From the May 2011 issue

Three Essential Spring Walleye Tactics

By Ray Hansen

“Never Fail” Methods for May Success on Rivers"

Many spring anglers chasing walleye say that the fish are either biting or they are not. By stating this they seem to believe that nothing can be done to trigger fish. I will never accept this simple explanation. Most of the time, at least a few fish will take an easy feeding opportunity. In this article I’ll describe these tactics.

    Most anglers using jigs fail to work underwater cover thoroughly enough to tempt fish that are not actively feeding. In some cases, they avoid places like log jams, submerged rock piles, and similar structure because they do not want to snag. Well, cover attracts fish, and you need to have a way to work these spots effectively.
    When possible, I prefer to anchor a boat upstream of the cover and slowly “walk” a jig back to the spot. In most cases I use a 1/8-ounce jig dressed with a shiner minnow, or half a nightcrawler. You might need slightly heavier jigs in stronger currents. I usually select bright colors, since rivers are almost always darker in color.
    Set up a six to seven-foot spinning rod and spool with high-tech, small diameter line tied directly to the jig. Pitch the jig out downstream from the boat, and let line out in one or two foot increments as the current pulls your bait toward the cover. Frequently hold the jig in place as you focus intently on your sense of feel. River currents will impart some movement to the bait. Ideally, you’ll locate a spot very near the cover where fish will dart out to take the bait. Just remember to let the current drift your jig toward the cover. Use a “yo-yo” action to work the bait back and forth in front of the spot you suspect fish are holding.

    Sometimes, the strike zone is too small for more than one angler to work, or it is just too snaggy to deal with. In this case, set up a slip float rig. Estimate the depth of water covering the structure and set your rig to ride six inches above it. You can cast to the area and allow the current to float your bait right through the spot. You can also set the bait to ride deeper and cast to the side of the spot, or you can cast to a spot behind the cover. Either way, your bait will float along with the current and make an easy target for fish holding there.
    Another type of spot where slip floating works well is where the water flows past a rocky shoreline. Cast upstream, and allow the float to drift naturally. Work the rocks by setting the bait shallow close to shore and a little deeper as you work spots farther out. You can get some very good coverage in this way, and pick up fish many others miss. Another great advantage to slip float fishing is that you can anchor farther from your target, so you spook fewer fish with boat noises.
    I generally use a thin wire hook on a slip float rig, so snags can be pulled free easier. I also like to pass my line through a bright orange bead before tying the hook on. This small attractor seems to work well in darker water. If you want to experiment with fine-tuning your slip float techniques, check out the selection of floats from Rod-N-Bobb’s Tackle.

    When the wind picks up, especially when it blows into a river mouth against the current, walleye can stack up like cordwood. In this situation I like to switch to casting gear with a seven-foot-long handled rod and a reel spooled with no-stretch line. The business end of this rig is a 1/2-ounce bottom bouncer like the Northland Rock Runner. Next, I add a nightcrawler harness with a large blade. This rig is slowly trolled through the churning waters on a short line behind the boat.
    Walleye can be triggered into an active feeding group when these conditions occur, and the bite can be phenomenal. If the wind is strong enough, the person running the boat may not be able to fish; controlling your craft may be all you can handle. You need to use caution when fishing this way. Raingear will be necessary even if no rain is falling. Wind spray alone will soak you. Of course, PFDs (life jackets) are mandatory here as well.
     I recall a trip under these conditions at the mouth of the Escanaba River on Little Bay de Noc in Delta County, Michigan. I ran the boat while two others fished. We landed nearly two dozen walleye in about 45 minutes, keeping some for a fish fry and releasing the remainder. The key here is recognizing conditions that can provide easy fishing. The tactics in this article have given me lots of good stories to tell around the campfire!

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