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Fishing Articles by Bob Riege
River Walleyes in Preparation for the Opener
By Ross Grothe and Bob Riege
River walleye unlike lake walleyes have to fight current all of their lives. Therefore, the walleyes in the rivers have adapted to be in areas that offer current breaks so they donít have to fight the current all of the time. These current breaks are anything that diverts the current and allows slack water. The slack water areas are found below the dams where an eddy is formed by the water being drawn over the dam and rushing downstream. This causes a slack water area on each side of the dam. Other obstructions that cause slack water might be below wingdams, behind rocks, a depression in the floor of the river, a stump or fallen tree, or man made obstacles such as bridge abutments.
The key to locating walleyes in the river in the late winter starts with locating a series of obstacles and 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.
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 a 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 if I can be on a one to one bases with the fish. My boat is relatively still even in moderate current with my 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 Fuzzy grub jigs because of the rounded head. 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 flathead 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 the Fireball offers an additional eye so you can easily attach a stinger hook. The stinger hook is a great addition in the cold waters of spring and summer.
Colors of the jigs should be bright in dingy water. Colors such as fluorescent orange, chartreuse and my all time favorite gold are great for fishing those spring walleyes. Anytime that you can bring attention to your bait it will help you up your odds for catching those spring walleyes.
Weights may range from 1/8 to 1/2 ounces, but you should stay with the weight that is the lightest so you have contact with the bottom. River walleyes have a tendency not to suspend as much as the walleyes in the lake and you donít have to worry about missing a strike zone that is in the fish column. I will tip my jig with some plastic if I want to slow down the rate of fall, but current usually fights gravity faster and defeats the purpose of vertical jigging.
Slack water fish can also be found by pitching 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.
Wing dams are prime summer structures on larger rivers. These manmade equivalents of Mother Natureís rock points project from shore, deflecting current back into midriver, preventing erosion. Constructed primarily from boulders, they gather tangles of brush and logs, forming hideouts for walleyes and other fish. Swirling water and downstream eddies betray their locations to the trained eye.
You can identify the wing dams two distinct ways. Some of these are marked by the buoy system on the river. Most of the dams are not marked, so caution is urged. Seriously, the wing dams can be located by simply watching the surface of the river. The wing dams will give off a ripple affect. The current carrying water down river is forced up over the top of the wing dam and that causes a "boil line" to be created on the surface of the water. This perpendicular ripple line signifies that there is an obstruction below the surface of the water. If at all possible don't motor over the top of the wing dams. The reason is that some of them are only about a foot below the surface and they can cause significant damage to the lower unit of your motor.
The most ideal wing dams that you should concentrate on are the wing dams that are about four feet below the surface, and usually have a large "scour hole" behind or down river from the wing dam. The depth of the wing dam allows you to safely move over the top of it and the large scour hole allows a place for fish to get out of the current. The scour hole should be deep, so fish can have a place to rest. If the scour hole has filled in, due to siltation, your best bet is to move to another wing dam. The most productive wing dam is located on the outside turn of the river. These wing dams receive less current and therefore, less silt.
The fish like to migrate out of the scour hole over the top of the wing dam, down the face of the dam to a slack water area known as the "pivot point." This area is slack water because the force of the water that is being constricted over the top of the wing dam creates a "void" and the fish can feed in this area selecting the food as it is swept over the top of the wing dam.
To harvest some of the fish that inhabit a wing dam all you have to do is anchor your boat about 25 yards in front of the dam and present live bait either on a live bait rig or a stand-up jig. Artificial baits such as Shad Raps and Rattlin Fat Raps are also effective ways to catch fish on the wing dam.
Remember, locating these structures are the key to success. Once you
find them you will fish about 5% of the structure on the river, but you
can catch 90% of the fish caught in this body of water.
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Since August 1, 1998