To become an accomplished walleye angler, the first step is to understand the walleye behavior and seasonal movements in order to shorten the learning curve of where the walleyes will be. Take into consideration all factors, including type of water, weather conditions, time of year, water temperature, wind speed and direction, and time of day. Then choose the appropriate presentation suited to the habitat of feeding walleye. This is the process of developing a pattern, if the presentation you choose is not working but your marking fish on your graph or LCD try something different versus moving to another spot. Usually subtle changes in the presentation will make a big difference, suggestions such as down-sizing minnows or switching from a minnow to a leech, or a slip bobber to a jig and minnow, which allows the bait to hang in the feeding zone, all can change your success.
The topics listed below will help you understand many of the situations you may encounter when fishing for the elusive walleye.
Pre Spawn & Spawning Walleyes:
Almost all Ontario inland waters are closed for the walleye spawning season with the exception of some rivers systems. During this period fishing for walleyes can be the best or worst with the critical factor being the weather. Stable weather for a few days with any increase in water temperature, even a degree or two, can trigger active walleyes to bite. But if a cold front moves in dropping the water temperature this will have the opposite effect and shut down the bite. If you’re walleye fishing during the spring season your best bet is in the afternoon when the water temperature is at the highest point for the day.
In the early period of the spawn walleyes will stage off spawning areas in deeper water (15 feet plus), and because of the cold temperatures will not be aggressively feeding. You can still catch them by using slow vertical presentations such as jig and minnow or a vibrating blade lure, the key again is very slow and vertical. Later in the spawning period they will move more actively towards the shallow gravel areas, if the water is muddy or dark they can be in water as shallow as 2-3 feet even during the day. For very shallow water try using a 1/32 oz jig tipped with a small fathead minnow or a number 5 floating Rapala. For best results these presentations should be twitched or retrieved slowly. Little Joe spinner rigs very well too with a minnow or leech.
During the pre-spawn and spawn your will catch will be mostly all small males, the big females will not bite once they start to spawn but all of them do not spawn at once. Those that have not started to spawn can still be caught, but as the spawning period progresses fishing for females is a waste of time. However, females that have spawned early will recover and begin to feed. Each body of water system has different spawning cycles, stream based walleye spawn first then shoreline and finally shallow reef walleyes spawn last. Knowing this will allow early season walleye anglers to move to different areas or a new lake where the timing of the spawn has not occurred, completed or is in the process.
The spawning migration of walleye begins soon after the ice goes out, at water temperatures of 38-44ºF, ordinarily peaking when water temperatures reach 42-50ºF.
Walleye in Weeds:
Normally when you think of fishing for walleye it’s associated with deep water, rock piles and humps that walleyes prefer with hard clean bottom structure. But the few anglers that fish weeds for walleyes know how much time walleyes spend in and around the edges of weed beds.
Walleye will move into the weeds seeking baitfish that use the protection of cover. They also use weeds for shade and cooler temperatures instead of deeper water. The best weeds are submerging broadleaf types such as cabbage next to or in deeper water, than emergent (cattails, bulrushes) or floating (lily pads) that live in very shallow water.
You can catch walleye in weeds almost any time of the year but weed fishing is best during the summer and into fall once the weeds are established. Fishing for walleye along the weed edge is easy, use a slip sinker rig with a weed less hook or a weed less jig tipped with a minnow, leech or a piece of night crawler keeping it as close as possible to the weed edge. But when walleyes are actually in the weeds or suspended above, use a slip bobber rig or weed less jig in 1/8 to 3/8 oz. by twitching it through the weeds. Other tactics are 1/8 oz. spinner baits cast into weed pockets and allowing it to helicopter down before retrieving, if the weeds don’t grow to the surface try a shallow running crank bait twitching the lure just above the weed tops.
Walleye on Rocks:
Most wildlife artists that paint walleye portraits will have them displayed over rocks and boulders. The main reason being this one the best places to consistently find walleyes, it is also one of the most difficult lake bottoms to fish especially when using live bait rigs or jigs. Here are some suggestions to catch more walleyes when you find that hot rock pile, mid-lake hump, or rocky point.
- Bottom Bouncing Artificial Lures:
Deep diving floating crank baits, select a crank bait that will run just off the bottom or bump the rocks, if the lure should get hung up let the line go limp, it should float up.
- Suspend your Live Bait:
Use a slip bobber rig and position the bait just to hang above the rocks
- Float your Live Bait:
Use a floating jig head, for night crawlers inject a shot of air from a crawler inflator for slip sinker weights try a No Snag tube weight instead of an egg or walking sinker.
- Trolling with Sliding Sinker Live Bait Rig:
Keep your line as vertical as possible, by adding weight to this set-up you reduce the angle of your line and therefore reduce your chances to get hung up.
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