Early Season 'Eyes

Get out that boat and get some early walleye

A variety of different methods will take early spring walleyes, since the fish's general attitude can range from aggressive to neutral. Walleyes are often aggressive during this period of time right up to spawning time. When the spawning period begins the feeding activity will drop to zero. Whether you fish during the day or night, the fish are rarely deeper than 30 feet. Many are shallower than 15 feet, and at night, 2 to 8 feet is common. There are some advantages when the fish are this shallow.

Location is easy, but the fish are often extremely spooky. I rely on a good BottomLine graph to see not only the fish that are below me, but fish off to the side was well. Jigs and live bait rigs are generally your best choices for this period. The simpler the better. Small jigs, tipped with a small chub or fathead minnow, are perfect.

Fish bright or fluorescent colors in dirty water,and natural or subtle colors in clear water. Use 1/8 - to 3/8 ounce Fuzz-E-Grub jigs, depending on the depth or current conditions you are faced with.

In most current situations, you want the jig to slowly bounce up and down, on and off the bottom in the current. Just bounce, sweep, bounce, sweep. Backtrolling, anchoring and casting, or drifting all work well for fishing the adjacent drop-off areas during the day. The real importance lies in the speed at which you present the jig. As long as it is slow and close to the bottom, you're all set. The water temperature is cold, and the walleyes are lethargic. Slow jigging is perfect for these conditions.

What about the slow approach of slip bobbers or Thill Floats? This approach has had a real revival in the last couple of years. It is quite effective when the bite is slow and when the walleyes are in difficult structure such as rock piles and floating timber.

Lindy rigs work best with weights ranging from simple split shots up to 3/8 ounce sinkers. Small plain hooks generally work best, although you can try a spinner rig in dark water. Minnows are generally the top live bait choice at this time of year, although leeches and nightcrawlers can work, too.

The same boat-control methods apply. Look for structure that the fish use as ambush points or places to hide, out of the current. Such structure might be logs, weeds, rocks or boat docks. All of these make excellent casting points to target while fishing from shore. If you are in an area that allows you to have two poles out, use a rod tipped with live bait and the other rod with an artificial lure. If you position your live bait adjacent to the structure, you can use the artificial lure to entice a fish to follow and have them hook up on your live bait rig.

Several other systems work particularly well at night . Try fancasting or long-line trolling minnow imitation baits, like Lindy Shadlings in the immediate vicinity, right up in areas with good spawning area and structure. Stay close to the bottom in current, or in water deeper than 6 to 8 feet. At night, however, fish commonly cruise 2 to 8 foot depths, and trolling is perfect. If you're going to be using a crankbait, however, you should also think about the action of the lure in the water. The wobble of the bait can make a difference in how many walleyes you catch. It seems like a minor thing, and many walleye chasers don't even notice that different baits have different wobbles as they're pulled through the water. It's been my experience, though, that marble-eyed fish are definitely influenced by the action of the lure.

Early season walleyes are some of the best tasting table fare. Remember to slow down your presentation and try a variety of methods and you will be having a fresh fish dinner before too long.

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