river ice breakup

Spring is almost here…

And love is in the air… or the water, depending on your perspective. Once the ice is out and the water temperature has reached the 38-44°F range, the pre spawn begins as walleyes migrate to their spawning grounds. They will stage themselves on or near these grounds until the spawn, which peaks at about 42-50°F. The shallower the lake or river, the faster it warms up.

Walleye spawning grounds are typically shallow, rocky areas in water that moves fast enough to keep the eggs well oxygenated. River walleyes will spawn near dams and other man made or natural obstructions that impede their travel any farther upstream. They also like areas where tributaries feed into the main river. Lake walleyes will stage around structures at harbor mouths and river inlets until it’s time to move up the rivers that feed into the lake.

The map shows when you can expect the spawn to begin, give or take a week or two, depending on the weather. It’s also important to remember that in most northern states and Canada the walleye fishing season is closed during this period to stop poaching when spawning walleye are most vulnerable. This practice is still debatable in some circles, but the prevailing thought is that limiting the season helps maintain fish population levels. In many southern and western states, however, the season is year round. So, check your local fishing regulations to see when you can hone in on early season walleyes.


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Big bait is best

Walleyes generally spawn in shallow waters, but during pre spawn they will stage themselves in deeper areas near their spawning ground. The males will move into shallow water earlier while the females will continue to hold in deeper spots until spawn. The water will be cold, so they’re not going to be particularly aggressive feeders. But, if you fish them slow, with big bait, you stand a good chance at taking two or three. Most of the usual bait fish have yet to hatch, so walleyes are looking to older, larger fish that survived the winter. Try large minnows on a Lindy rig and troll as slow as possible to give those lethargic ‘eyes a chance to think and react. When they do hit the bait, let them have some line and time before setting the hook.

You can also vertical jig with a big minnow. Keep your line and jig as straight to the bottom as possible as you slowly troll. Be sure your jig is heavy enough (1/4oz – 3/8oz) that you can feel the bottom and, contrary to the Lindy rig method, set your hook as soon as you feel a hit. A walleye can inhale bait, sense that extra weight, and blow it back out pretty quick.

Trolling with crankbaits is a third alternative that can yield good results, especially if you’re looking to take a female. Unlike the males, which stage packed in shallower water, these heavier “hens” tend to hold near the bottom in a more scattered pattern. Shad Raps, Tail Dancers and other “sinking” crankbaits work well and come in a variety of styles and colors for all water conditions and depths.

What colors are best? As a general rule the more turbid the water, the more color you’ll want to use. White, gold or silver work well in clear water. Red, orange, green, etc. are good for more stained water and the fluorescents will make their presence know in the dirtiest environs. You’ll also want to factor spring into the equation, when the brighter, more annoying colors spark the walleye’s defensive strikes over spawning grounds. Finally, none of these are hard and fast rules because walleye tastes can be fickle, so having a wide variety of colors in the tackle box will cover all the bases.

Spring may be the most challenging time of year to catch walleyes, but it’s also the most rewarding. There’s nothing more satisfying than beating the odds and if you do your homework and experiment a bit, you’ll get your bragging rights.

5 best spring baits

Sure, considering what’s already been mentioned, there’s plenty more than five, but here’s a selection that’s proven to entice spring ‘eyes.

Rapala Down Deep Husky Jerk

Great for spring trolling the deeper water where the large females tend to hang, especially in the afternoons.

rapala original floating minnow

Rapala Original Floating Minnow

Small to medium size; silver, or gold are good, but colors and firetiger may be a better bet in spring, works at all depths, action mimics a wounded minnow, very popular.

storm original thunderstick

Storm Original Thunderstick

3 or 4 inch size; red, blue or firetiger colors work well in spring.

xps jig

Bass Pro Shop XPS Jig

3 or 4 inch size; red, blue or firetiger colors work well in spring.

terminator t1 spinner bait

Terminator T1 Spinner Bait

Great one for later in the spring when the feeding pace quickens; long-lasting, changeable skirts, stable at slow speeds.