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walleye, walleyes, jigging, jig, jigs
Mainstream Walleyes
By Rick Olsen

There’s a tremendous amount of good water available to today’s walleye angler, not the least of which is the thousands of river miles that cut across our great Nation.  The Missouri, Mississippi, and Fox River are some of the names that come to mind, but there are plenty more, and it’s rivers that can provide you with some of the best action come early fall.

By late summer and early fall walleyes that have been a little hard to find start to show up and they do so with an improved, more aggressive attitude.  This improvement in attitude plays right into the hands of anglers that have stuck with it, and haven’t thrown in the towel. 

One of the factors that can keep anglers away, and from cashing in on an excellent  opportunity, is the overwhelming amount of potential hangouts.  When anglers try to size up a river it can be a bit intimidating, especially with miles and miles of river to look at. 

The thing to do is relax, and not bite off more than you can chew.  Chances are that the section closest to you has some fish in it, and you might as well start close and work your way from there. 

When anglers begin to size up a river some of the first things they look for are current breaks, where fast water meets slack. Current breaks can be found in a number of places including where a feeder creek or stream dumps into the main river, behind wind dams and bridge abutments, or in the corner of a sharp turn in the river.  All have the potential for producing and will have to be checked out to be sure.  These are the “ classic spots” that everybody looks for, and where most of the attention and pressure takes place. 

An area that is not so “classic” and often overlooked is the main channel, or middle of 
the river.  One of the reasons the main channel is overlooked is because it can be a little nondescript, and the areas holding fish are less obvious.   Current breaks are easy to find when you know what to look for, while the main channel makes up the lion’s share and is just there with no obvious areas for concentrating fish.  Even if they’re not apparent, the main channel is probably loaded with current breaks, and can be seen with a good depth finder like the Raymarine L750.  With the L750 you 
can  move up and down a river channel and see subtle changes in depth which create current breaks and holding areas where hungry ‘eyes will lay in waiting for hapless prey to be delivered directly to them.    Besides the changes in depth, you may also mark plenty of fish, but will really get no indication of the species.  . 

 To get an idea if walleyes are making use of an area it will have to be fished, and is where quicker trolling methods come into play.  There’s more than one way to get the job done and includes trolling both upstream and down, with crankbaits and spinners and live bait combinations. 

Trolling with a crankbait is always a good option and allows you to cover water quickly,  and there are several options to get a bait to run where you want it.  One of the easiest ways to get a crankbait to run in the zone is by combining a shallow running bait like a number nine or eleven Floating Rapala, with a three-way swivel and bell sinker setup. With a heavy bell sinker you can keep the whole rig as straight up and down as possible, giving you excellent control. 

Another highly effective crankbait technique includes trolling with leadcore line, and is a method that allows you to get a variety of baits in different shapes, sizes, and actions to run at just about any depth you desire.  Leadcore is a specialized method that requires oversized reels and longer softer rods and is utilized by the most serious trollers.  If you’re not that serious yet, stick with the three-way and bell sinker setup. 

As mentioned earlier, spinners and live bait combos are an excellent option, especially if the walleyes are acting a little bit finicky.   Spinners can be trolled behind three-way rigs or bottom bouncers, depending on how much current you’re dealing with or whether you’re working upstream or down.   The whole key is keeping the bait close to the bottom, and is something you really need to be aware of. 

Working upstream requires more weight and less speed to keep your bait in the zone than if you were working down.  It’s also a slower presentation and severely limits the amount of water you can cover during the course of a day.   On the other hand it’s a great way to strain an area, and may be the only way the fish will take a bait. 

Heading downstream makes for a much quicker presentation allowing for maximum speed, and is a great way to look for fish.  The same methods for working upstream can be effective on a downstream run but require less weight and an acute awareness of you’re speed in relation to the speed of the river. 

To be effective you have to stay ahead of the river which may call for warp speeds, depending on the situation.  If you’re pulling spinners you’ll want to stay a mile to a mile and a half per hour faster than the river current.  It’s really hard to judge but you can get an idea by dropping a rig to the bottom and running ahead just fast enough to keep a forty-five degree or so angle in your line.  With a bouncer or three-way you should be able to pull the rig forward and drop it back and feel it hit the bottom.  If not, you may be running a little too hot.   Another thing to keep in mind is the fact that the current is heavier at the surface than at the bottom and getting your speed right becomes more of a matter of feel and experience. 

An electric trolling motor on the bow is usually all you need to achieve the proper 
downstream speed and can be invaluable for putting together an effective presentation.  Trolling motors like the MinnKota Autopilot allow users to adjust speed and direction quickly and easily, and provide hands free operation which can come in handy when you get busy netting fish. 

Rick Olson

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