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Ice-out Walleyes in Big Reservoirs
by Rick Olson
After that last layer of ice melts into submission, good things start to happen. One of the best things to come of the spring thaw is the beginning of the open water season, as it brings the first chance for taking a stab at boating ol’ marble eyes. There’s plenty of options for early season walleye action, including lakes and rivers, and one of the best, which is a little of both. To be a little of both, there is only one possibility, and that’s a river that’s a lake, a.k.a. reservoir.
Reservoirs are tops on the list for a couple of big reasons, including the fact that reservoirs can support many times more biomass (more fish) than a river, and walleyes bunch up in the same necked down areas during the spawning season. The result is high concentrations of fish in small accessible areas, which all translates into peak conditions for anglers with an early season itch.
The first consideration to getting in on the action is determining where to get started, and is a task that requires some attention. While reservoirs can be massive in size, and more than a little intimidating, they’re really not all that tough. You can eliminate most of a system by forgetting about the main lake, and concentrating on the feeder creeks, streams, and rivers. Those are the areas that will draw pre-spawn walleyes in like a magnet, and are relatively easy to find.
Rivers that enter the upper end of the reservoir have a better than even chance of attracting ice-out walleyes, and would be a good place to start your search. On Lake Oahe in South Dakota, for example, two of the major spawning rivers are Moreau and the Grand, and are the place to be for ice-out ‘eyes. On the other hand, any major artery entering a system can draw in pre-spawners, and should not be overlooked.
Once you’ve decided on a starting point, it’s time to do a little more looking, before you finally drop a line. Spending some time on the front end can pay big dividends onthe back end, and is like making an investment. The urge is to start fishing now, but your usually better off staying on the move until you find the right set of conditions.
One of your first moves should be to run up an incoming river as far
as you can until you run out of deeper water. On the Moreau and Grand,
deeper water can be defined as twenty feet or more, and coincides with
the beginning of stands of timber. Another condition to look for
is the makeup of the shoreline, with rock rubble being the preference.
The combination of some nearby depth, along with a rock rubble shoreline,
makes for an absolute natural, and is an area worth spending extra time
on. Once you’ve found what you’re looking for, it’s finally time
to drop them a line, or two.
The Rapala is a made from balsawood, unlike other baits, which allows it to produce an enticing, rolling action, at the slowest of speeds. Although plastic crankbaits can certainly produce on any given day, they do take more speed to achieve the right action. When making your run, don’t be afraid to get up into shallow water, especially if you have any wind at all, that might be stirring up a shoreline, and reducing visibility. Dark water can bring walleyes up into a couple feet of water or less, and you might miss the whole thing by staying out deep.
Another option is pitching jigs tipped with minnows, to those same rocky shorelines.Again, if you have some wind blowing into a bank, try casting to shore and slowly work the bait across the bottom, and back to the boat. Jig size depends on how shallow you go, and how much wind you have to deal with. Shallow water and no wind calls for1/16 oz. jigs, and 1/8 oz. or more, depending on how severe the conditions happen to be. The key is being able to stay in contact with the bottom, and having the ability to feel just exactly what’s going on down there. Pitching jigs require all of your attention, if done right, and leaves little time for anything else. However, you can still double your chances by running a dead stick rod with a creek chub on a live bait rig behind a bottom bouncer. The rig is simply a plain leader and hook, threaded lightly under the dorsal fin of a big lively chub. Get the bouncer to the bottom, and keep it as straight up and down as possible (which help reducehang-ups), and then forget about, or at least until you see it start to double over. This two timing method will let you work deep and shallow, all at the same time.
One of the best things about ice-out walleye angling, is the fact that the best days to be out are usually the nicest. A warm, sunny, afternoon, with a good southwest breeze blowing, can make for ideal conditions, and is a great time to be on the water.
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