Patterning Spring Walleye

Catch More Spring Walleye on the Mississippi

I have been successful at putting together a pattern for catching walleyes on the Mississippi River.   Spring can really produce some adverse conditions, yet the principles of presentation and feeding patterns remained the same, all I had to do was remember specific techniques and apply them at the right time.

            Fishing populations in rivers are subject to the same environmental influences as they are in lakes.  Air temperature, cloud cover, wind and a host of other factors affect fishing success in rivers as in lakes.  But, additionally, fishing success in rivers changes continually with changes in current, water level and turbidity.

            Some fishermen would argue that a fish is a fish regardless of whether its’ home is a lake or a river.  But moving water definitely affects fish behavior and makes river fishing a whole new experience.  To be a successful river fisherman you should know a few important facts about habits of the common river species and plan your fishing strategy accordingly.


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            Most of the year, river walleyes are found along riprap or natural rock shorelines, near rock wingdams or along sand-gravel dropoffs with light current or no current at all.  In spring following spawning they may be found on sandy points and shoals with moderate current but by early summer they scatter to rock and gravel bottom areas.

            Since rivers are generally more turbid than lakes, river walleyes spend most of their lives in shallower water than lake walleyes because light penetration does not force them into the depths.  I rarely fish deeper than 15 feet for river walleyes and most of the time in 5 to 10 feet of water. 

            River walleyes may feed at any time of day and the major feeding periods may not be dawn and dusk, as is usually the case in lakes.  Again, the greater turbidity allows them to feed in the shallows throughout the day.  Even in clear rivers, the turbulence of the surface cuts down light penetration so walleyes are often caught throughout the day.

River walleyes are suckers for artificial lures especially jigs.  To survive in water that is murky much of the time, they become conditioned to strike without getting a good look at what they’re striking at.   In clear lakes, artificial lures would more likely be ignored in favor of the real thing.  Fluorescent colored jigs like Fuzz-E-Grub Techni Glo jigs in the yellow or bright chartreuse are good examples of this type of jig. Shallow water fishing in the spring is overlooked by many anglers, but it can be one of the most productive methods of boating some fresh walleyes. Shortly after ice-out, male walleyes in the 1 to 3 pound range will move into shallow spawning areas.  The best spawning sites are large sloping shallow bars with a bottom composition of gravel.  The aggressive male walleyes will hold over these areas for a month or more and feed aggressively during, before and after spawning.  The larger walleyes are most always females, and although they can be taken during the pre spawn period, they are virtually impossible to take while spawning and reluctant to bite for a two-week period following the rigors of procreation.

I like to attach a 1/16 or 1/32 ounce Timb'r Rock jig to the end of the line instead of a plain hook.  The Timb'r Rock jig allows you to present live bait or plastic in all kinds of cover without fear of snags.  Due to its unique "weight centered" design, it lands upright every time.  The patented seven strand wire guard protects the hook point from hang-ups.  I like the color that a jig head adds, plus I need to add a little extra weight to pull the line down to the preset depth when using a jig head.  If you use this slip bobber method, it will enable you to jig your bait vertically without positioning yourself over the top of the structure.  With little or no wind you'll have action on the bobber.  This can easily be achieved by sweeping the rod about a foot at a time.  It might seem simple, and it is, but the results will astound you.

Probably the best method, or my favorite is, to Timb'r Doodle them with a jig.  The No-Snagg Veg-E-Jig from Lindy is without a doubt the best way to fish timber.  This jig allows you to penetrate the toughest brush pile on the water without getting hung up. The front eyelet position and the slender profile allows the Veg-E-Jig to slip through all weed vegetation and timber without all the frustrations of snags.  Like the Timb'r Rock jig it also has the seven strand wire guard that protects the hook from snags, but this jig has the super strong, ultra sharp Gamakatsu hook and that makes for an awesome live bait delivery system.  By dipping your bait into various spots in the flooded timber you will find that many walleyes are present and willing to bite.

           Crankbaits especially Rapalas are very effective since they show up better than standard colored lures.  One of the best lures that I use is the Rattlin’ Rapala.  This not only gives off bright color, but also adds the additional sensory attraction of sound.

            Because most river walleyes do not suspend, I attach my Rattlin’ Rapalas to leadcore line.  This gives me an in line weight that takes the lure right to where the walleye is.  I will use this method even while trolling in shallow water.  Most anglers would think that you would get more snags by doing so, but it still keeps the bait in the strike zone.  You will have to monitor and adjust such things as speed and length of line let out, but again you want it where the walleyes are.   Also troll upstream with this approach.  This will enable you to have fewer snags, plus it puts the offering in front of the walleyes nose as he faces into the current to eat.

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.

            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 to long.

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Whether you are in the states of Alaska, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Iowa, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Kentucky, Colorado, Indiana, Virginia, California, Nevada, or New Jersey, there are fish to catch. If you are in one of the Canadian provinces of Ontario, Yukon, Northwest Territories, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, or Quebec, there are fish to catch.

You might be trolling with cranks as your lure of choice. You might be jigging with jigs. You’ll probably need rods, reels, some live bait (crawlers, minnows, leeches), sinkers, leaders, and fishing line. More often times than not, it takes a boat to get to those spots, as well. Maybe you will be fishing from the bank or wading, however. You may need fishing reports or maybe even a fishing guide. This website will try to help you achieve the goal of catching bigger, better, and more numerous fish.

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