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Fishing Guide

Spring Walleye

Increasing Your Odds For Success

by Ivo and Annie Zullan

For most anglers the whole winter is spent dreaming about the opening of walleye season in May. Sunny skies, light wind conditions, warm temperatures, and starving walleye complete the scene in my dream. When May finally arrives, more often than not, the opener dawns dark and dismal with hurricane force winds, turning my dream, like yours, into a nightmare. Early season, opening day to the first week of June presents a period when locating and catching walleye consistently can be a real challenge. If walleye fishing has taught Annie and me anything over the years it is that nothing draws and holds large numbers of walleye like newly emerging weed growth.

Start your search early in the comfort of your own home, with the best hydrographic charts you can find. Look for large flats, points and neck downs close to main spawning areas. It's a long Canadian winter, there is plenty of time to locate key areas to begin your search on opening day. Pick four to six areas to check on your first trip. This will prevent you from making the mistake of running all over the lake on opening day, or the other extreme of fishing one spot all day waiting for the fish to come to you. The MNR is also a great source of information. Studies have been conducted to monitor the movements of walleye fitted with radio transmitters over a twelve-month period. The results may surprise you! Creel census and trap net survey results for many lakes are also available. In late April a call to your district MNR office will tell you when the spawning run peaked, which can help you gauge fish location on opening weekend.

The MNR can also give you information concerning the success of the baitfish spawn. This information can be invaluable as a poor baitfiash spawn can result in fantastic walleye fishing for that year due to decreased availability of forage fish.

I won't dwell on weed types in this article, we've all read enough about that. Suffice it to say that all healthy, lush, green weeds will hold fish. If you throw in a few variables the numbers of fish in an area, or relating to it, will increase tenfold. Start on the areas you have selected during our long cold Canadian winter.

If the areas have visible weed growth, great! Fish the weeds slowly and methodically. Start on the, outside edges in low light looking for actively feeding walleye. If you don't contact fish or previously active fish shut down, move right into the weed beds. This can happen due to fishing pressure, increasing light conditions or the baitfish moving. If the area you are fishing shows no visible signs of weed growth, you will have to rely on your electronics to help you locate the emerging weed. Start your search in shallower water moving progressively deeper until weed growth appears on your graph. You may be surprised to find heavier weed growth in deeper water. Always concentrate your efforts on sections of weed lines that twist and turn or have scattered patches of weed growth away from the main weed line. All of these areas provide ambush points for walleye. I can't stress this point enough and we've all heard it a hundred times that it is the "SPOT ON THE SPOT" that produces fish consistently.

If the lake you have chosen to fish is known to have heavy weed growth, indeed some are choked with weed early in the season, always start your search on a main lake weed line. Your hydrographic charts will allow you to zero in on depths of twelve to sixteen feet of water. This is often the depth where weed growth will dissipate, dependent on water clarity. From these depths you can simply motor shallower until your graph shows signs of weed growth. The depth at which you contact weed on the deep edge will be very consistent throughout that particular body of water. Walleye will be constantly cruising along these weed lines bordering the main lake basin in a search for food.

When the lake is calm, you have a unique opportunity to locate idiosyncrasies in the weed beds. Bait fish, especially in low light conditions, will be visible on the surface in calm water, but close to cover. When you see baitfish that seem to be off the main weed line, check the area more closely. You may have found a point or an isolated weed bed that has not been pressured. These areas can produce big fish all season long.

Rigging up for spring walleye is simple. Two outfits will cover all of your fishing needs. Rods should be 5 1/2 - 6 1/2 feet in length and matched with a quality ball bearing reel. The first outfit should be a medium action rod, spooled with 6-10 lb. test line and suitable for fishing a 1/8 to 1/4 ounce jig on weed edges. The second outfit should be a medium heavy action rod spooled with 8-12 lb. test and suitable for 1/4 to 3/4-ounce jigs. This outfit must have enough backbone that you are able to rip or pop a jig through weed growth. It will be used primarily on flats with heavy weed growth and right into dense weedlines or pockets within the weedbeds. The rod must allow you to turn a hooked walleye before it can bury itself in the dense weed.

