If you’re a walleye angler, then we’re sure you are feeling like winter has been holding on a bit too long this year. By now you’ve no doubt worn out your favorite fishing videos, read all the latest walleye articles until the pages are tattered and you’ve organized your fishing tackle so many times you’ve begun to name each individual lure. Face it, you’re just plain ready to get out on the water and go walleye fishing. Good! Because it’s almost time for the spring walleye bite!
Traditionally it’s been thought that fishing with slow, methodical, vertical jigging or casting techniques are the best way to go in the cool waters of spring. Well… think again! Consider what’s going in the walleyes’ world for a minute. This is the time when walleye’s are consumed with the rituals of spawning. During this period, you could have fish in one of three stages … pre-spawn, spawn or post-spawn. Now, while that can be a factor that makes catching these fish more difficult, going at it with the attitude that you are fishing for the most active walleyes in the system can actually make things much easier.
We’re not trying to suggest that you totally abandon such time-tested spring patterns such as jigging shallow structure or live bait rigging deep holes near spawning areas. Those tactics are going to produce fish this time of year. What we are suggesting is that you try a more unconventional approach to begin with, and see how many active walleyes you can pick off first.
For instance, pre-spawn walleyes often stage on the edges of rocky flats, reefs or rip-rap where they will soon move up to spawn. That means there will be large numbers of fish in concentrated areas, which tends to create competition among the fish and makes it a good scenario for a more aggressive presentation. This is a numbers game, meaning the more fish in a given area, the more likely there will be active individuals in the mix. Now, even though the calendar may say its spring and the water temps are leaning toward the cool side, this is a scenario where warm-water tactics can be deadly.
Let’s begin on that shallow flat mentioned earlier. While you may be tempted to drift the area with a jig and minnow combination, you’ll cover more water and contact more active biters if you work the flat with bottom bouncers and spinners. Since you’re dealing with fairly shallow water (6 to 10 feet typically), its best to lighten up on the size of bouncer you use. A half ounce bouncer is just about perfect for this, because it allows you to run the rig a little further behind the boat, thus lessening the chance that you’ll spook fish.
The bait you choose to dress your spinner is also an important consideration in the spring. While nightcrawlers are usually the top choice, this is the time of year that minnows and leeches can often be better choices. Some anglers prefer single hook spinners when using anything other than crawlers, but even leaving the back hook unattached to the bait and dangling behind can help hook up those short biters that are attracted to the lure.
Another presentation not often associated with spring walleye fishing, but growing in its popularity, is contour cranking. This is not the same as the crankbait trolling that dominates the scene on The Great Lakes in the early season … that’s more of the open water variety of cranking (a subject for another article). Here we’re talking about trolling cranks along structure. Again the idea is to cover the edges of structure whether that be flats, points, reefs, channel edges, etc. For best results, stick with smaller crankbaits like a Berkley size 5M Flicker Shad. Seems the smaller size gets more attention in the cooler water.
Since there are walleyes in all stages of the spawning cycle, they’ll tend to be scattered all along the breaks on the prime structures. This is where trolling with lead core line works like nothing else can. Many of you may think we’re nuts suggesting the use of lead core in depths this shallow, but in reality, we aren’t using the lead core as a weighting system as much as we’re using it as a “depth control” system. The bulky nature of lead core line gives it a great deal of resistance in the water, which in turn makes it very speed sensitive. That is to say, as we troll along the break, zigging and zagging in order to cover the various depths of the contour, we can control the depth the line runs by simply varying the speed of our boat. Let’s say the top of the break is 5 feet, and the bottom is at 10 feet. Trolling at a speed of 2.8 mph with 40 feet of lead core out, along with a 15 foot leader, the lure will run along just ticking the bottom in 5 feet. As we move down the break we want the lure to follow the contour, so all we need to do is slow down the trolling speed a tad, and gravity takes over, allowing the lead core to pull the lure deeper so that it stays along the bottom. Down the break as we decide to move toward the upper lip again, we simply speed up and the line and lure follow suit.
The typical lead core set up for this presentation is made up of a large capacity reel spooled with 18 pound test lead core to which is connected a 10 to 15 foot leader of a no-stretch line like 10 pound test Berkley FireLine. The no-stretch leader is key, because since lead core has no stretch, it keeps the entire system very sensitive making it possible to monitor the bait’s action right at the rod tip. If the lure is running true, you’ll see the rod tip vibrating. If the lure happens to pick up some debris from the bottom, the rod tip will go dead, alerting you that the lure is fouled and needs checking. This method of contour trolling has proven deadly on many bodies of water throughout the season, and is absolutely worth adding to your arsenal of tricks.
You’re used to setting your clocks ahead in the spring for daylight savings time … so just keep that in mind when it comes to your choice of walleye tactics. This spring… spring ahead a season and try using more warm-water techniques to find the most aggressive walleyes in your lake and get your Next Bite.