W A L L E Y E   H U N T E R
Fishing Articles by Colin D. Crawford
Walleyes in Transition
by Colin D. Crawford
Warming water temperatures in spring send monster walleyes on a devouring fever. Whether the lure is a minnow, an imitation crankbait, leech or red tail chub on a jig, live bait rules in the spring. This is a time that sportsmen should not overlook because walleyes turn on right before they spawn and in some situations it can become a feeding frenzy.
Spring walleyes are the first focus of fisherman 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 any time 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. 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 temperatures are a known factor for starting the spawning activity and the water temperature is also very important for maximum reproduction. A spawning temperature of forty degrees Fahrenheit will start the spawning action and fifty-two degrees is the top end of spawning temperature. Rock and rubble are important structures 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 a 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. Therefore, the water is the warmest close to shore and in some cases, the ice can be ten feet from shore and the lake is covered with ice yet the walleyes will spawn.
When the spawning ritual is complete, these battered and exhausted fish move to the deepest structure of the lake to rest for four to ten days. After the rest period, the walleyes are ravishingly hungry and that's when they move back to their spawning areas and the early spring action is at its best.
Time of day can play an important part in solving where the fish are. Some spots turn on at different times of the day. You can fish over a huge school of inactive walleyes and never get a hit, then come back two hours later and find that they're going nuts. Always double check a good-looking area. If you keep checking these locations eventually you will find active walleyes on one of them.
Many anglers think of rocks, sand, drop-offs, and deep water when walleye fishing. But walleye chasers are missing some good fishing if they aren't poking around in emerging weeds when they're after walleyes, especially the spring months. Walleyes will make extensive use of weed clumps if they're available, and often the fish that are in the weeds are looking for a meal, making them susceptible to any type of offering.
One of the first methods that I try in the spring is to use bulky baits or large profile baits. When I think of size, I will always remember, "big baits catch big fish". With these words of wisdom I have selected my favorite crankbaits in my tackle box according to size, color, and running depth. Usually I like to start fishing with a #7 Shad Rap to see what the fish are hitting on. If they continue to bite on that size I move up to a #9 Shad Rap. The bigger fish do respond to the larger baits and so do the smaller fish. I have caught fish smaller than my baits on many occasions but most of the time the fish increase in size. If the fish don't respond to the larger size I then move back down the scale of size to a #5 Shad Rap and work between that size and a #7. In pre spawn conditions and in post spawning conditions I like to use a larger bait because in nature a larger minnow contains more protein than smaller ones. This is what the walleyes are looking for right before the spawn and right after, they need more protein in either sustain themselves or to rejuvenate.
The best methods to catch spring walleyes also depend on the stage of the spawn period you are fishing. 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 6'6" or 7' Berkley graphite rod, medium action with a fast tip. If the fish are between the spawn and resting period, I use four pound test Vanish 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 Berkley XL line and 1/16 or 1/8 oz. jigs depending on the wind and water depth. I use Fuzzy Grub jigs and the stand-up Fuzzy Grub jigs in 1/16 oz. for depths to 15' and 1/8 oz. for 15' and deeper, or on windy days in shallow water, In either case, my line choice Berkley. I know from experience that the line has Berkley, low visibility, and low memory in cold weather.
New emerging weeds are usually the best area to find these fish but also rock and wood shorelines are outstanding locations. Keep in mind that wood cluttered bottoms are on of the best spring walleye producers, but you might have to carry a large supply of jigs.
If you are interested in a guided trip, a personal media interview, or photo shoot, please call 715-545-8347. I am located in Phelps, Wisconsin area, close to several fishing lakes. See you on the water this season. Remember NPAA #94 and get out and enjoy the great outdoors this spring and fish for some walleyes in transition. Hope to hear from you soon
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Since August 1, 1998