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walleye, walleyes, jigging, jig, jigsThe Lowdown on tailrace Walleyes
By Ron Anlauf

 Limbo can be best described as that period of time between the end of ice fishing and the official start of the open water season.   That relatively short period can drag on for what seems like an eternity,  especially if you consider yourself among the hardcore. 

This particular lay off can bring you down, way down, and make you feel like your not living up to your potential.  OK, it’s probably not that dramatic, but you do get the picture;   And the picture needs a little work.   To help make things right, and get you back in touch with your reason for living, a road trip might be in order. 

A couple of the Country’s top early season picks lie on the western edge of the Upper Midwest in the heart of the reservoir state:  South Dakota.   The hot spots in mind are the tailrace areas directly below dams along the Missouri River System in Pierre, and Fort Thompson,  South Dakota.   Both have the potential to produce some fantastic early season action;  All of which is dependent on the existing conditions. 

Existing conditions include ice cover and water levels, both of which can dictate how and where you should fish for walleyes. 

Ice cover plays a major role in the “where”, and may keep you confined to a smaller area.   The current below a dam can keep a river open for a few hundred yards, to as much as ten miles or more , depending on the severity of the prevailing temps.   The fact is, the more open water that exists, the more options you’ll have.  Options are good, as they can allow for the  flexibility necessary to adjust with changing water levels. 

Water levels can also effect the “ where”, and is determined by the total volume being released, at any given time.    Heavy flows and high water levels equate to good  “close in” fishing conditions, as active walleyes can be expected to  found within a few miles of the dam.  Low water levels, on the other hand, can make things extremely tough,  depending on how much of the downstream  river is accessible. 

In a low water situation, downstream runs of ten miles or more may be necessary to locate numbers of active fish.  The alternative is staying close, and working on walleyes that really aren’t in the mood. 

According to Pro Angler and tailrace aficionado Rick Olson of Mina, South Dakota:  “ For whatever reason, downstream walleyes are effected less by lower water levels. Even when the upstream variety completely shut down, you can usually manage to catch at least few if you can get far enough downstream. 

If you’re forced to stay within close proximity of the dam, try to time your trip so that you’re actually angling during the week, as there is more water pulled then (passed through a dam), than there is on the weekend.   If the weekend is your only opportunity,  you better make sure a long range run is an available option.” 

The author Ron anlauf with a first run tailrace walleye The job of putting a few fish in the boat can be a rather simple one, and it all boils down to a couple of basic methods, including pitching and dragging jigs, tipped with minnows. 

 High water levels call for pitching to current breaks that occur along shoreline points, rip rap banks, behind boulder piles and sand bars, and anything that impedes the flow. 
Another potential hot spot is the stilling basin, if it isn’t frozen over. 

Low water levels will spread fish out, as they tend to relate more to the channel edges.  They can also be found out in the middle of the channel, and is an area that will need 
checking.   Working the main channel and it’s edges calls for more of a vertical jigging technique. 

The pitch is replaced by a slow drag across the bottom, while keeping the bait relatively close to the boat.  The idea is to match the speed of the boat to that of the current, allowing you to stay in contact with the bottom while using a light jig.  A drag with an occasional lift and drop, is about all the action you’ll need to trigger active walleyes.  Jig size can range from a sixteenth ounce for pitching, or an eighth ounce or more for dragging.  The idea is to go as light as you can and still get the job done,   A good depth finder will reveal the edges of the channel and where they drop into deeper water.  Quick breaks are more readily revealed on a flasher type depth finder, like the Marcum Technologies LX-3 as it's display is in real time, or in other words it will show what is below you right now without any delay.   The LX-3 also has a unique zoom feature that can blow up a specific area and will help to reveal fish holding tight to the bottom.  By combining the flasher with the zoom you can see a maginified version of what is directly below the boat at that exact moment. 

All in all, early tailrace action can be some of the hottest of the entire season, and is anendeavor worth pursuing.   All it takes is a little desire, and the ability to react to all of the given conditions.   See you at the tailrace.

Ron Anlauf

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