Plastics And Hair For Pre-Spawn Walleyes

By Ted Peck - March 1, 2008
Walleyes are moving seriously into the spawning mode across Wisconsin and I haven't thrown a minnow at 'em yet. The reason stems from a convoluted mixture of logic and philosophy, which so far has revealed truly promising results. This self-imposed livebait ban is centered around theories and conventional wisdom in regard to walleyes which was thrown into cyberspace on the website recently seeking input from the walleye angling fraternity.

In five days this query generated 726 hits and 25 replies with those responding running the gamut from giving up on artificials and going back to minnows to taking a scoop of minnows along "just in case" to "haven't used minnows for years and catching more and bigger fish".

I'm in agreement with the latter school of thought with a geometric progression reinforcing this philosophy in each succeeding day on the water, based on the following theorems:

  1. fish are cold blooded creatures
  2. walleyes respond to both feeding and striking presentations
  3. with slowed metabolism in colder water little time is spent actively feeding
  4. chances of hooking up should be better by triggering a reflexive strike.
With waters now warming into the low 40's in southern Wisconsin, walleye metabolism has increased with fish becoming very active in the 'pre-spawn' mode. When these temperatures reach 45-48 degrees the fish spawn, typically at night in shallow water over a rocky-rubble bottom---a phenomenon which is happening right now on Rock River.The spawning urge is second only to survival in a walleye's hierarchy of needs. Walleyes don't actively feed when spawning, but can be triggered into a reflexive strike. In the pre-spawn mode walleyes may actively feed 20 percent of the time… but you can trigger a strike in neutral to positive fish probably 80 percent of the time.

For these reasons artificial lures like hair and plastic-tipped jigs should be more effective right now. By this time next week spawning in the lower Rock River should be essentially over with fish drifting back down river at a more leisurely pace than the frenetic drive shown before the spawn. Water temperatures will continue to warm, increasing metabolism in the fish which may now be holding a little higher in the water column-where a minnow style "stickbait" can be very effective. Because of fish location in the water column and more active metabolism a "swimming" retrieve with plastics-most notably fliptail and paddletail shad bodies-will work almost as well as stickbaits with less chance of getting snagged up.

Under all conditions walleyes are essentially crepusculent feeders -- a ten cent word which means they forage more effectively during periods of low light. Most human predators would rather be on the water on a sunny April day, rather than a chilly spring night. As a result these pescadores are missing out on peak walleye feeding times. Your best chances of seeing a walleye actively chomp your minnow are at dawn and dusk---when artificial lures are even more effective because you can cover the water quicker!

As walleyes move into summer pattern by mid-May their movements become more pensive. A livebait attack may be more productive. Between now and then my minnow bucket will remain on a shelf in the garage, with the landing net in the boat and seeing plenty of use.

Sportfishing's learning curve in regard to walleyes has seen quantum changes in recent years with traditional tactics finding dusty places on garage shelves. Grandpa's old Falls City steel minnow bucket may soon be part of this genre of tackle-at least in the spring.

Plastics and hair don't yield spilled water all over the bottom of the boat, chapped hands…or dead bodies. But they do catch walleyes. Lots of walleyes.

Author Ted Peck
Ted Peck
Cap'n Ted Peck has over 30 yrs. guiding experience, specializing in multi-species fishing on Pool 9-10 of the Mississippi from Genoa, Wi. to Prairie du Chien. Cap'n Ted is a pro staffer for Lund, Northland Tackle, MinnKota, Bill Lewis Lures, Evinrude, Uncle Josh, HT Enterprises and Custom Jigs & Spins. When not guiding Cap'n Ted communicates the outdoors experience via newspapers, magazines, TV, radio and through seminars. This work has taken him all over the midwest, Canada and beyond... but he always returns to the upper Mississippi which he considers the most diverse fishery in North America. Click here for more info on Ted's guide service. Cap'n Ted's new book Mississippi Musings with the Old Guide is a personal account of his long career as a professional fishing guide on Old Man River.