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walleye, walleyes, jigging, jig, jigs
Bridging the gap to reservoir walleyes
By Rick Olsen

One of the keys to good walleye fishing, is to spend your time in areas of high concentrations. It only stands to reason that a heavy concentration of fish can greatly increase your chance of finding at least a few that are active. Finding good concentrations of walleyes in big reservoirs, come late fall, can be as simple as looking under the nearest bridge. Understanding how and why bridges attract late season walleyes begins by taking a good look at the forage base, and understanding how it reacts under given conditions. Like always; If you can find the forage, you’ll find the walleyes. 

Author Rick Olsen Hoista a fine Reservoir Bridge Walleye
Author Rick Olsen hoists a fine reservoir walleye taken from under a bridge
As the season progresses, walleyes will key on various food sources. They’ll take advantage of peak situations, where bait is most plentiful, and easiest to be had. By late summer, a lot of what they have been keying on has been grazed down, and it becomes time to make a move. That next move will often lead them up a creek, or creek arm, where they can gorge themselves on the newest entries to the food chain; Young of the year white bass, perch, and minnows. Creek arms serve as nurseries for all kinds of bait fish, that can live and grow in the relative safety of the many shallow bays and coves. They’ll call those areas home for most of the open water season.

However, big changes are in store that will force them to leave the nest, and put them in a rather precarious position. By early fall, reservoirs begin to be lowered to winter pool. Falling water levels will flush all of that bait out of the shallows, and send them on a downstream migration, and into harms way. As the bait makes it’s move, opportunistic walleyes will set up in specific areas where they can cash in on some easy pickins’. Those specific areas include bridges, which can play an important role in late season walleye location. 
Bridges come into play for a couple of reasons, including the fact that they are usually located up creek arms, and are near areas that are necked down. The fall draw down creates current, which is increased by areas that are pinched off, or necked down. The result is a funnel effect, where walleyes can wait and 
ambush bait that is delivered directly to them, on a silver platter. Walleyes instinctively know that current areas can provide some tremendous feeding opportunities, and are drawn to them like a magnet. Any bridge should be checked out, but one surrounded by deeper water has the most potential to be aserious producer. A bridge up a creek arm, with some fifteen to twenty feet of water nearby, would fall into the “serious producer” category. 

How you approach a bridge will depend on how much wind, or current, you have to deal with. Calmer conditions are easy to deal with, and maneuvering can be accomplished with an electric trolling motor. High winds and heavy current can change things, and drastic measures may be in order, like dropping the hook. Aheavy, twenty-eight pound Navy style anchor, can give you the staying power you need to hold under the toughest conditions. The alternative may be to throw in the towel, and what’s the fun in that?

Bait rigs Pro Bottom Bouncers Top presentations for bridge bound walleyes include dragging bottom bouncer and live bait combinations, casting with a jig tipped with a minnow or crawler, or vertical jigging, depending on how deep and how 
clear the water is that you happen to be working
Casting crankbaits is another option, and can be especially effective if you have some darker water up shallow. A bottom bouncer combined with a plain snell and minnow, like a red tail chub, rates high on the list of all time fall favorites, and can be worked in and around most of the structure associated with bridges. A big chub can elicit a ferocious strike, and from a fish that is normally thought of as finicky, or light biting. Bridge pilings are obvious fish holding structures, and should be thoroughly worked. Cast or drag a jig along side, behind, and in front of every piling. If you’re jigging straight up and down, a simple lift and 
drop is about all the action you’ll need to get a response. The not so obvious includes a rip rap shoreline, that usually accompanies a bridge embankment. Look for rip rap to be particularly productive early in the morning, and late in the evening.
Rapala Tail Dancer

Rapala Tail Dancer

Try casting a crankbait, like the Normark Tail Dancer, right up to the waters edge, and slowly work it back. The Tail Dancer has a built in rattle that can suck walleyes in, especially in darker water. A great cranking technique includes a stop and go retrieve, which closely imitates the natural movements of real bait fish
 To accomplish the right action, cast the bait out, give the reel a few cranks to get it to running depth, and then pull the bait with the rod tip, followed by using the reel to take up the slack only. The result is a flutter and stop action, that can really turn walleyes on. On your retrieve, try to concentrate on what’s happening, and set the hook on anything that feels out of the ordinary, including a vibration that has suddenly stopped, or a line that has gone slack. Too often, that’s the only indication you’ll get, and if you miss the bite, you can easily miss the fish. Even with all those hooks, a walleye can inhale a crank bait and spit it out before you even know what hit you. If you haven’t cashed in on the fall bridge phenomenon yet, you might want to give it a serious try this season. The fact is, it doesn’t last forever, and the best action will be over before you know it. 

Rick Olson

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