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OCCUPATION Full time guide and outdoor writer
LARGEST WALLEYE 32.25 inches released
FAVORITE JIG TYPE Round Head
LARGEST LIMIT OF WALLEYE 45 lbs for six fish
Lake of the Woods Walleye
Spring Locations and Presentations
By Phil Rolfe
Spring walleye fishing can sometimes confound anglers, especially those that are trying a new area for the first time. It doesn't have to be all that difficult. In fact, this period can yield some of the best numbers and size, if you follow these keys to success.
In the area of the Woods where we fish, central and north sectors, there is very little river spawning, so what we are dealing with is main lake spawning. Knowing the fish's options can put you on the road to a successful fishing adventure.
Outside influences such as weather, forage, water levels and angling pressure all play a part during most seasons, but the for the most part walleyes are pretty predictable throughout most of the year.
Fishing opener for walleye is designed to protect spawning fish. Seasons theoretically open during the post spawn period, there by protecting the brood stock and insuring a good success rate. In some years, Mother Nature can throw a monkey wrench into the situation, producing a different set conditions.
A key point to remember is that walleyes will have a shallow tendency,
however, not all fish are doing the same thing at the same time. Even though
there will be a great number of fish shallow, there will also be some at
medium depths (to 30'), and some using deep water. Nonetheless, the majority
will be either shallow or medium during the post spawn.
I for the most part, don't concern myself with the deep fish. But if unusual conditions exist such as an extremely late spring, then this may be the best option, at least until the waters warm. In most years, this will not be the case.
Paying close attention to the surface temperatures as well as probing down to twenty or thirty feet can provide a great set of clues. If you are finding surface temperatures near fifty degrees with warming trends, shallow to medium depths will be your best bet. The fish will be active and feeding.
For this presentation, I like to cover water fast and thoroughly. Nothing beats a Husky Jerk for this in my opinion. Especially if there is a strong warming trend. I prefer large baits at this time of year. I know, I know, you've all heard that small baits work best in the spring. My feeling on the matter is that walleyes are keying on at least year old forage such as perch and shiners, bigger is better for me.
My favorite size is the HJ10 in Firetiger, Perch, Silver, or Gold. Along rocky shorelines, I like to use the Orange Crawdad, imitating the crayfish, which the Woods has an abundance of. This bait can be casted long distances with a baitcasting set up which I prefer over a spinning rod for this presentation.
Long casts are an advantage in that stealth is a real plus. If you can see the fish, they can see you. Approach your target cautiously, otherwise the ballgame could be over.
I use a ST. CROIX FISHING RODS. TC70LM; a long fast action rod with plenty of backbone coupled with the Shimano Calcutta 200 series, and spooled with 10 LB Fire Line. Slow, erratic retrieves are the ticket for this. Remember that the fish's metabolism is low and they will not make long charges to grab a bait.
Once contact is made, I know that I have found fish, and that there will be others in the area as well. Changing colors will likely produce a few more fish. After the action subsides, it's time to slow down and bring out the light jigs (1/16th to 1/8th ounces). My second favorite shallow presentation, but much slower, yet more thorough, in covering water. I use this exclusively after I have located fish.
Once again, long casts are needed. To accomplish this, I prefer a ST. CROIX Legend LS70ML coupled with Shimano Spirex 1000 RA. I like the reel's quickfire mechanism here for sure speed and ease of operation as well as the fighting rear drag. Six-pound Fire Line works great here, aiding making long casts and providing a very good sense of feel. The long rod takes has a nice give to it, thereby preventing ripped lips that is a problem with the no stretch lines.
I'll tip the jigs with a whole crawler and slowly work it back to the boat with frequent pauses. If the fish are aggressive, I'll try using a twister tail (2") tipped with a little piece of crawler or just plain. This allows me to work a little faster.
The key to spring walleye success is to cover water and not dilly-dally to long at any one spot. You have to cover a variety of spots and habitats, and keep moving. But, sometimes you can run into a mess of fish and score big.
Such was the case last year, when I happened to check out a sand-bottomed bay, which faced to the south and was considerably warmer than the surrounding water. I hit them real quick on the Husky Jerk, after some hot action the bite waned. Switching to the jig, I was able to land a release a bunch more. Never had to leave that spot for the rest of the day. And better yet, it stayed hot for the rest of the week.
The bottom of that bay was barren, not a sign of any developing vegetation, I was wondering what was drawing these fish to this particular spot. During the early afternoon while eating a sandwich and just drifting, I saw a big school of minnows (shiners) swimming by. Forage brings hungry walleyes.
The shallow presentations work best on warming days and in the afternoons. The reason for this is that many times during the early season, we have near freezing conditions during the night, the surface temperatures drop down four or five degrees. As the day goes on the sun will warm things up. Shallow rocks and soft bottoms tend to take on the heat the best, drawing the forage.
So what are going to do in the morning till things warm up? We are going to fish deeper, usually off the first breakline. My favorite areas for this are main shorelines and island shorelines with rock and boulder structure.
