Understanding Walleyes Under the Ice

February 7, 2009 by  

Ice Team

Dave Genz sporting a giant walleye

Dave Genz sporting a giant walleye

If we could see the way walleyes do, we would know them, through and through.

There’s a reason we call ‘em ‘eyes.

Those eyes are amazing.

Positioned behind the walleye’s retina is a reflective membrane called the tapetum lucidum. This substance is exceptionally white, its purpose to gather, and reflect, light.

Its potential brought to full fruition in any dim condition.

When light enters a walleye’s eye, it is picked up by the retina, but also bounced around by the reflective tapetum, back to the retina numerous times. This essentially ‘multiplies’ ambient light, but only for the walleye, not for its hapless prey—not even the closely-related yellow perch.

No wonder seasoned walleye chasers venture forth so early in the morning, and precisely position Fish Traps just before the sun starts to sink. Drill with the StrikeMaster Lazer and put Lindy Techni-Glo to task before last night becomes this morning. Set up quietly on high-percentage spots as late afternoon morphs into sunset.

That good joke can wait. Time to concentrate. The constants are the whir of the Vexilar, bright and colorful early-warning system, stream of warmth from your pal Mr. Heater, images of the underwater world beamed to you by Aqua-Vu, crisp response to your jigging demands from your Nature Vision Genz Stix rod.

When the fish come in, it’s your time to shine.

Natural selection has programmed walleyes to hunt where and when pickings are easiest, so prime time will always be whenever light levels change dramatically.

But, as you will see, Ice Team will help you extend the bite.

We want you to fish walleyes all day, and catch them consistently. Walleyes are the perfect target for fish-fry fodder, but once you can catch them all day, you’ll see that they are great catch-and-release fish, too.

As long as we’ve fished through the ice, walleyes have fascinated us. Scientists might consider them ‘mid-level’ predators (when compared with, say, pike and muskies), but big walleyes don’t move over for much. They hunt in packs like wolves, but also do well on their own or in small groups. Walleyes work the base of drop-offs, sit in motionless ambush amidst weeds, and patrol points with boulders, humps and flats.

A great eating size fish for the table

A great eating size fish for the table

They do what they wanna do, eat when they wanna eat. The key to catching them during ‘off-peak’ times is triggering a response, getting them to “sample” your offering, as Ice Team’s Dave Genz likes to say. Think like a walleye. See the world the way they do, and you can anticipate where they’ll be and trigger them, using the specialized equipment available to modern ice anglers.

It’s more fun to catch walleyes than to just go fishing for them. In many ways, that is the essence of Ice Team’s mission—to help you skip years of trial and error, and help you choose and use the gear that makes every bit of the difference.●

Tapetum is not the Enemy

When you understand walleyes and their basic nature, it makes sense that low-light conditions are peak feeding opportunities for them. But before you curse that blasted tapetum, it’s important to know that there is more to the story behind it, and walleyes are amazingly adaptive creatures that can be caught in varying light levels.

Breakthrough research done by Dr. Dwight Burkhardt showed that not only does the amount of tapetum vary from one walleye to the next, but it can actually change within a given walleye in response to light levels! In short, walleyes have the capacity to acclimate to bright conditions.

These findings meshed with work done by Dr. Richard Ryder, who in the course of his research produced evidence that anglers typically catch more walleyes as light levels change rapidly (either rise or fall).

But it appears as though the walleye’s body has the ability to adjust the amount (and perhaps sensitivity) of tapetum in order to function efficiently in a wide range of lighting conditions. That certainly explains a lot, when you consider how many ‘eyes are taken in clear, shallow water in the middle of the day by open-water and ice anglers alike. (We have asked these primary researchers for their best guess as to how long it might take a walleye to adapt when going from dim to bright conditions or vice-versa, and they have offered 20 minutes.)

The bottom line, to you as an ice angler: Don’t ever give up on targeting walleyes, regardless of what traditional wisdom might say.

Not even in the middle of the day.●


Article provided by the Ice Team.


2 Comments on "Understanding Walleyes Under the Ice"

  1. shannon body on Sat, 27th Oct 2012 1:18 pm 

    going to black lake in n.y. in february for walleye . its a mostly shallow lake averge depth 16′. it has small islands, points, and is weedy. im used to deep water. were should i start with this lake

  2. admin on Sun, 28th Oct 2012 6:32 pm 

    First place I would check is the deep water around the points/drop-offs.

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