No more crowded classroom nooks …
No more rules from nature’s books …
No more anglers’ hungry looks …
No more food with barbs and hooks!
Walleye school is out for the springtime. The bell has rung, the doors are open, and all those fish compelled to stack up in traditional April locations are wiggling their fins and striking out on their own for a summer of adventure.
It’s a time of year when walleyes are likely to do just about anything and a time when they seldom stay in one place for long. It’s a time when they feed voraciously and a time when they will eat just about anything.
Consequently, it’s a great time of year for anglers who hold this species in high regard. While the walleyes in most bodies of water tend to be scattered for a few weeks, they are extremely aggressive and vulnerable to nearly any presentation.
The keys to catching these fish are versatility and mobility. They can be shallow or deep, depending on cloud cover and water color. They can be relating to rocks, weeds or substrate transitions, or they can be wandering aimlessly along the breaklines or shorelines that lead them toward their summer haunts.
While it helps to have some knowledge of traditional migration patterns, a resourceful angler can usually figure out the behavior of May walleyes.
I like to start shallow.
If I’m fishing a river system, I might start by trolling crankbaits on lead-core line along the channel edges and along inside corners where migrating fish tend to travel. If I find a “hot spot,” I’ll slow down my presentation by going to a live-bait rig or a vertical jigging approach that still allows me to cover a fairly large area.
In lakes and reservoirs, it’s important to identify spawning areas, then explore the nearby options until you find cooperative fish.
Wind-swept, rocky shorelines and shallow points are good areas to target.
The wind usually stirs up the water and provides the camouflage light-sensitive walleyes prefer. I’ve found that I can cover these areas efficiently and effectively by casting a Storm ThunderCrank. The TC06 shallow diver casts well, is good in water from 3-7 feet and it offers a frantic, wounded-baitfish action and rattles that prowling predators can’t resist. Since I’m usually targeting dingy water, my first color choice is Hot Tiger.
If I’ve got another angler sharing my boat, one of us will be pitching a small jig tipped with either Berkley Gulp!, Power Bait grubs or live bait. Minnows, leeches and crawlers are all good choices, but I often lean toward leeches and crawlers because they offer something the walleyes haven’t seen much of for the previous few months.
If there are well-established weedbeds in the vicinity, I never pass them by. They can attract and hold good numbers of postspawn walleyes, and they are fun to fish.
By May, new vegetation should be starting to grow, but it’s not so thick yet that it can’t be fished.
I like to work these areas inside-out. I expect the fish to be in the thickest cover, so I fan-cast the area with a shallow-running crank first to pick off the most active fish.
Then I take my Triton 215X into the jungle and seek out small pockets or openings in the weed masses. Dabbling a 1/16th ounce Lindy Veg-E-Jig tipped with a leech or piece of crawler has put a lot of walleyes in my boat over the years. If I don’t get bit almost immediately, I move on to the next pocket.
There are days, most notably those bluebird days on clear-water lakes, when the walleyes seem to prefer a little deeper sanctuary, but are still relating to the weeds. They may limit their forays into the shallows to the low-light periods of the day, but they’re still active and aggressive in the deeper water along the edges of the weeds.
I rely on my Lowrance LC111XD sonar unit to help me identify both weed edges and transition areas where the bottom turns from sand to gravel or from sand to muck. The GPS function of the unit allows me to mark the edge with icons and set up a trail that will keep me on the line I want to fish.
Two good ways to effectively work those edges are by pitching or drifting with jigs. The presence of weeds usually limits that opportunity to troll cranks or live bait.
If I’m not finding fish in the weeds, the next move I make is to shallow reefs or humps. Again, they can be fished quickly by casting cranks or jigs. When I find one that has a few fish and I’ve picked off the most active ones, I like to anchor up and fish it more thoroughly with slip-bobber rigs. A Thill float with a splitshot and colored bait hook or a small jig can be deadly and it can produce some trophy fish, too.
One other advantage of postspawn walleye fishing is that once you’ve established the preferred habitat, you can usually duplicate the pattern and results in a number of places. If weeds are going and your bite slows down in one area, find another weedbed. Ditto for shallow humps and reefs.
In some larger lakes and reservoirs, especially those with clear water, there will also be a number of fish that suspend over open water after the spawn. They tend to be larger female fish in search of larger forage. Electronics will help you find these trophies, and trolling crankbaits is the best way to catch them.
Set up a spread of lines using Off-Shore Planer Boards to get your lures out away from the boat and get after it. While you may not pile up big numbers of fish, you will be impressed with the quality.
No matter how you prefer to fish, May walleyes offer opportunity. While they may not be stacked up in great numbers yet, the fish you find can usually be caught.
Get out and load up that livewell. Keep a few basic principles in mind and you’ll be the one teaching the lessons.