Making An End Run On The Spring Run

By Ted Peck - April 1, 2009
Recent posts on the Pool 9-Genoa link confirm our human tendencies to make predictions on fish behavior based on limited information. It's human nature to see somebody catch a fish and try to mimic their behavior or to honestly believe walleyes are about to spawn on the Mississippi River in mid-March simply because the surface water temperature has warmed to 45 degrees.

Surface temperatures on several running sloughs off of the main channel warmed briefly to 47-48 degrees around spring's official arrival on March 20, driven by sunny days with air temperatures warming to the mid-70's.

Conventional wisdom says walleyes spawn when waters warm to 47-48. But there is more to the Creator's grand scheme of procreation than seeing 48 degrees on your boat's electronics and concluding those big females are fanning on the shallow rocks at night.

Spring runoff, moon phase, length of day and several other factors combine to goad these small brained critters into dropping their eggs. I've been chasing these fish in Midwestern rivers with varying degrees of passion since the 1960's seeking a magic formula to ensure a sharp hook is in front of the biggest walleye in the river at the optimum time.

My grandfather and father both said walleyes almost always spawn on the upper Mississippi between April 10-20. Surveys by conservation agencies in Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota done over many years pretty much confirm this old time conventional wisdom.

I reiterated this proven history on the Genoa link a couple of times in mid-March, then actually found myself doubting the wisdom of history with the premature arrival of warm days, warm waters and an old soft-bellied female which had dropped her eggs three weeks early.


One fish does not make a pattern. When Jeff Wood made the decision to keep the old 10 pound sow which garwoofled a little jig intended for perch he guaranteed she would never make another spring spawning run up the River. But now I'm thinking this was the old girl's last trip anyway-and one spawned out female whispered perhaps the big show was coming early this spring after all.

The Bible book of Ecclesiastes tells us there is a time for all seasons. Overwhelming data days the season for the walleye spawn on the upper Mississippi River is April 10-20.

Shoveling several inches of partly cloudy off of our porches the last week in March, with water temperatures cooling back down to 40 degrees and morning air temperatures in the low 20's confirm our short-sighted albeit enthusiastic predictions once again.

Not all walleyes spawn at the same time. When they DO move to the beds the action comes to a grinding halt for a few days, then resumes as fish slide back down river a little higher up in the water column.

The first 12 days of April still looks like your best bet for hooking up with pre-spawn walleyes on the Mississippi.

Data in a fishing diary I've kept since 1976 says April 1st marks the spawn on both the Rock and lower Wisconsin Rivers. Saugers and walleyes on the Illinois River usually get down to business from March 20-30.

Peak time for the big Fox River horses at DePere this year will be around April 12-right on schedule for 9 years out of 10 for the past---forever. Walleyes in the Menominee River an hour north of DePere get the overpowering urge about seven days after the run peaks on the Fox. Prolonged anomalies in general spring weather patterns or local events like heavy flooding or droughts provide caveats to making "like clockwork" predictions on the annual spring walleye run in your favorite river.

There is much to be said in keeping a fishing diary to help figure out fish patterns dictated by the Creator. Walleyes have pea-sized brains, but they still tend to confound us a great deal of the time. Why do you suppose this is so true?

Spring walleye activity on most Midwestern rivers is pretty much on schedule with long term proven trends. Its human nature to wish Christmas would come early. Flip ahead on the calendar and you'll see it falls on Dec. 25th this year. Easter is on a Sunday. Thanksgiving is on a ThursdayÂ…and most walleyes in the upper Mississippi will spawn April 10-20 in 2009.

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.