Finding Success On April 'Eyes

By Ted Peck - April 1, 2008
Everybody is Irish on St. Patrick's Day. This month it seems like all who sported shamrocks, sipped green beer and danced a jig have tied a jig on a spinning rod and morphed into walleye anglers…an every one of them arrived at the boat launch down at the river 10 minutes before you did.

A number of them have forgotten how to back boat trailers, check for drain plugs or ensure there is fresh gas in the tank before blocking the launch…delaying your overwhelming need to wash jigs and drown minnows for a few more agonizing minutes. There are two ways to deal with this reality. You can allow anger and frustration to cancel out one of the primary reasons you like to fish… or you can bide your time, sipping green beer and laughing like a leprechaun content in knowing that most of them wallow in a morass of cluelessness when it comes to catching riverine walleyes in April.

Every one of these wild-eyed boaters has visions of 30-inchers dancing in their heads as they bolt willy-nilly towards the dam or other popular 'community' spot where the sight of an occasional landing net waving in the air amidst the pack of 50 boats goads them to hang in there just a little longer.

Truth be known even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in awhile. But most who return to the boat ramp with plenty of room left in the livewell have been fishing with too much weight, too deep, too slow and at the wrong time of day.

There are no jigs heavier than 3/8 oz in my spring walleye box… but there are a pile of 5/16 and 3/16 leadheads mixed in with the assortment of hooks which drops down to 1/16. Sometimes these "tween" sizes are just the ticket for putting your offering in front of fish…and not getting hung up in the process. B-Fish-N tackle markets the "Precision" jighead in these odds sizes. This particular jighead has a couple of other advantages as well-it holds plastic better than other jigs, there is no paint clogging the eye and the jig's weight is stamped on every leadhead.

Forty years as a walleye gypsy on rivers all across the upper Midwest has taught me that any 'eye worth catching will be holding in water you can probe with a 3/8 ounce jig…or much, much lighter weight.

If you're fishing heavier than that, you're either hung up a lot or not fishing where the fish are. Or both.April walleyes don't want to fight the current, boat traffic overhead or anything else which comes between an easy meal and the overpowering urge to spawn when water temperatures rise to 45-48 degrees. Quality fish are hunkered down below a big rock, in the tangled branches of a fallen tree or similar habitat where survival takes the least amount of effort necessary.

Temperature drives walleye activity in the spring. Fish tend to look for the warmest water available…which may be just downstream from the entry point of a metal culvert draining sheet water from a farmer's field. Don't be surprised if you find the biggest walleye of your life on an eighth ounce jig pitched into a tangle of limbs in two feet of water downstream from a drainage ditch!

It doesn't take long for this water to warm to 41-42 degrees in the spring-even though the river out there where folks are playing 'bumper boats' has yet to see the warm side of 40. Between 41-45 degrees walleye feeding activity tends to be aggressive. But it is aggression tempered with caution. Walleyes are crepusculent feeders-a 10 cent word which means they are most active during periods of low light.

Peak feeding times are typically after 7 p.m. and before 7 a.m., even in waters considerably colored by spring runoff. When walleyes are actively feeding in an April river they are almost always in less than 10 feet of water…and usually much shallower than that. No need to crawl that jig along the bottom. The fish can catch up to it. Cast and count to your self until the hook hits the rocks. You may get snagged and lose it. Just back the count off by one and tie on another jig, throwing the lightest weight you can find bottom with.

Forget the minnows. You don't need minnows. Plastic and hair. Plastic and hair. This isn't a date. You don't have to buy a walleye dinner to take it home…or release with a belly full of eggs to fight another day. Essentially, this presentation is like fishing a crankbait with a single hook…so why not use a crankbait with a single hook? My spring river walleye box has several Thundersticks and Bomber A's with only the tail treble hook remaining on the lure.

How many hooks do you need to catch a walleye? How many hooks does it take to catch a rock and lose a $5 crankbait? If you see me at the boat launch between 7 a.m-7 p.m. the rod with the light jig or single-hook crankbait will already be stashed in the truck. I'll be the guy in a red/black Cabela's guidewear jacket and a Lindy hat sipping coffee…smirking like a leprechaun who knows his pot of gold is safe from all foregathered.

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.