The fall walleye bite is past and another frozen winter is near. Alas, don’t despair. It may be time to hang up the open water fishing gear but the walleye addicts among us are itching to hit the ice and chase big “eyes” once again.
Every ice fishing season I start to rethink my gear setup and fine tune it for walleye. Whether it’s picking the right rod and reel combo or trying out a new lure, I always get stuck on picking the best ice fishing line for walleye.
I decided to do some research and testing of my own to find the best ice fishing lines for walleye in all situations. Hopefully, by the end of this article, you will find what suits you best as well.
Ice fishing line compared
Choosing the right ice fishing line for walleye (or any other species) leads to a choice between braid, monofilament or fluorocarbon. Obviously, each has its own unique advantages and pitfalls.
It’s hard to beat the versatility of mono. During open water or ice season, mono is a soft, low memory line that handles cold temperatures without too much fuss.
This is well suited for dead sticking live minnows or jigging in shallower spots for walleye. The buoyancy and flexibility of mono helps retain natural lure action. Line much stronger than 8 pound test can get stiff, so keep it light.
Monofilaments are not the most durable lines for ice fishing. The abrasive nature of ice fishing causes mono to break easily. Maintaining control while fighting a fish is crucial to avoid damage from the ice.
Keep in mind that mono has significant stretch, which decreases sensitivity. In addition, hook sets in deep water with mono are less effective than braids or fluorocarbon.
Seasoned veterans of the ice often bypass the mono and spool up with fluorocarbon. The added sensitivity from low stretch make it a step up from mono. Couple that with increased abrasion resistance and near invisibility, and you have upped your walleye game.
Like all good things, it’s not without problems. Fluoro is a bit stiffer than mono with high memory. Line coiled on a reel for extended periods can quickly turn into a tangled mess. It’s also harder to tie secure knots.
For the reason above, most anglers opt to use it as a leader material in varying lengths to suit their needs. This allows all the benefits without the drawbacks.
Braid is fast becoming the go-to line for all sorts of walleye fishing situations. It’s ultra sensitive, super thin and has low stretch. Braid is ideal for deep water applications or any situation that has light-biting walleye.
Without a leader, braid should only be used in murky water where visibility is not a concern. It works excellent in clear water when used with a fluorocarbon leader.
By virtue of the material, it does absorb water which leads to frustrating line freeze when the temps get close to zero. Most ice specific braids are specially coated to prevent this.
The ideal line weight
Whether you’re fishing a weed line, near structure or a hard-to-soft transition down deep, the best ice fishing line weight for walleye is usually the same for most situations.
6 to 8 pound test mainline is the sweet spot for most walleye ice anglers I talk to.
I find it also works perfect for me. This applies to braid, monofilament and fluorocarbon.
If the water is extra clear and the walleye seem finicky, you can always use a lighter weight leader. A 4 to 6 pound test fluorocarbon leader is nearly invisible.
Winter walleye are sluggish and put up a more subdued fight as compared to open water seasons. For this reason, lighter lines work fine.
Besides, there are actually other factors that are more important than line poundage. The type of line you choose is mostly a function of your specific fishing conditions.
The real decision is whether braid, mono or fluorocarbon line is better for you on the lakes you fish.
Things like abrasion resistance (think sharp edges from the ice hole), depth and the method of fishing all play a role in choosing your line type.
Deep or shallow bites
Every day of walleye fishing is different. The places you find them and the lures that catch them is often a guessing game. However, the right ice fishing line to spool up is the one that lets you adapt to various depths.
Most often I catch walleye under the ice in 15 to 32 feet of water. A lot of that depends, of course, on the lake you are fishing and fish migration, but I seldom fish deeper than 32 feet.
When the bite is deep, narrow diameter line with high sensitivity is crucial. For most anglers, braid takes the cake here.
6 to 8 pound braid with 6 feet or more of fluoro or mono leader lets me sink my gear quickly when a fish pops up on the flasher or sonar. It also makes detecting subtle bites easier. Most importantly, using a leader with the braid maintains the natural action of my jig, spoon or bait.
Line sensitivity and stretch has less impact in shallow applications. When all you have is 15 feet of mono down the hole, stretch is minimal and sensitivity is still pretty good.
Line type vs. Fishing methods
Your method of fishing plays a big role in the line you choose. I predominantly fish for walleye using two methods; dead sticking and jigging.
This is a rod you let sit with live bait, usually a sucker minnow (a favorite snack for hungry walleye).
Most anglers put a minnow on the hook and suspend it just off the bottom or wherever the fish are in the water column. You can either use a small bobber or a rod with an ultra sensitive tip to feel those docile pecks at your bait.
The key with dead sticking is to let it sit and wait for cruising fishing, which means your line is stationary. Stationary line in clear water is often detected by worrisome fish. Therefore, most anglers prefer fluorocarbon or mono for this application. You can, however, get away with braid and a fluorocarbon leader.
I prefer to have a dedicated dead stick rod rigged up with Berkley Fireline Micro Ice (6-8 lbs test) and Berkley Trilene Pro-Grade Fluoro in 6 pound test for an invisible presentation. Pair that up with a soft tipped rod for bite detection and you’ve got yourself a deadly dead stick.
