In the Great Lakes, two
major migrations occur during the early phase of pre-spawn. The most known is
the migration of fish from the lakes themselves into their natal spawning
streams. The other is for a different population of fish that forego the
rivers and migrate towards open water shallow reefs as their preferred
In rivers, look for fish to
be moving upstream at a fairly rapid clip. The migration can be as little as
several miles but may be as long as 30 to 50 miles. Many fish will migrate up
to the first barrier, whether that is a dam or rapids, and hold there. Another
segment of fish will either not migrate the entire way, or migrate there and
drop back to other optimal spawning grounds. Identifying prime spawning
habitat is the first step in our journey. The perfect spawning habitat would
be a shallow rocky flat adjacent to a deep water hole with nearby access to a
shallow slack water muddy bay. The terms shallow and deep here are relative.
Flats that are 2-4 feet are considered shallow because the nearest deep water
hole may be only 8 to 10 feet. Flats that are 7-9 feet deep can be considered
shallow if the adjacent hole is 15 to 18 feet. A nearby slackwater, shallow,
bay is where the post-spawn fish will move once recovered and is not required
for a spawning area but enhances the likelihood of walleyes preferring that
spot over others.
Pre-spawn is the time that I
crank up the big Mercury Optimax and cruise the upstream holes keeping my eyes
glued on my Bottom Line NCC6500 depthfinder in search of walleye marks and
pods of bait. The fish will be using these deep holes as staging areas until
the final move to the spawning ground. If they are in the holes in pre-spawn,
I almost always prefer to use a vertical jigging attack with light Fuzz-E-Grub
jigs on Hi-Vis 6 lb. test Stren Gold line. I tip the jig with small minnows
and slip back through the various depth levels of the holes trying to
determine which depth the fish are using that day. I keep the bow of my Ranger
619VS pointed into the wind or current and have one 6 foot Shimano spinning
combo in each hand using a 4 count, do a lift, drop and touch bottom, and hold
above bottom, keeping the bait within inches.
Once the fish move up to the
flats and begin to cruise there, spawn is close at hand. These fish can still
be highly aggressive if pre-spawn but if in full spawn, youíll find yourself
with a bunch of hungry males, as the females will be off the bite. The tactics
I employ for flats fish vary depending on the depth of the flat. On those
shallow flats that are less than 5 feet, youíll generally find me pitching 1/8
ounce Fuzz-E-Grubs and hopping them in just off the bottom. On deeper flats,
Iíll generally have the Minnkota Maxxum motor keeping me hovering over my line
to maintain a vertical jigging presentation.
Fish that are using main
lake reefs to spawn will find areas near a deeper basin, and use rocky/gravel
structures that come up to within 2 to 8 feet of the surface. The one
difference between these fish and river fish is that you can fish off the deep
sides of the reef with jigs or blade baits and contact numbers of walleyes.
Many of these deeper fish will be neutral to inactive and the fish using the
top of the reef tend to be more active. Use the same thinking as you did in
the river for presentations to the fish on top of the reef but look for points
and inside turns that will concentrate the fish in one area of the reef to
maximize your results.
The spawn can be a difficult
time if 70 to 80% of the fish are participating at one time. There may be a
couple of days that all youíll be able to catch are small males, but there
could be alternatives if you can recognize them. If you are looking for big
female walleyes, try to target either the late spawners that are still in
pre-spawn stage or go after the early spawners that are now just recovering
from their spawn.
Post-spawn can actually be
broken down into two sub-categories. The fish that are immediate post spawn
are going to tend to head for the bottom of the deep holes in the river. Once
there, they can be triggered, but finesse presentations are required to tempt
them. Moving slowly downstream vertical jigging or moving upstream trolling 3
way rigs or crankbaits like #5 Shad Raps with lead core line are the best ways
to trigger those fish.
Once the fish have begun to
recover they will move up the edges of the hole and then seemingly desert them
overnight. As the fish move up the edges, you can begin to speed up your
presentations slightly, as the fish are more inclined to bite. Once they
desert those holes, theyíve headed for ultra shallow water to warm up and
feed. When they stack up in this position, Iíll generally be casting light 1/8
ounce Fuzz-E-Grubs tipped with a minnow and the hits in this area will feel
like a freight train. Work the areas over thoroughly and repeat through the
area continually if there are active fish there, as they are moving around and
more fish are probably coming into the area all the time. Remember that these
fish are going to be dropping back out of the river and into the main lake, so
dark, slack water areas down stream of the spawning area can be magnets.
Post-spawn out on the reef
complexes mean an abandoning of the reefs and a movement towards the deep
basin areas that could be as far as 10 miles away. Because of the distances
these fish can move so rapidly, trolling is the most viable option for us.
These fish can recover quite quickly and because of this they can be scattered
anywhere from the surface down to the bottom in 45 feet of water. Break out
the Cannon Rover Boards and the Shimano Convergence trolling rods and you are
ready for some incredible Great Lakes walleye catching.
If the fish are tight to the
bottom, I generally think slower. Spinner rigs with bottom bouncers both on
flat lines and Cannon Rover Boards at slow speeds with crawlers are just the
ticket here. If the fish are suspended up off the bottom, then itís total
Cannon Rover Board action with crankbaits. Try long minnow baits like Rapala
Husky Jerks in both shallow and deep lips, Rapala original floaters and also
Shad Raps in size 8 and 9. If you are not marking fish near the bottom or
suspended, there may be a good chance the fish are so high in the water column
that you arenít marking them on your depthfinder. These fish are generally
very active and can be caught easily if you run baits up high enough for them.
The general rule of thumb is troll crankbaits faster than spinners and the
higher the fish in the water column, the faster you can travel. Remember that
this is a general rule though and many a day has been saved by cranking up the
speed for deep crankbait fish and slowing down for high fish.
Now go ahead and have
someone mention April to you and see if your thoughts donít turn to the
millions of Great Lakes walleyes that are concentrating themselves right now
waiting for you to come catch them. Not the run of the mill eaters either, but
super fish that tip scales only rumored about in the cold winters around a hot
stove. If youíre looking for me this April, you better launch somewhere near
the Great Lakes. If you are that lucky, Iíll see you on the water.