W A L L E Y E   H U N T E R
Fishing Articles by Sam Anderson
Early Season River Walleyes So Sweet So Simple
By Sam Anderson
Shortly after ice-out, male walleyes in the 1 to 3 pound range will move into shallow spawning areas. The best spawning sites are large sloping shallow bars with a bottom composition of gravel. The aggressive male walleyes will hold over these areas for a month or more and feed aggressively during, before and after spawning. The larger walleyes are most always females, and although they can be taken during the pre spawn period, they are virtually impossible to take while spawning and reluctant to bite for a two-week period following the rigors of procreation.
Although the male walleye is active and aggressive in early spring, being a cold-blooded creature, his metabolism is determined by water temperature. This means simply that spring walleyes cannot chase down a fast moving bait. Slow, slower and slowest are the three speeds for taking spring walleyes.
The key to locating walleyes in the river in the late winter and early spring starts with locating a series of obstacles. Then, allowing your bait or lure to present itself in a natural manner so the walleye can race from behind the obstruction to acquire the offering and then race back into the slack water area to digest his meal and await another.
Look for breaks in the current. They may be behind islands, points, and below bars in mid channel. In strong current, walleyes group tight to structure. In softer current or low water periods, like winter, they often scatter, and hold on edges of barriers or current breaks.
Shallow water is usually defined as any water that you can't sit on top of with a boat, walleyes can and do inhabit this type of water. Tradition would say that this is the area that you will find fish in early spring, summer or fall. But, actually it is where you will find fish all year round. Some fish could be in 2 feet of water and others in 20 feet of water on the same body of water at the same time of year. All in all I have found many walleyes that are aggressive in shallow water and I'll fish it more times than deep water.
In Minnesota, my home state, the movement of walleyes toward shallower water is always constant. In early spring the walleyes are attracted to the aquatic life that is starting in the warm shallows. As zoo plankton attracts small fish and minnows the walleye is attracted to these areas to feed. In early spring during the period when days are warm but nights are cool, baitfish begin breaking the surface in schools just offshore, particularly during calm periods. This subtle clue means walleyes are biting like crazy.
Slack water fish can also be found by pitching Fuzz-E-Grub jigs of 1/16 to 1/8 ounce to shoreline or cover like flooded wood or boulders. The angler in this situation should use a lift drop retrieve to slip or quarter the jig downstream as it is retrieved back to the boat. This is a super tactic for fishing eddies, wing dams or shallow mid river shoals. One reason that I like to use jigs while fishing for spring walleyes in a river system is the control an angler has.
It is true that you have to contend with current and wind, but using an electric bowmount motor and using a Drift Control drift sock, I can concentrate on the fishing, because I have control. Vertically jigging for walleyes gets my blood pumping because I can be on a one to one bases with the fish. My boat is relatively still even in moderate current with my bowmounted electric motor on about 1/2 speed faced into the current and a Drift Control drift sock tied off the side of my boat. I can pitch jigs or crankbaits to any piece of structure. With the proper head design and weight, jigs are the most versatile of all river techniques, from the shallowest flooded cover to the deepest, fastest current.
The majority of river fishing with jigs involves either slipping the current or drift fishing the current breaks. The presentation is a simple lift-drop-pause method of jigging, raising the jig some 3 to 6 inches as you slip downstream. The jigs that I prefer to use are Lindy Fuzz-E-Grub jigs because of the rounded head and the lively marabou tails. Often times I will sprinkle a little bit of the liquid Berkley walleye scent on the jig head and the fuzzy grub body absorbs it and holds it well! The rounded head allows the jig to bump along the bottom and not get hung up in snags or brush.
If you are as vertical as possible the jig will stand up allowing the hook to be exposed away from the floor of the river. When you tip the jig with a fathead minnow the minnow stands up and looks like it is trying to pick up the jig. As the minnow struggles against the weight of the jig it sends off wounded signals and the natural scent attracts the walleyes and allows them to hang on just that much longer. If the walleyes seem to be just biting the tails off the minnows then attach a stinger hook. The stinger hook is a great addition in the cold waters of spring and summer.
Equipment becomes essential when fishing in the spring, especially line. I like to use the Berkley XL blue colored line. The reason for the is this that blue color is also completely invisible in both muddy and clear water making it difficult for the fish to detect. This makes line watching easy out of the water, any simple movement can be detected by the eye. The critical aspect is the fish can't see the line at all and all of a sudden a bait appears before them.
One device I like to use is the "Thill Float". Unlike the more familiar and traditional bobber that snaps in place and is held stationary on the line, the Thill Float has a hollowed out tip for ease of line attachment. The stopper is a rubber snubber, rubber band, pretied knot, or a spring device that is placed on the line at the desired depth. The stopper can be reeled onto the spool and does not interfere with casting or retrieving. A split shot a foot above a small hook completes the outfit. Changing depths is a simple matter of sliding the float stop up or down the desired distance. Probably the most effective and useful slip bobber that I use is the Thill Float. These floats are pencil designed, for using in shallow, windy, or over the top of a gravel bar you can't beat them for performance.
I like to attach a 1/16 or 1/32 ounce Fuzz-E-Grub jig to the end of the line instead of a plain hook. I like the color that a jig head adds plus I need to add a little extra weight to pull the line down to the preset depth when using a jig head. If you use this slip bobber method, it will enable you to jig your bait vertically without positioning yourself over the top of the structure. With little or no wind you'll have action on the bobber. This can easily be achieved by sweeping the rod about a foot at a time. It might seem simple, and it is, but the results will astound you.
When the walleye inhales your bait and your bobber slides slowly underwater, remember to following tips: Take all the slack out of your line without putting pressure on the fish. When you're ready to feel the fish reel as quickly as possible putting pressure on the fish. At the same time "set the hook", lift the rod tip towards the sky and this will penetrate the bony roof of the walleyes mouth.
With these simple techniques you can also experience the sweet walleye success on the river. When you really start getting into them drop me a line at www.samanderson.com and we can compare notes.
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Since August 1, 1998