Fishing for walleye early in the spring offers two undeniable benefits – the fish can be fairly easy to find, at least compared to other times of the year, and the fish can be the biggest you’ll catch all year. Do you need any other reasons to fish in the spring just as soon as the weather will let you?
Walleye fishing can sometimes be a tough proposition at other times of the year. But after ice-out, the biggest fish with the most advanced metabolisms begin to stir first, and that means big hens that have been forming up their eggs over the winter. “Pre-spawn fish can be the easiest of the year. Basically, that’s because the bigger females are starting to stage, starting to go into their spawn patterns.
Deeper water in the spring usually means looking for fish in 15 to 35 feet of water. They’re feeding when they can, but they’re not feeding as much as they do in warmer water.
So, you’re concentrating your search out and away from, but in proximity to, places where the walleyes will eventually spawn. Deep water close to a gravelly shoreline, for example, or deep water adjoining a hard-bottom reef or island with a gravel shoreline, are all good places to start looking in lakes.
Pre-spawn and spawn periods vary according to how far north you are. In northern waters, walleyes need warming water temperatures to mature their eggs. Water in the mid-40 degree range is about when they start the spawn proper, so pre-spawn is taking place in that period when the water is less than that ideal spawning temperature.
Methods that work in the spring aren’t all that difficult to figure out, either. Keep in mind that the water temperature is still low, producing somewhat sluggish, lethargic fish. That means you have to fish slowly and deliberately, really working over an area and being patient and fishing slow. You really have to change your methods to match the water temperature. That means using smaller baits and slowing down your presentation. Take it easy a little bit. Even the active, bigger fish are lethargic.
The recommended method for this time of year is vertical jigging. Use a short, 6-foot, medium-action rod with a fast-action tip for sensitivity but with plenty of backbone for bigger fish, spooled with 8- to 10-pound-test line. It’s a slow presentation and when you get bit, a lot of times you’ll only feel the slightest tap, even from a 10- to 12-pound walleye. Sometimes it just feels like a little bit of added weight. What’s happening is they’re coming up and inhaling the lure.”
A favorite lure is a Jiggin` Rap chrome/blue, or a Swedish Pimple. Tie the lure with a duo-snap, and then, 18 inches up, attaches a ball-bearing barrel swivel. Use a swivel because what you’re doing is vertically jigging and letting the bait rest. Jig it, and let it settle for five to 10 seconds. Then jig it again. The barrel swivel prevents line twist and imparts so much more action to the bait at rest.
Time of day?
Does it matter when you fish in the spring, in terms of the time of day? Not really. Spring fish can be active at just about anytime, from dawn to dusk. Time of day and light penetration or the warmest parts of the day versus the coldest parts of the day seem moot, because most of these fish are going to be deep anyway. As our guests can testify they’ve taken BIG fish and limits of fish at all times of the day.
What can play a role, of course, are currents. Current is obvious on a river system, but it can be less obvious on a lake system but still present, particularly on reservoirs with an inflow and outflow that can be pretty heavy in the spring. Slack areas with deep water around points, islands, reefs and shoals can be real hotspots at this time of year.
Perhaps more critically, incoming currents can highlight areas where walleye are heading later to spawn, and by fishing off these areas now, you’ve got a good shot at finding pre-spawn fish. This would include our spring-fed outlets.
“Most of the lakes have an inlet and outlet, have at least some place or places that are a current source. On a lot of systems, walleyes go up those places to spawn, a big walleye factory. They’ll make their spawning runs up creek arms. At pre-spawn, they’ll be just off those areas, staging. Look for any place with an influx of current, and fish off of it to find the pre-spawn walleyes.
Spring can produce some astonishingly big fish. The bigger females can add a couple of pounds purely with the weight of their eggs. The further along they get toward maturity and spawning, the bigger their weights.
Vertical jigging a top spring method
Walleye love a trolled crank bait, stick bait or worm harness. But in the spring, trolling may be just too fast for big, lethargic walleye to respond. That’s where vertical jigging really comes in to play.
Jigging allows you to fish slow, thoroughly working an area, putting your jigged offering right on their noses and tempting them to move an inch or two, flare their gills, and inhale what’s in front of them.
Top choices include jigging spoons, roundhead jigs with bait (minnows, leeches or night crawlers), Whistler jigs and even blade baits. “Rest” your jig on the bottom in intervals of 5 to 10 seconds, and jig with an easy motion, not too fast. The strike can be very subtle – just added weight or the jig stopping – so stay on your toes.
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