Where To Find And Catch Spring Time WalleyesBy RIVER RAT - March 1, 2002
As the weather warms, and the snow melts, the water flows pick up that feed our lakes and rivers. The warming of the water, and increased oxygen, signals the walleyes that the time to reproduce has come, and it's time to move up river and look for areas to spawn in. Walleyes have been known to travel great distances to spawn, and during their trip to the spawning site they will rest and feed. River walleyes have to fight current all of their lives, therefore the walleyes have adapted to be in areas that have current breaks "slack water" so they don't have to fight the current all the time.
Walleyes on their spawning run need cover and areas to rest. The river's flow guides them upstream, but walleyes are not strong swimmers, and they take the path of least resistance and rest often. They stay near the bottom where they are more protected and the current is the slowest. This of course is not the only place you'll find walleyes resting. Look for small and large islands, the walleyes will move into the slack water behind them and will lay there for long periods of time, and if the area has rocky, solid bottom, they may stay right in the area and spawn . Other areas over looked are stump fields, this area will also detour current around the stumps giving the eye's a place to rest and feed. On the Wisconsin River here in Central Wisconsin, there are so many areas that walleyes have to get out of the main current to rest and to feed that you could write a long time if you wanted to list them all, and each spring with heavy flows they will change again as new areas are formed. You need to be able to read the water. Here are some areas to look for.
Logs, large rocks and undercut banks also provide great cover but are more often utilized by resident walleyes. A wash-board bottom, found behind large boulders, below dams, or other obstructions may vary only a foot or two, but will create rest areas where the current is greatly reduced. Look along the edge of an uneven bank, just a small indent or a piece of land sticking out a short distance creates a detour and produces side eddies. The area between the eddy and the main current is a prime resting area for migrating walleyes. Some other areas that most fisherman just zip right on by are boat docks, pontoon boats tied to docks as well as other boats and boat houses, trees downed in the water, they will all create a certain amount of slack water as will creek mouths, and culverts. Walleyes will move into the slack water, if flows are not high coming from them. Many times the incoming water is actually warmer and contains higher levels of oxygen and bait fish also hold in these areas as well. There is almost no current in slack water, and the walleye can easily slide back into the current and head upriver when it has rested and grabbed a quick meal. So now we know where to look. How about the Walleye itself.. What should you know.
Spawning usually occurs in the spring , and tends to be very temperature dependent, around 40 to 50 degrees F. Females commonly spawn with more than one male and spawning typically occurs in small groups. Spawning usually takes place in the cover of nightfall, in about 2-6 feet of water over rocks or gravel . The eggs and sperm are released together into the water column and once fertilized they settle into the rocks, gravel or in near-by vegetation. Here is something to think about. Individual females can produce over 600,000 eggs, generally 20,000 to 50,000 eggs per pound of fish. The eggs hatch in 12-18 days, and 10 to 15 days after hatching the young walleye are swimming freely in the water. But neither parent cares for the eggs in any way, and once they hatch, they are on their own Males generally reach maturity in 2 to 4 years, while females typically reach maturity in 3 to 6 years. Walleye can live 10 to 20 years and achieve 25 pounds and over 30 inches in length, at one time this was very true in the Wisconsin River, but over harvest, water level fluctuations, and lack of good spawning sites have all contributed to the slot size limits being implemented this April.
Depending on Mother Nature, the success of spawning can vary greatly from year to year. Rapidly warming water can cause eggs to hatch prematurely, where cool weather can delay hatching. A cold snap after the hatch can suppress the production of micro crustaceans that walleye fry eat. Mortality can be high, and Mother Nature plays no favorites in this world. So now lets take a look at some methods that will work for you .Being a Fishing Guide here in Central Wisconsin, I can give you folks some methods that are time tested .Methods that I use all the time. When fishing from a boat in a large river, it is pretty hard to beat vertical jigging. Pick jigs that have a streamlined shape such as the bullet style and are in bright colors. Fluorescent chartreuse and white show up best in the often turbid rivers of spring like the Wisconsin ,Fox, and Mississippi. Whether you tip the jig with plastic or a minnow, keep it highly visible. Bait size is another critical factor when chasing river walleyes. Prespawn and spawning walleyes are not actively feeding so its best to pick out the smaller minnows while post spawn fish are actively feeding and show a definite preference for larger minnows. Always jig with a tight line and immediately pick up the jig after tapping the bottom. If you allow slack, you will miss fish. Sometimes walleye have a habit of striking short, and the minnow will show slash marks on the body. Rigging of a "stinger" hook will often mean the difference in fishing success. This rigging is accomplished by attaching a No. 10 or 12 treble hook to a main, single shank hook with a short length of 10 pound-test monofilament.
Crawler harnesses, weight-forward spinners and minnow type plugs, three way river rigs, will also catch early-spring river walleyes. One method I use 90 percent of the time is slipping the river, and utilize the river's current. Use your trolling motor to keep your line vertical at all times, and keep in touch with the bottom. If the current is to strong to use your trolling motor you will need to use your main or kicker motor to keep you at a pace equal to the flow. Remember: "The line has to be vertical". The tap-tap on the hard bottom will bring a response from Mr. Walleye. Use a jig just heavy enough to feel the bottom and keep your line vertical. I like to use ISG'S Slo-Fall jigs. Walleyes will rest right in the timber and among the branches of fallen trees. These jigs are snag-proof, and will get in the areas where a regular lead head jig will hang up. They are not available in all areas so if you look them up at isgfishing.com you can order from them, and you'll be glad you did. You'll never find a better timber and brush jig than this jig, and I have tried them all in my 40 years of fishing the Wisconsin River/Petenwell Flowage. My clients are amazed at these jigs, and I always keep several extra packages in my tackle box just for my clients because they really work.
One thing I feel I need to talk about is the type of fishing rod to use. You want an extremely sensitive rod, one that is 100 % graphite, and extremely light weight, and strong. I use the St.Croix Legend Elite Rod. Model ES66MF. The best walleye rod I ever used. I also use Fire Line in 8# test. I know you folks know all about this line already, and believe me it is sensitive and no stretch just like they say it is, so there is no surprise after you have already spooled your reel with line.
In closing this article. I would just like to remind all of you, to use extreme caution on the water this spring, as the water is cold and currents can be swift. Wear your life jackets, make sure your boat has all the safety equipment required. Well, I think I covered the things you'll need to know so you can catch yourself some of these fine tasting fish. I do hope that you will CPR THE FEMALES, as our Walleye future depends on future spawning of these females. I also hope that you will be courteous to others on the river and at the boat landings. Fishing is lots of fun, enjoy it. If you have any questions on anything in this article you can e-mail me at either RiverRat@Fish-Wisconsin.com or River_Rat_54494@yahoo.com. I'd like also to thank my friends at Crestliner Boats, Magic products, Lake-link.com, Fish-Wisconsin.com, Fishtheriver.com, Hummingbird locators, St.Croix Rods, Harriet's Family Restaurant in Wis.Rapids. Heckels marine, Amherst Marine. Comprop Prop, G-Loomis Rods, Reeds Sporting Goods, Big Fish Tackle Co., Ipsglass.com, Thermoilbatteries.com and others who have helped me along the way. This article may not be reproduced without my written permission.