ice fishing.

Feeder streams are not the only features that will produce eddies. any sizable structure that impedes the river’s flow can cause a slack water eddy to form. The relatively slow moving current allows for the build up of ice safe for ice fishing. Islands can and do support the formation of nice ice fishing spots on rivers. Many islands will have one side where the main flow passes. Frequently the water on the other side of the island will go dry up on the upstream end. During the winter the lower end of this cut off river channel can easily freeze and make for some very good ice fishing. Wing dams, and sharp bends in the river can also create conditions which allow a nice thick layer of ice for form. One other circumstance I have just discovered but have to wait for this winter to test are pipelines. I have found a spot where a storm drain pipe crosses the river bed. Along one shore the pipe is acting just like a low wing dam and has allowed the river current to carve out a nice deep. I will be keeping a close watch this winter as the temperatures drop to see if it too develops any fishable ice.

So now that you have located some spots to fish on your river it/s tome to have some fun. Icy winter walleyes behave much the

My largest walleye of the year come while ice fishing

My largest walleye of the year come while ice fishing

same as late fall eyes. Early morning and late afternoon are prime time to target them. Getting on position early and setting up will allow the water you are fishing to settle down.  Remember you will be fishing in shallow water sometimes just 3 or 4 feet deep, move around quietly, dropping your ice scoop or running around with noisy cleats on can spook fish. Cut extra holes early on so you can concentrate on fishing when the bite gets going. I like to set up tip-ups while there is light enough to see. As the light dims I will pull the tip-ups as they are tripped and begin to jig the  holes I have predrilled.

This 28 inch walleye took a 6 inch chub on a tip-up

This 28 inch walleye took a 6 inch chub on a tip-up

My biggest walleyes have always come off tip-ups. When fishing tip-ups I generally use and 18 inch leader with a small treble hook. If the fish are biting shyly I will switch to a 3 or 4 foot leader of 8 pound test fluorocarbon line with a #8 or #10 treble hook attached. for my tip-p bait I like to use wild trapped shiners and chubs, small 3 to 4 inch baits are fine. If I am using larger baits I up size the treble hooks accordingly, using #6 or #4 trebles. Don’t be surprised if you catch a northern pike of a musky they will be working the same patch of ice as the walleyes.

When it comes to jigging for ices on the river I will ofter use the same bait that accounts for most of my late fall walleye catches. That is , a white 1/8 to 1 /4  oz. leadhead jig with a chartreuse or chartreuse combination, Power Bait twistertail. This gets tipped with a small 2 to 3 inch fathead, shiner, or chub minnow. Try to keep your presentation as small as possible so the fish can easily inhale the whole thing.  The number of hookups will be high and you win’t miss as many tail biters. I’m looking forward to better river ice conditions this winter last years warm temperatures kept me off the river all season. I plan on trying out PK Lures highly recommended walleye lures the Flutterfish and the PK Spoon. I also use Swedish Pimples and Kastmasters tipped with small minnows or minnow heads. after it is fully dark the fishing can continue by lantern light just remember to stay quite and pay attention to where you are walking and what you are walking on. It is best to be with a pal in case of trouble.

Don't be surprised if you hook into a pike or musky when ice fishing for river walleyes.

Don’t be surprised if you hook into a pike or musky when ice fishing for river walleyes.

Ice fishing on rivers for walleyes can be exciting and very productive. Do some homework and play it safe and you can enjoy a new take on hardwater angling.

Be safe out there. Mother Nature is very unforgiving.
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PA Fish & Boat Commission
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Ice Fishing Rivers

 

Ice fishing rivers can be a productive and exciting experience.

Nothing tweaks the senses like getting out on a frozen river for some ice fishing.

 

Taking advantage of winter’s ice and the hungry fish to be found underneath it was something that came quite naturally to me. Living along the banks of the Susquehanna River it was only a matter of time before I gravitated to it in quest of the plentiful walleyes that dwell there. I quickly discovered that ice fishing rivers can be very productive. I recall the ruckus it caused when I started posting about all the fun I was having fishing frozen river eddies on the North Branch. I was called a lunatic, irresponsible, crazy and worse, those were the days.
My first experience ice fishing on a river occurred when I took a road trip to test myself ice fishing on the St Lawrence River in the Alexandria Bay area. The results of the experience were so positive that I continued to make the trip a yearly event for a half dozen or so years. I explored the Wellesley Island access points many of which are located on state park land and are maintained minimally for ice fishermen. Pike were my fishy targets back then and I had days of catching several dozen of them. Fishing Wellesley Island at Lake of the Isles yielded pike, some monster largemouth bass and perch too. River ice fishing was great fun.
After, ice fishing the St. Lawrence I was ready to test the Susquehanna River and see if the walleyes of January were as hungry and ready to bite as they had been before ice up in December. I was not to be disappointed. The walleye fishing was awesome the fish were fat and willing to bite a baited jig or a minnow dangled below a tip up. Besides the ‘walleye I caught muskellunge and northern pike with an occasional carp or channel cat turning up too. River fishing was a productive and exciting ice fishing adventure. During this period of time I was traveling back and forth from NJ to PA up to several times a week. Every time I crossed the frozen Delaware I found my self wondering if it would be as ice fishing friendly as the Susky. Having fished both sides of the Delaware while chasing shad in the springtime I remembered a few spots the should have nice thick and safe ice to test the Big “D’s” ice fishing. For my first attempt I went up into the Delaware River National Recreation Area on the Jersey side traveling north well up into the heart of the Rec Area. There I selected a large eddy that was always a good shad producer. Once on the ice I found it to be about 14 inches thick and well frozen. I drilled a line of holes along the contour of an island up the back channel keeping at least 7 or 8 feet of water below the ice as I went. It wasn’t long before the flags were flying and I had my 3 walleye limit including one 28″ trophy.
Ice fishing  rivers is riskier than fishing frozen lakes and ponds. This can be attributed to the flowing water found in them. When fishing rivers seek out eddies or other places where the current is reduced by obstructions. Sharp bends in the river will frequently create the slack water conditions required for ice to develop into safe evenly frozen sheets similar to what we find on lakes and ponds. Islands can create conditions favorable to safe ice fishing spots. places where tributaries enter the river can also make sizable river eddies.
The Susquehanna’s North Branch is blessed with a good number of slower moving eddies where ice can accumulate and thicken unhindered by the stronger current found in the main channel. One thing to note if you decide to give riverine ice fishing a try is that many (not all) of the best locations are located adjacent to public boat launches or other public access areas. This holds true on the Delaware, the Susquehanna and the St. Lawrence rivers it must be more than a coincidence and have some basis in the planning of these facilities. If you decide to give river ice fishing a try take a friend bring a rope and a life saving flotation device. Take care getting on and off the ice. Pay Attention to everything while you are on the river, pay attention to wet spots and any visible color variations in the ice. I like to take a spud along. I poke and pry at the edges before setting foot on river ice. If you are shaky about fishing on frozen lakes and ponds then this is not going to be for you. Ideally you should have ice experience and confidence in your ability to read the ice. Ice fishing rivers can be a rewarding ice fishing adventure give them their due respect and you could have your best day ice fishing ever.

If you want to learn more about ice fishing rivers.

Or learn about the sport of ice fishing in general, we are here to be a friend, lend a hand and be a resource in your icy pursuits. Whether you are a beginner or an icy veteran seasoned by many winters spent on our frozen lakes, you will find a warm fire, good friends, and extraordinary tales when you step through the doors of IceFishin247.com.