by fishing guide Charlie Worrath
Springtime walleye fishing is some of the finest walleye fishing of the year. This is due to several reasons. After a long winter and the rigors of spawning, the fish have a huge appetite to fill. Fortunately for us fishermen and fisherwomen, available food sources are in short supply. The baitfish population has been eaten down throughout the winter months, and new food sources haven’t developed yet. For instance, the fry of the new year haven’t grown to an eatable size. So without a lot of food sources to choose from, your offering is very tempting.
Early spring walleye catch
Jig and minnow combo is probably the most popular presentation used at this time of year, by far, and for good reason. With the colder water temps of spring, you don’t need a lot of jig action. Sometimes just dragging it along the bottom is all that is needed. The reason is with cold water temps, the fish's metabolism is still in slow mode and they're not moving very fast. I like to give just a bump to hop the jig up just a couple of inches. As the water warms later in the year you can get more aggressive with the action on your jig.
Tipping the jig with a chub or shiner minnow at this time of year is your best choice of baits. Not saying you can’t catch fish with other baits or methods, however, I believe this gives you the best opportunity for success. Also, the jig and minnow combo gives you a great chance of catching any other species of fish the lake has to offer. Adding a few perch, crappies, or nice northern to the catching action is always an added bonus, especially for young ones.
The size of the jig that I use is the smallest size by weight that I can get away with, which usually is 1/8 oz. It depends on a lot of factors, but mainly the wind will determine the jig weight. The other main thing is to tie the jig directly to the line, and don’t add any jewelry, with the one exception: tying a swivel up a couple of feet is all right. It keeps the line from twisting and doesn’t seem to affect the jig action. Line size 6 to 8 lbs. work just fine.
In the first couple of weeks look for walleyes around two main areas: chasing shiners, as they are about to spawn, or their spawning beds. If the lake you're on has shiners, and you can locate them, the walleyes will be close by.
Remember, it’s spring, and the water is still cold so fish slow. If you think you're going too slow, I would say slow it down some more. The chances are you're going too fast. That is why slip bobbers work well early in the year. The bait just hangs there and gives them the time they need to eat your bait. The bites are usually a light soft touch. Using the rod tip, I like to drop the jig down to the fish to give him time to get the bait all the way in his mouth. This way you don’t get as many skinned minnows. On real cold front days, when the bites are short and you can’t seem to get a hook into them, try opening the bail. Let them take it like rigging for a count of 5 or more. I have seen that technique really make the difference at times.
One of the overlooked walleye hot spots in this area is our river systems. They can be extremely good for fishing, spring or fall. The best tip I can give you if you haven’t fished rivers that much, is to fish them just the opposite of lake fishing. For instance, walleyes in a river will lay in a drop waiting for food to be carried downstream to them. Lake walleyes sitting on a shoreline break are usually looking for bait to be blown in from the deeper side. On bends in rivers, fish the outer edge, unlike a lake point where you would fish the inner side. Just think opposite and you’ll do just fine. Jig fishing or rigging works well. The weight size will be determined by the current of the river, again use the smallest size you can get by with.
Good luck and most of all be safe.