W A L L E Y E   H U N T E R
Fishing Articles by Sam Anderson
Way Down along the Spawny River
By Sam Anderson
Spring walleyes are the first focus of fishermen as winter turns to spring. In order to be successful it is necessary to understand some basic patterns of walleyes at that time of the year. In the northern states, the walleyes can spawn anytime from the middle of April to the middle of May. This timetable is affected by how early we have warm weather in the spring. My experience has shown that walleyes do not spawn at the same time, but some start early with the majority spawning during the ideal conditions and some will spawn extremely late in the spring, especially the younger females. The males arrive on the spawning beds first with the females following when the water conditions are ideal.
What are ideal conditions? Conditions that ignite the spawning activity are water temperature, rock or rubble shore lines, and in some cases, the length of day light. While this last item is an arguable point, I know for a fact that fall feeding patterns are trigged by the day light hours, an item for a future article. The reason I believe this is a factor is the fact that on late ice-out years, the walleyes will spawn under the ice. Water temperature is a known factor for starting the spawning activity and the water temperature is also very important for maximum reproduction. The spawning temperatures of forty degrees Fahrenheit start the spawning action and the fifty-two degrees is the top end of spawning temperature. Rock and rubble are important structure for a successful hatch. The eggs must have something uneven to fall into to be protected from small predator fish which will feed on the eggs. To provide ideal spawning conditions the water temperature should warm slowly and constantly with no severe temperature swings or wave action during the gestation and hatching period. The north and east shorelines are usually the areas where the majority of the walleyes spawn. While the fish do not know east from west or north from south, what makes these shore lines most desirable is the fact that the sun penetrates the north and east shore lines with the hottest sun of the day. If you have the urge to get out and do some walleye fishing, don't overlook the fishing on rivers in your local areas.
As the temperatures rise and a thaw starts to develop the walleye and sauger action starts to heat up just below the dams. On many weekends you will find a number of anglers jigging and drifting the area just below many dams on the Mississippi. The system is relatively easy and requires little movement on your part. (Probably a good idea as the air temperature is just 35 degrees and the wind off the water feels like it is 0)
Rivers are everywhere, and most of them have a good population of fish. Most anglers live close to a river; therefore it's easy to get onto a good bite when the urge strikes you. In fact, some rivers that border states have no closed season on a variety of species. This enables the angler to get out and do some fishing even during the cold winter months. Fish can be located below a lock and dam on the Mississippi or Ohio river. Off the tip of a big sand bar on the Missouri or Minnesota or off a log jam on the Des Monies River in Iowa. Or they might be in a bridge hole on the Red River of the North.
Other spots may be structure like gravel or sandbars, shallow rocky shoals near drop-offs, wave-washed points, deserted sandy bottom beaches, or bottlenecks between two different land masses. Riprap is also good, particularly where current hits the rock, such as on a windy point with deep water access, or near a culvert where fresh water is filtering through a rock causeway. Feeder streams funneling into a river represent yet other spots which fishermen should check out. The mouths of these tributaries often turn into fishing gold mines, especially after a heavy rain washes fresh food and fresh water into the river.
Depending on the force of the current and the water clarity, fish may be as shallow as a couple feet deep, or in the bottom of a washout hole, or river channel 15 to 20 feet deep. If the current is stronger than normal, the fish probably are hunkered in a slackwater area. All anglers must learn that "current" sets the rules for location and presentation when fishing rivers.
Walleyes are the one fish species that the right rod makes the difference. Being able to feel that subtle bite can only happen with quality rod. I prefer a Quantum spinning rod 6'6" or 7' graphite, medium action with a fast tip. The Quantum Energy is my choice for the reel because I like the drag system that Quantum produces. In addition, stainless steel ball bearings provide a smooth reel and a smooth reliable drag. If the fish are between the spawn and resting period, I use four pound test Trilene XT line with 1/16 oz. jig tipped with a fathead minnow. If the rest period is over and the fish are back in their spawning areas feeding, I go up to six pound Trilene XL line and 1/16 or 1/8 oz. jigs depending on the wind and water depth. I use Fuzzy Grub jigs 1/16 oz. for depths to 15' and 1/8 oz. for 15' and deeper, or on windy days in shallow water.
New emerging weeds are usually the best area to find these fish but also rock and wood shore lines are outstanding locations. Keep in mind that wood cluttered bottoms are one of the best spring walleye producers, but you might have to carry a large supply of jigs. Use a very, very slow retrieve technique as the water is still cold and the fish's metabolism is low and they will not attack or chase a fast moving meal. Work a likely area for and hour or more, and if any fish are caught, keep working the area or any similar area, since walleyes are a schooling fish. If you have the misfortune to hit a cold front ( as little as five degrees lower than average from the day before) you will find that the walleye action will be noticeably slower.
If you remember these patterns and follow them in your spring fishing
outing, I guarantee your fishing success will improve. I would like to
hear from you and the spring bite that you experience. You can drop me a
line at www.samanderson.com on the web, hope to hear from you soon.
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Since August 1, 1998