Walleye Baits and Lures

river ice breakup

Spring is here…

Now that the ice is out and walleye season is getting underway, it’s time to break out the gear and review the best strategies for bringing them into the boat. Spring is a varied season that can be broken into three distinct phases.

Scroll down to see our top 5 spring baits…

Pre-Spawn

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. Walleye spawning grounds are typically shallow, rocky areas in water that moves fast enough to keep the eggs well oxygenated and free of silt.

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. Because shallower river waters warm up quicker, these walleyes usually spawn earlier than their lake brethren.

Lake walleyes are either stream or lake spawners. The stream spawners will stage around structures at harbor mouths and river inlets until it’s time to move up the tributaries that feed into the lake. Lake spawners will make for the shallows when it’s time. They, too, prefer gravel beds, but will settle for hard sand bottoms if habitat dictates. Nature likes to spread its bets when it comes to species survival, so you’ll generally find both types sharing the same waters.

During pre-spawn, 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.

Spawn

Walleyes will spawn at depths ranging anywhere from 1 to 20 feet, but between 3 and 10 feet is usually your best bet. You’ll find them close to shore above those gravel or rocky bottoms where there is current sufficient enough to provide the best environment yet not sweep the eggs away. Minnow plugs are often the way to go at this time, but live minnows are a great alternative when the plugs aren’t working.

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.

Spring_Walleye_Map


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Post-Spawn

Once the spawn has concluded, walleye like to take a breather and recuperate. This can last from a few days to a couple of weeks – not a great time to be landing your limit. They aren’t particularly hungry and between rests, they’re beginning to transition to their summer spots. But, those deeper, summer locations won’t have any bait fish yet, so you’re still likely to find walleyes close to shore where foraging is better. Look for them just off from the spawning areas around the first drop-off. Trolling spinner-bouncer combinations or crankbaits can be very effective, but take it slow. Somewhere in the 1.5 mph range is more likely to attract a walleye still trying to shake off its post spawn lethargy.

Then again, sometimes nothing beats live bait, especially in the spring. Night crawlers and minnows are often a good choice. If the fish seem particularly active, by all means go with the hard baits. But, if their bites are tentative, tipping a jig with a minnow or crawler can help pique ol’ marble eye’s interest to go for the easy meal.

Looking to land that 10-pounder? Night fishing during this season offers a great opportunity to catch a real trophy. While cooler spring days keep the males close to shore, it’s near and after dark that the large females move in from their deeper holding spots to feed in the shallows.

And, by the way, if you don’t have a boat or aren’t ready to haul it out yet, bank fishing or wading in the shallows can be very productive this time of year. Walleyes will be close to shore where the water is warmer and bait fish begin to proliferate. Like a great example? Check out my nephew’s dusk catch.

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.

deep down husky jerk
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.

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Nothing makes a fish bigger than almost being caught. ~Author Unknown