Warm spring weather will be here soon. Walleye will soon be moving to spawn when water temperature reach between 44 to 50 degrees, a great time to enjoy walleye fillets. The trick is knowing where to look.
Early spring walleye are structure-oriented and often hungry. Look for angled bottom structure that eventually meets a drop off. I especially like rocky shelves or huge boulders. Then I drift across these areas with minnows or salted minnows where live bait is not permitted. Walleye suspend in these areas in search of baitfish.
I constantly have to keep the motor running to stay on fish in windy conditions. Wind will push you past the fish. Early-spring fish are often staged on slanted areas and a few feet to the right or left can mean no strikes. The key is staying where the walleye gathers. I use one-fourth-ounce jig heads in calm water and three-eighth or heavier in wind and waves. We change sizes until the best size is found.
Most early-season walleye suspended on the bottom are looking for an easy meal. A soft, occasional lift off the bottom can draw many strikes. Sometimes hits come on the drop, making line control extremely important. Other times hits may be soft; no more than a light twitch or the line might suddenly start moving sideways.
VERTICAL FISHING: Start by moving to likely spots around rocks or weed beds and vertical fish. Minnows or nightcrawlers are dropped straight down and either suspended or brought up a reel turn every five minutes. The idea is to let walleye study your bait.
Try using bright gold or blood red hook for added attraction. We like to add a tiny piece of Christmas tree tinsel for more shine. Some even glue glitter to their hook or bait. Keep in mind that walleye can detect strange odors, so use glue with the least odor.
TROLLING: Trolling is an excellent walleye technique. I like to use the current for trolling or bumping nightcrawlers or jigs across the bottom. I turn my boat sideways and cast out two or three lines. Make sure your jigs or lures are weighted well enough to stay on the bottom. Then watch each rod. Walleye often hook themselves.
Try trolling floating Bombers and Smithwick Super Rogues in Fire Tiger and Chrome Black Back and Chrome Blue Back color patterns. Remember to use plenty weight about a foot from the lure to hold each presentation on the bottom.
Pay close attention while making S-turns when trolling. Bites seem to come on the turn, no matter if it is on the inside or outside turn, when I let my rod sweep back to allow slack line. The Long A, Rogue or other floaters will float up and trigger bites due to this action.
Most of these lures run 7 to 10 feet, so they're pounding the bottom when House trolls. When he makes a turn, the lure rises in the critical three- to four-feet strike zone. That little hesitation occurs where the fish are sitting on top of the reef. This is a good method for catching bigger walleye.
CASTING: Most cast for early spring walleye. I like to use a much smaller jig or lure. We have caught many fine walleyes while fishing for crappie with 1/32-ounce jigs like Roadrunners that were tipped with euro larva or a commercial brand or crappie additive.
Again, use a slow retrieve while making sure you keep each offering on the bottom. Twitch your rod tip on occasion. Sometimes this added move will draw strikes. The key is placing your bait in front of the walleye’s face, a feat accomplished by patience and lots of time in uncomfortable weather conditions. The couch is warmer, but not nearly satisfying as catching a 6-pound walleye on 4-pound test line.
LIVE BAIT: Minnows, leeches and nightcrawlers are extremely effective for walleye. Hook your leeches toward the end so they can wiggle and flop. Nightcrawlers are more effective with a shot of air with a hypodermic needle so they float off the bottom better. This is especially good in thick bottom, making it easier for the walleye to locate them. Minnows, especially salted versions, can be hooked through the mouth, extending the hook through their backs.
LURES: Most walleye is scattered around the bottom, but occasionally these large predators will chase a school of minnows or small perch. Crankbaits can become extremely productive when walleye are chasing forage.
Many northern fishermen prefer Rapalas or Rebel Deep Divers. The key is color and a tempting wiggle. So-called stick baits like Rogues are excellent.
Try to match what walleye are going after. For example, walleye chasing bluegill might like lures painted dark green, dark blue or black with an orange belly. Fish-chasing minnows might like a silver- or gold-colored imitation. You might do well with orange or pumpkin colored lures where goldfish are present. I like darker colors in darker water and lighter colors in lighter water, especially for walleye.
Another important key of walleye fishing is the use of a fish or structure locator. Again, walleye are structure-oriented fish. A device to read the bottom is important to avoid fishing unproductive waters.
EQUIPMENT: A depth finder is more than a little helpful, but not necessary depending on where you are fishing. You will find submerged rocks or weed bed lines with a depth finder. Without it, you have to guess about prime locations or suspended fish unless you are familiar with the lake bottom.
I use medium-light tackle for walleye. A flexible rod with 4- to 6-pound test line is enough unless you are fishing in heavy current. I prefer the 4-pound line because of personal experience. Silver Thread Fluorocarbon gets more bites, even more so than changing to a smaller diameter monofilament line. Fluorocarbon lines are known for their virtual invisibility when under water.
– Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.