Power Fishing For Early Season WalleyeBy Jason Halfen - April 20, 2021
In many large walleye factories – especially the Great Lakes – walleye gather near the mouths of tributaries as the ice is breaking up in anticipation of their upcoming spawning run. After the spawn, these same fish filter back out of the rivers and then scatter across nearby shallow flats to recover and feed. Frequently, these flats may be expansive, extending for miles and providing post-spawn walleye with lots of room to spread out. As such, anglers are faced with a large amount of territory to cover as they work to locate active, catchable fish. Happily, we have access to a tool that allows us to rapidly cover vast tracts of water in a methodical way and find the fish swimming there: MEGA Side Imaging from Humminbird.Humminbird, Side Imaging directs a thin, high-frequency sonar beam to the sides of the boat, and provides easy-to-interpret, picture-like images of the bottom, structure and fish. Recent advancements brought a very high frequency, 1.2-Megahertz sonar beam to Side Imaging, providing an unprecedented level of detail and clarity in Side Imaging views. In the context of early-season walleye fishing, Side Imaging is primarily a fish-hunting, rather than structure-locating tool. Many shallow flats that harbor cold-water walleye have limited primary structure, like rockpiles, emerging weedbeds, or prominent breaklines to concentrate fish. As a result, these fish are always on the move, and MEGA Side Imaging provides the best possible way to locate schools of fish and stay with them as they meander across the flats. Anglers should look for bright white primary sonar returns with associated dark sonar shadows; the bright returns are the fish we’re hunting for, and the distance between the bright and dark spots reflects the distance that the fish is suspended off the bottom. Don’t stop and present baits to the first fish you find, because finding walleye as singles and pairs happens all the time; rather, wait until you have identified a large concentration of fish, and can take advantage of the competitive feeding behavior that arises when many hungry predators are concentrated into one area. Drop a waypoint on large pods of fish, and then quickly cycle back and prepare for battle. Minn Kota Ultrex. In light or moderate wind, I will Spot Lock alongside the waypoint, and present baits out the sides of the boat. Keeping the fish off to my left or right allows me to monitor the target zone with Side Imaging while Spot Locked in place; if I no longer see fish returns and sonar shadows, it’s time to reposition the boat or restart the hunt. Conveniently, the i-Pilot Link’s Jog feature allows me to move the boat in precise, five-foot increments to stay on top of the school. In stronger winds that would lead to a significant amount of line bow and loss of lure control, I will Spot Lock directly upwind of the waypoint and Jog around as necessary to keep the bites rolling in. Rippin’ Raps. Larger profile baits in the #6 and #7 sizes are appropriate for Great Lakes fish, where the average forage is larger than you might find on smaller, inland bodies of water. Perch patterns are productive, as are gold and purple. Use a cross-lock snap to attach the lure to a fluorocarbon leader. I use a three-foot leader of 15 lb test fluorocarbon which provides a measure of abrasion resistance when fishing on and near the bottom in zebra mussel-infested waters. Connect the leader to a braided main line using a Double Uni or FG knot; I use 20 lb. test PowerPro in the Hi-Vis Yellow color pattern so I can watch the line during the retrieve. G. Loomis E6X 853S JWR, a 7’1” spinning rod with medium-heavy power and extra-fast action. Rig the rod with a 3000-series spinning reel, like the Shimano Vanford VFC3000XGF, with a smooth drag and powerful winding to overpower big, angry walleyes.
Power fishing for walleye doesn’t end with the post-spawn period. In fact, lipless rattlebaits, soft plastics, and jigging minnow-style baits are effective all season long. Add an aggressive presentation or two to your repertoire this season and enjoy the eye-popping results.