If you plan to troll or cast body baits for walleye, a baitcasting outfit is the best choice. Choose a 6 1/2 - 7 ft. medium action rod combined with a quality baitcasting reel. Spool up with 8-12 lb. test and this rod will cover most situations. Annie and I have used Shimano rods and reels for years and have found them to be very reliable products. Shimano carries a full line of rods and reels to cover every walleye angler's needs and budget.

A variety of jigs, from 1/8 to 1/2-ounce in weight are essential to cover all conditions you may be confronted with on your favourite walleye lake. Undressed ball headed jigs are standard, but standup and wobble heads should also be included in your tackle selection. Colours should include white, yellow, black, and chartreuse. Make sure that you use jig heads with barbed collars for all your plastic fishing. It can be very frustrating fishing weed patterns if you are constantly replacing or adjusting grubs.

Plastics should range from three to five inches in length. Twister tails, grubs, shads and tubes have been the most effective baits in my tackle box over the years, but special mention should be given to four and seven inch worms.

The most effective and troublefree lures you can use for weed patterns are bucktail jigs. This old standard has come full-circle in recent years and is again a must have for every walleye angler's tackle box. It is virtually indestructible compared to plastic and will often produce your biggest walleye. Choose colours to mimic baitfish patterns in the lake. Red and chartreuse are also effective colours. Load up on jigs ranging from 1/8 to 1/2-ounce and carry a few 3/4-ounce jigs. Bucktails are most effective when walleyes are feeding aggressively. Most anglers swear by small baits in spring but large bucktails have their place too! Remember that if there is a poor baitfish spawn in the current year the walleye will key on last year's baitfish, which will be larger.

Always carry a good assortment of undressed jig heads, hair jigs and plastic bodies. When a musky puts the grab on the one jig that the walleyes have been hammering all morning you will be glad you have an ample supply available. The variety of weights will allow you to adjust to the conditions as they change throughout the day or the weekend.

When working the weed edges try to work your boat into the wind and along the edge. This is easily done with a bow mount or transom mount electric motor, but can also be accomplished by back trolling, the transom into the wind.

Be prepared and you can adjust quickly to changes as they occur. Whether you own a twelve-foot aluminum car topper or a fully rigged fishing machine, there is one item without which a walleye angler should never leave shore. That item is a sea anchor or drift sock. Not only will this tool add stability to your boat in rough water but it will cut your drift speed in half, and allow you to maintain contact with the bottom. This will allow you to keep the bait within the walleyes' strike zone longer.

For the small boat angler the drift sock will enable you to cover the weed flats or pitch in weed pockets in all but the windiest of conditions. If you're fishing weed lines that run in the same direction as the wind you're in luck. If not, motor to open water and use the drift sock to slow your approach to the edge of the weed. This will enable you to make several more casts to the edge before being blown into the weed bed itself.

Once you contact fish, whether on flats or weed lines, use a marker to indicate their position. This reference point serves two purposes. One, it allows you to avoid spooking fish on subsequent drifts by motoring out and away from the marker. Two, you can now scrutinize the entire area for other active walleye without losing sight of where the original contact was made.

If your boat is equipped with an electric trolling motor, you can also use a drift sock to your advantage. By tying the sock off the transom in conjunction with a bow mount electric you can cover weed flats in an arc as you drift across it. The reverse is true for boats with transom mount electric motors when tying the sock to the bow.

When fishing sparse flats always cast ahead of the drifting boat. Walleye will be spooked by the shadow of a boat in shallow water. If you're fishing pockets in dense weeds walleye will not be as boat shy and shorter casts and pitches will result in more hook-ups.

Whether you're fishing shallow flats, deeper emerging weed or working well-defined weed lines this spring, the object to keep in mind is to develop a well thought out game plan. Seasonal patterns, proper lure selection, tackle requirements and boat positioning are important variables when fishing weed patterns.

Catching walleye consistently, even on unpressured waters can certainly be challenging. By learning key seasonal patterns anglers can consistently produce fish spring, summer, and fall. Remember there is no teacher like experience, so do some research this winter, and get out and get a boat full, yourself this spring opener.

Information excerpted from TFN.

 




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