Hard Bait Strategies for Post-Spawn WalleyesBy Jason Halfen - May 8, 2018
One of the hallmarks of spring is the predictable movement of walleyes. On inland lakes, walleye slide into shallow waters along rocky, windblown shorelines to spawn. Major rivers see mass upstream migrations of walleyes, to be interrupted only by natural or manmade obstacles. And on the Great Lakes, fish funnel into primary tributaries to reproduce, and then systematically return to their home ranges.
Savvy anglers throughout the walleye belt can learn the rhythm of these movements and adjust their presentations throughout the pre-spawn/spawn/post-spawn cycle to enjoy success all spring and early summer.
The post-spawn period can be particularly rewarding. While walleyes may exhibit significant dispersive movements away from their spawning grounds, they also become increasingly catchable as warming waters increase their metabolic rates. During this period, anglers should focus on covering water with mobile presentations, often focusing on hard baits.
Shallow-running LIVETARGET Rainbow Smelt jerkbaits are an excellent choice for post-spawn walleyes. These are extraordinarily detailed lures with three-dimensional anatomical features like fins, eyes, gill plates and scales, in addition to patterns, colors, transitions, and highlights that reflect Nature's handiwork. Their tight shimmering action on the retrieve recalls the movements of a living baitfish, widely dispersing visual flash to attract predators over long distances.
Cast these jerkbaits very close to shore and work them back to the boat with a slow-and-steady or a stop-and-go retrieve. As darkness falls, these same lures can be long-line trolled along shorelines and across flats with great success, a pattern that will hold until extensive shallow weed growth hampers its effectiveness.
Picking the right rod for presenting jerkbaits can dramatically enhance your spring walleye success. The Legend Tournament Walleye "Shallow Cranker" (LWS70MM) from St. Croix Rod is an outstanding choice for any shallow hard bait application, including jerkbaits. The 7-foot casting rod casts crankbaits a country mile, while its moderate action acts as a shock absorber against boatside headshakes, ensuring that fish stay buttoned up tight and end up in the net.
As Great Lakes walleyes disperse out of tributaries after the completion of their spawning runs, they frequently strap on the feedbag along near-shore sand flats. These areas warm rapidly in the springtime sun, and with the appropriate wind and current, also collect schools of baitfish and pods of omnipresent gobies. Post-spawn walleyes take advantage of these conditions to boost their calorie counts while recuperating from reproductive rituals.
Continue with this rip-fall rhythm on a steady cadence until the retrieve is complete. While you may feel the strike as the rattlebait falls toward the bottom, you are just as likely to not feel anything until you rip the bait upward on its next rise-fall cycle. Then, any resistance or weight means it's time to set the hook - and set it hard! Within the LIVETARGET Golden Shiner rattlebait family, the larger of the two sizes (2 7/8" and ½ oz) is preferred for beefcake Great Lakes walleyes. The smaller of the two sizes (2 3/8" and ¼ oz) is a good choice for inland waters, pressured fish, or post-frontal conditions when a more subdued presentation may be required. A selection of Silver/Black, Silver/Green, Gold/Black and Glow/Gold patterns of Golden Shiner rattlebaits will have you well on your way to post-spawn walleye success.
The post-spawn period is no time to fish walleyes with a slow and steady demeanor. Rather, cover lots of water with aggressive, mobile presentations to locate pods of actively feeding fish. Go stretch the string this spring, and rip some post-spawn walleye lips, with jerkbaits and lipless rattlebaits!