A bottom bouncer and spinner rig work great for this. Covering water is the key here. Another plus is that you will be able to mark fish on your depth finder, in fact, if you don't mark fish, move on and keep looking till you do.
I find that small spinners such as #3 Colorados in hammered nickel, hammered gold, pink, chartreuse, and orange work great. If the fish are particularly lethargic, then I will use just a plain snell. No beads, no spinners, just a big juicy crawler.
I find that snell lengths can be on the short side in our area of the Woods due to the stained water conditions. About 30" seems ideal. The longer the snell, the greater number of snags. Hook placement is also very important. I use three #4 hooks on my snells, placed two and one half inches apart. Any hungry walleye that bites into my crawler is going to get a hook in the mouth. Number 2 hooks present a viable option as well; a bigger gap can work better on the bigger fish.
I work this rig slow, using a 1 1/2 ounce Lite Bite bottom bouncer. When a fish is felt, I drop the rod back giving the fish time to get up the crawler, and then sweep the rod forward. High hook rates are the advantage of this setup.
In my job as walleye pro at Witch Bay Camp , our primary objective is put our guests on fish. I don't have the luxury of taking a hit or miss approach, I need to score or face sullen guests at the dinner table. Personally, I like happy fisherman.
Unlike many professional guides or tournament anglers, they keep their hot spots to themselves and I don't blame them. My job is different. At Witch Bay Camp, my responsibility to put our guests on fish, giving them the best spots I have.
These methods have worked for me and could work for you. Good luck and good fishing.
The amount of ways you can work a jig are endless. You can work em slow, you can work em fast. You can use em with live bait or without. You can cast em or work em vertical. Be creative, try something new. You just never know with walleyes. Versatility is the key to success.
The guy that tells you that he's got eyes figured, better go refigure. Cause he's probably so set in his ways that he won't try anything new. Oh sure, he'll probably catch a bunch once in awhile. But he often gets skunked on tough days or strange waters.
To maximize the effectiveness of the jig, you must be versatile. There are many, many ways to fish jigs. So don't get in a one way rut. Add new methods to your jigging arsenal and add more fish to your live well.
For starters, the basic retrieve for jigging is lift then fall. The
lift is the attraction, the fall is the trigger. Always keep this point
in mind when jig fishing. Whether your presentation is
The weight of the jig is the main ingredient in control. Weight is the determining factor in the lift-fall equation. The main thing here is keep contact with the bottom. If the fish are sluggish, you want to have a slow lift-fall, consequently a lighter jig might be in order. If they are aggressive, a quick presentation will do the trick. Heavier jigs work best for active fish.
Active fish----everyone loves active fish.
Let's examine two of my favorite jigging methods for finding active fish. Casting action tails and snap jigging. Try tipping your jigs with action plastics. Plastics come in two basic styles; tipping plastics like fuzzy grubs and action plastics such as shads, vibra tails, beaver tails, and double curly tails (especially good for slower presentations). We use tipping plastics for live bait presentations. Action tails are good for moving quick, and can be used without live bait. A little scent squirted on the plastic works great in cold water.
Action tails are great for locating active fish. Here's how. Use 8-10
pound test line on a medium stiff spinning rod ( I like the ST.
CROIX Legend Series LS-66M2 for this) and rig a 3/8 oz. barbed
jig with an action tail. Three inches is ideal, shorter is good in colder
waters, below 50 degrees. Cast to points, sunken islands, rock reefs, and
weed edges. When the jig hits bottom, sweep the rod forward two feet (the
attraction), and then let the jig settle back to the bottom (the trigger).
Then sweep forward again and let it settle. All the way back to the boat.
Besure to watch your line where it enters the water for twitches,
you might not feel the strike. This is a relatively fast approach, we're
looking for active fish. Sassy shads, beaver tails, and double twister
tails work very well for this approach.
Also make color changes as well. Mix colors, giv'em more choices. Don't hesitate to experiment. You never know with walleyes. Be versatile, silver shad on a blue jig. This sort of thing. Pink and white is good in the spring. Brown body on orange jig as the water warms. Try all sorts of color combos.
Another one of my favorite methods for active fish is snap jigging. The same line weight and rod will work. As before, we are going to use a 3/8 oz. or even 1/2 oz. barbed jig with an action tail. We could also tip the jig with a minnow. Fatheads work good here and so do leeches. Crawlers tend to rip off, so I don't use them for this method.
This is a shallow water approach, less than twenty feet. Start backtrolling
with your electric or main motor and follow a depth contour, say 7 feet.
Cast the jig 25 or so feet
This is dynamite around points, the edges of bars, and along the weed lines. Snap jigging works great drifting flats as well. It's a simple approach that allows you to cover water in a hurry.
The keys to both methods are a fairly stiff rod, heavier line, bigger jigs, and action tails.
Give it a try, it will put fish in your boat.
Witch Bay Camp http://www.fishinfo.com/witchbay/
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