By Nick Simonson
As rivers open up around the region, anglers are finally able to take advantage of walleye movements and the rather voracious appetite of these fish in this period just before the spawn. With the shortened time frame this year, access to walleyes ahead of their runs is limited, so knowing where to present offerings to them will be key in connecting with a limit for the spring’s first fish fry or that one big marble-eyed monster for the memory books.
1. High & Low. With their light-sensitive eyes, look for walleyes to relate to deeper holes during the day and move up during low-light hours when they are more comfortable and have an advantage over prey. If inflowing meltwater in a river system is darkened due to stain or sediment, walleyes may hold shallower as they seek food items such as baitfish. Identify stretches of a river that have deeper scours and holes immediately adjacent to shallow areas and look for fish on either side of the break as light conditions dictate – deeper in bright conditions, shallower under clouds or at dawn and dusk. Working jigs tipped with minnows through likely areas will help follow the forage cues this time of year and is an effective way to eliminate water until walleyes are contacted and a solid spring bite is found.
2. Find the Inflow. Walleyes typically will make spawning runs up a major waterway into the smaller creeks and tributaries with proper spawning areas comprised of ample sand, gravel and rock to provide a resting place for their eggs. Look for pre-spawn walleyes to seek out these areas and hold up on the edge of them in the main river before the reproductive process begins. Use electronics to find a shift in bottom composition on a feeder delta coming into the main river and target the lower and upper portions of the slope to find walleyes depending on water turbidity, weather conditions and time of day. In addition to providing a place to spawn, these inflows also bring in food and oxygen as the water makes its way to the main river, giving walleyes a number of reasons to hang out until their biological clock’s alarm goes off.
3. Target Barriers. Rocky Texas-crossings, low-head dams and other impediments to fish movement on a river will also stack walleyes up in spring. Watch for fish to stage several hundred yards downstream in deeper stretches and work their way back and forth between those holding spots and the barrier and the shallows around it. With the moving water, these locations also can provide suitable nesting sites for fish, and intercepting walleyes on their way up to them before the spawn gets underway is almost easy when everything times out right.
4. Current Events. Like many fish in rivers and streams, walleyes look to conserve energy by playing the current to their advantage and utilizing areas of slack water to rest and opportunistically ambush prey that floats or swims by. Identify current obstructions on the surface of a river such as islands, rockpiles, timber, wingdams and other notable breaks. Use electronics to pinpoint those deeper and less-detectable underwater current breaks such as boulders and rises on the riverbed which help provide slack areas for fish to rest in. Hit these places hard with a variety of offerings along the downstream sides and back edge to find where walleyes are holding.
5. Sometimes Structures. In spring, it’s not unusual to find walleyes around structure near inflowing areas or downstream from spawning sites. Fallen trees, bridge pilings, docks and concrete or rip-rap dumpings along the shoreline all provide places of cover, current breaks and serve as the start of the food chain with small insects attracting baitfish, perch and other walleye forage. While they aren’t primary areas that pop up immediately on every walleye angler’s radar, they’re often worth a pitch or two in order to determine whether or not the fish are relating to these secondary sites. They can be quickly probed with jigs or crankbaits and the determination can be made whether to stick around if the fish are lurking near them and biting.
Key in on these five locational factors this spring when walleyes start to make their spawning moves. Knowing where walleyes will be this time of year – even on a truncated timetable – helps eliminate unproductive water and puts baits where they need to be for success this spring.