Spring River Walleye Techniques

By Dale Helgeson - April 1, 2004
As you look at your breath flowing in the crisp morning air. You look out over the river and see the snow/frost on the trees as you back your boat into the water. Your bundled up like you are going ice fishing but the anticipation is overwhelming. It's that time again. A magical time of year considered by many as the best the whole year has to offer. The Spring Walleye Run is on.

Every year the masses of walleyes head up river to prepare for the spawning season to produce more wonderful walleyes. The rivers become filled with boats in anticipation of catching some of these wonderful fish and hopefully catch that trophy of a lifetime.

You have been preparing for this for months. Everything is set and ready to go. All the equipment and the boat are ready to go and finally you get to the river to start to fish. Then the questions come up where they are going to be? Many people head straight for the dam. The dam can prove to be very productive. Many fish seeking to migrate up the river are stopped by dam and will stack up in this area while staging to spawn. Some other key areas not to overlook though are wing dams. Wing dams provide a break from the current as well as still having flow to wash food down to staging fish. Find rock rubble just off the main channels near deeper water and one of my favorites is actually shallow sand flats adjacent to deep channels.

Once you locate some key areas to fish on lake maps like the 3D maps from Mapping Specialists and you are on the water you need to decide what techniques to employ for the conditions.

The number one technique is vertical jigging. Depending on the flow and location I use the lightest jig possible down to as small as 1/16 ounce. In heavy current I will go up even as large as 1 ounce. The key is boat control and staying vertical. You want to use the lightest jig that allows you to feel the bottom while controlling the boat with a good electric trolling motor to maintain being completely vertical. You don't want any line angle. I have had great success with the new Day Brite jigs from Fin-Tech. The metallic plated finish will take a pounding on the rocks much better than the regular painted jigs. The metallic finish also adds the extra flash to catch the walleyes eyes. I tip the jigs with either a fathead minnow or plastic. One thing to remember about river fishing is walleyes feed out of instinct more than being hungry. They are very opportunistic in their feeding. If food is washed down the river they will usually not have time to check it out for very long. If it looks and smells like food then they think it is food. They only have sometimes less than a second to decide before it is washed past them so they will instinctively eat it. That is why

"The key is boat control and staying vertical."
plastics work so well on the river. Use a ring worm or a twister tail. Also the new Berkley gulp can be very affective. I like to use a quality scent on my baits even when tipped with a minnow. I prefer Kick'n Walleye from the Kick'n Bass company. It is extremely strong as you will find out as soon as you open the bottle and it has a small non drip spout for easy application. It will increase your catches considerably. Once you have picked the jig and bait they key to success is to just bounce the jig off the bottom 3-6 inches. Make sure you can feel the bottom contact and if you feel anything out of the ordinary set the hook. Any slack line or additional weight, or a small tap set the hook quickly. Many people are having fish bight but don't set the hook right away because they are waiting for them to inhale it. Most of the fish just suck it in and you have to react quickly or chances are you will miss the fish.

Another technique that I use if I only want to jig one rod or even anchor in a spot I will use a dead stick. I will usually set this up with a three way swivel with either a bell sinker on the bottom or a heavy Zone-R jig tipped with a fathead depending on how many baits you are allowed. On the upper line I like to put a crank bait out about 2 feet ora Phelps floating jig head tipped with a fathead. I like the Dave's Lures Nitro Shiners, Reef Runner Rip Sticks, or Rapala's Husky jerks for my crank baits. I will rig these up and put them in one of my RAM rod holders while I am vertical jigging or casting jigs.

That brings me to another technique of casting jigs. I prefer to do this into the shallow sand flats adjacent to the main channels or deep holes. I have good success with casting Knuckleball jigs into the sand flat usually tipped with plastic. I usually down size my jig so that the slower current up on the flat can still tumble my jig down stream. It is important to have current on the sand flat to make the jig roll. All you do is a slight lift and drop method so the jigs moves farther down and set the hook on anything out of the ordinary, slack line or a hard bump. You are better off setting the hook too much than not enough to improve the amount of fish caught.

Try some of these techniques and you will increase your catches on the river this spring. Also always remember to be safe on the water because of floating debris and shallow spots on the river. If possible go with someone familiar with the river system to avoid damage to your boat and yourself.

Author Dale Helgeson
Dale Helgeson
Dale Helgeson is owner and operator of The Outdoor Experience Guide Service focusing on lakes in southeastern Wisconsin. Dale is a professional fisherman fishings the MWC walleye fishing circuits as well as writing articles for Lake-Link and Southeast Wisconsin Outdoor Guide among others. Dale is sponsored by these fine sponsors: Geneva Cabinet Company, Action Marine, DR Plastics, Maui Jim Sunglasses, Black Mountain Socks, RAM Mounts, Frabill, Pflueger Rods and Reels, Dave’s Kaboom Lures, Lake-Link.com, Kick’n Walleye Scents, Minn Kota, Strikemaster Augers, Mapping Specialists, Vexilar, Guest Pro Chargers, PowerPro Lines, KINeSYS Sunscreen, NPAA 872. His Pro Staffs include: Daiichi Hooks, XTools, FinTech Tackle Company, Off Shore Tackle, Navionics, Jammin Jigs/Bad Dog Lures