While jigging with action lures such as spoons, jigging raps, acme hyper glides or heavy rattle baits, choose a line with low stretch and small diameter. Think braid or even a “unifilament” like Berkley’s Nanofil 8 pound test.
Attach a short fluorocarbon leader for clear water situations. In stained water, you can get away with even shorter leaders.
Along with high sensitivity, low stretch line also gets your bait down fast and produces a solid hook set in deep water, unlike mono. Some anglers feel that a lack of stretch is felt by the fish and results in fewer hook-ups.
A loss in line stretch can be compensated for with the right rod. A medium-light ice rod with a flexible and faster tip will let you gently preload on the fish when they bite while still having enough back bone to hoist them through the ice.
My jigging rod gets spooled up with either Sufix Performance Ice Braid or PowerPro Ice-Tech in 6-8 pound. In addition, I always use a length of fluorocarbon leader.
Ice fishing line freeze up
A common issue that plagues many ice anglers is ice build-up on the line. Braid is particularly susceptible to freezing up. It absorbs water which then freezes in the cold air above the hole.
Line freeze on braid is greatly reduced if you are fishing in an ice shelter or tent with a heater. As long as the air above the hole stays above freezing it won’t be an issue.
Braids specific for ice fishing are treated with a coating to repel water. They work quite well and for most situations freeze up is minimal.
If you prefer to fish exposed to the elements, you may want to avoid braid. Although, since I prefer braid, I find that on particularly cold days, I can add an extra long fluoro or mono leader using the braid as backing. This keeps a large portion of the braid out of the water and I don’t suffer the same freeze up problems.
Braid is not the only line that experiences ill effects from the cold. Mono and fluorocarbon can experience line memory in frigid temps. To combat this, many line makers produce ice fishing specific monofilament and fluorocarbon line that resist memory in cold temperatures.
Berkleys Nanofil line is also a great choice for avoiding ice build up since it is super slick. Any ice that does form can be wiped off with ease.
You can learn more about preventing line freeze while ice fishing by checking out our other detailed article.
Abrasion resistance is a big deal while ice fishing. Moving your line and fighting fish below a sharp-edged ice hole all day puts a high demand on its durability.
Conventional monofilaments in particular lack abrasion resistance and can end up costing you money in lost gear.
For this reason, most experienced ice anglers go with braid or fluorocarbon for a main line. These lines offer superior abrasion resistance while maintaining strength even when nicked by the sharp ice.
Berkley Nanofil line also claims increased toughness but from personal experience I find that it shows significant fraying. Though this does not seem to affect the integrity of the line.
No matter what, the edge of your ice hole will cut all types of line if you’re careless. Fighting fish in such a way that avoids dragging your line along the edges goes a long ways in preserving the strength of the line.
Ice fishing tip-up line
Up to this point, I have not mentioned tip-ups. Mainly because tip-up fishing deserves an entire article to itself. But, since we’re talking line, let’s go over the basics.
Similar to dead sticking with bait, tip-ups are a set-it and forget-it type of fishing. Yet, to function properly and produce good results, there are a couple considerations to make when picking the right line.
First, when a fish takes the bait, the line needs to spool freely until you get to it and hoist in the fish. The braids and ice lines used with a rod and reel tend to kink or coil which means the line uncoils too fast. The resulting slack allows the fish spit the hook.
In addition, tip-ups are exposed to the elements. The line you need on a tip-up should resist freezing so it can free spool smoothly.
A more supple line is needed on a tip-up. The vast majority of tip-up gurus recommend woven Dacron line. 30 pound test is common. Dacron does not last as long as braided lines but it is ideally suited for this situation. Tying on a fluorocarbon leader gives the added advantage of stealth too.
Many manufactures also offer tip-up specific lines that are specially coated and designed to work smoothly. Sufix coated tip-up line is a top choice.
The best of the best
At this point, you have gained most of what you need to know about ice fishing line in order to catch walleye. It’s now time to take a look at the best ice lines on the market.
If you can only choose one
There are more than enough line choices on the market and they all catch fish. Everyone has a different preference and brand loyalty.
So, if you could only choose one ice fishing line setup for walleye, here is what I think it should be.
8 pound PowerPro Ice-Tech braided main line with a Berkley Trilene Fluoro Ice leader.
Why? Because quite simply, it is the most versatile setup with the fewest drawbacks. It can be used for jigging any lure and with an extra long leader, it is just as effective for dead sticking.
Issues with line freeze? No problem. Add 20 yards of fluoro to the braid and it’s no longer and issue. The braid doesn’t even touch the water and there’s no loss in sensitivity. Yet, you can quickly switch back to jigging with a new leader.
Braided line also lasts for years, so it saves you money over time. With PowerPro Ice-Tech and a fluoro leader, I need fewer rods to give walleye what they want. It simplifies the whole process and makes it more fun.
The next time you chase walleyes under the ice, give it a try and you won’t be disappointed.