By Bob & Ginny Riege
If you’re fishing a big river such as the Mississippi, the rock or gravel bars are the likely points to seek out. The hole in the riverbed below a rock pile or snag are good prespawn starting points. In shallow rivers the same holds true, but the holes or pockets offer less protection, and the walleyes are likely to be easily spooked under these conditions.
River walleyes generally begin their spawning run before lake fish do. In Minnesota, my home state, the river walleyes may get as much as a two week jump on their lake cousins. This is because the flowing water of the streams warms faster than the relatively still lake water.
In situations where a major river runs into a lake, there may be two spawning runs, one for the river walleyes, and one for the lake walleyes. This does happen especially in the Lake Pepin area because it is basically a wider spot in the river system. The river walleyes may move upstream to their gravel bars or sandy backwater spots several days or a week ahead of the lake fish. Again, the reason for this “jump” in timing coincides with warmer water.
The split spawning runs only add to the early anglers enjoyment because they have twice the chance of finding the fish in receptive conditions.
My experience has been that the males are the prime targets during the spawning run. The reason is that the males are more aggressive then. They set up a territory, make a home for some lucky female fish, and set about to protect it. They may do battle with other males and they’re inclined to do rough things to bait fish that swim by. They’ll approach a bait with a quick snatching action. Often times capturing a bait on the first try.
In a river, walleyes are a structure or current break oriented fish, most of the time. These walleyes will be tight to the bottom, lying in the holes between rock and cuts in the bottom. They may be feeding, or waiting in ambush to find or an easy meal that comes their way. When fishing structure, you have to be able to stay tight to the structure or your lure presentation will not be in the strike zone of the fish. Move just a boat length away and you will be out of the area of current change and luck.
The principles of analyzing water and approaching fish can become confusing and difficult with all the information available to anglers. Try to keep a simple approach in mind. It is important to understand that subtle changes in water temperature, oxygen, bottom structure, shadow lines, and similar factors make a significant difference in locating fish. Fish tend to locate along transitional zones. The bottom may change from sand to rock or from mud to weeds; a drop-off may occur or slope into deep water; or water in one sector may be a slightly different color. One important overlooked transition zones is the areas that have weeds. The weeds or vegetation may be key to successful angling.
Fish are wary. This helps them survive and can also make them difficult to catch. With either natural bait or artificial lures, the presentation must be realistic. It should appear that the offering is part of the normal food chain. Hunger is certainly a major motivating factor, but fish also respond as predators and strike something that moves. At times, they even exhibit antagonistic behavior when biting an intruder to drive it away.
If you are fishing in relatively snag-free bottoms a Lindy rig is effective. On mud, weeds, submerged timber and rocks or boulders, bobber rigs do just as well. During the midday, a slower presentation gets most of the action
Tip a Fuzz-E-Grub jig with a small minnow such as you would commonly use for crappie fishing. The added flavor on the jig is just one more pitch in your favor. However, when the fish are in a frenzy, even a plain Fuzz-E-Grub or a painted jig with Berkley Power Grub tail will do the trick.
Another lure that you can use is a small crankbait, use the ultralight sizes with medium diving capability. The baby crankbaits that Rapala makes in fluorescent colors work especially well along wingdam facings. Early, late and at night faster-moving lures such as a #5 or #7 Shad Rap really perk things up. The baits work well over the riprap where a jig hangs up easily.
The people who stay home waiting for warmer weather or the right conditions to be out walleye fishing are missing out on river spring patterns for walleyes. I know that I am definitely hooked on these patterns, give it a try and you will be to.