Bob holds a nice spring walleye. Photo Submitted by Ginny Riege
By Bob and Ginny Riege
Spring walleyes are the first focus of fishermen as winter turns to spring. In order to be successful it is necessary to understand some basic patterns of walleyes at that time of the year. In the northern states, the walleyes can spawn anytime from the middle of April to the middle of May. This timetable is affected by how early we have warm weather in the spring. My experience has shown that walleyes do not spawn at the same time, but some start early with the majority spawning during the ideal conditions and some will spawn extremely late in the spring, especially the younger females. The males arrive on the spawning beds first with the females following when the water conditions are ideal.
What are ideal conditions? Conditions that ignite the spawning activity are water temperature, rock or rubble shore lines, and in some cases, the length of day light. While this last item is an arguable point, I know for a fact that fall feeding patterns are trigged by the day light hours, an item for a future article. The reason I believe this is a factor is the fact that on late ice-out years, the walleyes will spawn under the ice. Water temperature is a known factor, for starting the spawning activity and the water temperature is also very important for maximum reproduction. A spawning temperature of forty degrees Fahrenheit will start the spawning action and fifty-two degrees is the top end of spawning temperature. Rock and rubble are important structure for a successful hatch. The eggs must have something uneven to fall into to be protected from small predator fish, which will feed on the eggs. To provide ideal spawning conditions the water temperature should warm slowly and constantly with no severe temperature swings or wave action during the gestation and hatching period. The north and east shorelines are usually the areas where the majority of the walleyes spawn. While the fish do not know east from west or north from south, what makes these shore lines most desirable is the fact that the sun penetrates the north and east shore lines with the hottest sun of the day. Therefore, the water is the warmest close to shore and in some cases; the ice can be ten feet from shore with the lake covered with ice, yet the walleyes will spawn.
When the spawning ritual is complete, these battered and exhausted fish move to the deepest structure of the lake to rest for four to ten days. After the rest period, the walleyes are eminently hungry and that's when they move back to their spawning areas and the early spring action is at its best.
We have discussed the spring spawning patterns of walleyes, so now the fisherman must use their knowledge and skill to boat several of these hungry fish. Keep in mind that you must have an exact knowledge of the spring weather patterns so when you arrive at the lake you wish to fish, you know what stage the spring spawn pattern is at. If you hit a late spring and the fish are still spawning or in the rest stage, you can still catch fish, but you will work harder for fewer fish.
Walleyes are the one fish species that the right rod makes the difference. Being able to feel that subtle bite can only happen with quality rod. I prefer a G-Loomis SJR782 spinning rod 6'6" or 7' modulus graphite, medium action with a fast tip. The Shimano Stella is my choice for the reel because I like the 15 ball bearing drag system that Shimano produces. If the fish are between the spawn and resting period, I use four-pound test Berkley Sensation line with 1/16 oz. jig tipped with a fathead minnow. If the rest period is over and the fish are back in their spawning areas feeding, I go up to six pound Berkley Trilene XL Armor Coated line and 1/16 or 1/8 oz. jigs depending on the wind and water depth. I use Northland Fireball jigs 1/16 oz. for depths to 15' and 1/8 oz. for 15' and deeper, or on windy days in shallow water. In either case, my line of choice is Berkley. I know from experience that this line has strength, low visibility, and low memory in cold weather.
New emerging weeds are usually the best area to find these fish but also rock and wood shorelines are outstanding locations. Keep in mind that wood cluttered bottoms are one of the best spring walleye producers, but you might have to carry a large supply of jigs. Use a very, very slow retrieve technique as the water is still cold and the fish metabolism is low and they will not attack or chase a fast moving meal. Work a likely area for and hour or more, and if any fish is caught, keep working the area or any similar area, since walleyes are a schooling fish. If you have the misfortune to hit a cold front (as little as five degrees lower than average from the day before) you will find that the walleye action will be noticeably slower.
If you remember these patterns and follow them in your spring fishing outing, I guarantee your fishing success will improve.