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Trolling and Drifting for Spring 'Eyes
By John Campbell

 While looking for walleyes in the spring especially on a river you may want to use a two step approach.  First of all, trolling will tell you where the walleyes are located and once you have found them in a specific spot you might want to try and finesse them by drifting or slipping the current. 
 In order to enable you to find the fish you have to rely on your depthfinder to tell you where the fish are concentrating.  Remember the water is cold and walleyes are not likely to be found roaming large flats at this time of year.  You will have to check the edges of structure, current breaks, and depressions in the floor of the river to locate these fish.  That is why I use two depthfinders to locate the fish.  My first unit I have mounted on the dash of my Ranger boat is the Bottom Line Tournament NCC 6300.  This is an awesome unit, the NCC stands for Navigational Command Center.  It has a split screen that not only allows me to see the bottom, but will also show me where I am at according to GPS and on the screen digital map.  The Tournament NCC 6300 has 320 vertical pixels and 480 horizontal pixels for the sharpest, clearest images of any unit on the market.  This unit I use to locate fish and structure that I might like to troll.  My second unit is on the bow of my boat.  It is a Tournament 5100 from Bottom Line.  As with the NCC 6300 it has the same vertical and horizontal pixels with 6,144 pixels per square inch.  The 5100 is easy to operate with only six buttons and has the largest display screen that has immediate updates.
Time of day can play an important part in solving the location puzzle. Some spots turn on at different times of the day. You can fish over a huge school of inactive walleyes and never get a hit, then come back two hours later and find that they're going nuts. Always double check a good-looking area. If you keep checking these locations eventually you will find active walleyes on one of them.
A good method of find the active walleyes on a location is to troll. Many times, when I am on a strange body of water I will set up a trolling pattern. By selecting a artificial bait that resembles the local forage and deciding the active depth, can provide a wealth of knowledge, not to mention lost time.
Forward trolling was something that you did if you couldn’t find the contour or your motor was too large to troll down in reverse.  Today, many anglers have additional kicker motors and the larger motors now runs smoother at low rpm’s so forward trolling is a good option for spring fishing.
By using my Bottom Line NCC 6300 I can determine the exact depth walleyes are holding on a contour.  I then select a crankbait the will run at that depth and let out about 100 to 150 feet of line.  I want to present this lure to the walleyes slightly above them and ahead of them.  Therefore, I will let out enough line so I can touch bottom and then reel it in a couple of cranks to keep it off the bottom. 
 Keeping an eye on the Bottom Line unit I try and have the line move along the contour where the fish are located.  I will move out into deeper water until my crankbait no longer ticks the bottom and then move shallower until it starts to touch bottom again.  This ticking of the bottom sometimes gets walleyes interested in the bait and that is enough to trigger a strike. 
 If the walleyes are deeper than the crankbait I have selected will run, I then add additional weight to the line.  The quickest way to add weight is to attach a rubber core sinker to the line about 18 to 20” up the line.  Another way is to add a bottom bouncer that keeps the lure off the bottom yet also keeps the line and lure close to the bottom without getting hung up.  Or you can add an inline weight system like lead core line spliced into the monofilament.  This will enable you to get the lure down to where the fish are, instead of trolling at a much shallower depth.
 Forward trolling is trickier than backtrolling, because the boat’s position and the lure’s position don’t coincide; even their paths behind the boat are different. 
 Besides being able to cover a lot of water quickly, forward trolling also lets you run a number of lines to cover a wider area and different depths.  Adding inline planer boards can spread lines even farther apart.

Rapala Tail Dancer
Rapala Taildancer
I like to cover a lot of territory to find the aggressive biting fish.  The crankbait I prefer is the Rapala Shad Rap or Tail Dancer.  I like it because it has the bulk and wobble of a fat minnow.  Walleyes will want this crankbait because it gives off a vibration that calls fish from a long way.
The natural colors represent the food forage the walleyes are feeding on and the forward trolling allows the speed for aggressive walleyes to catch the offerings.
While trolling I want to use a Shimano V casting rod, medium heavy with a fast tip.  This rod will allow me the backbone to fight a fish that is caught while trolling and also give me a quick reminder to set the hook if the walleye is nipping at my crankbait.  Team this up with a Shimano Calais reel and you are ready to hit the water and rip some lips.
Drifting a specific contour on a river is truly a way to produce some very nice walleyes.  The tackle is simple and the methods are easy to learn.  First of all, I like to use jigs tipped with a crawler, leech or a minnow.  The size of the jig should be just enough so that you can have contact with the bottom.  For example on a river like the Mississippi, I prefer to use an 1/8 ounce or 1/4 ounce Fuzz-E-Grub or Timb'r Rock jig. 
Lindy Little Joe Timber Rock Jig
Lindy Timb'r Rock Jig
The important factor here is the shape of the head.  The head of the jig should be round or have the ability to be a stand-up type of jig.  This design helps when you are in an area that has a lot of snags, especially in timber or on rocks.
One reason that I like to use jigs while fishing for spring walleyes in a river system is the control an angler has. It is true that you have to contend with current and wind, but using a electric bowmount  motor, like my Minnkota Max 101  I can concentrate on the fishing, because I am in control.  Vertically jigging for walleyes gets my blood pumping because I can be on a one to one bases with the fish.   
My boat is relatively still even in moderate current with my electric motor on about 1/2 speed faced into the current I can pitch jigs or crankbaits to any piece of structure.  With the proper head design and weight, jigs are the most versatile of all river techniques, from the shallowest flooded cover to the deepest, fastest current.
My rod for jigging will be a Shimano V class medium weight with a fast tip as well.  I want to feel the walleye pick up the jig and the fast tip gives me time to absorb that little extra slack in the line while hooksetting.  The reel of choice will be the Shimano Stradic spinning reel. 
 The majority of river fishing with jigs involves either slipping the current or drift fishing the current breaks.  The presentation is a simple lift-drop-pause method of jigging, raising the jig some 3 to 6 “ as you slip downstream. If you are as vertical as possible a the jig will stand up allowing the hook to be exposed away from the floor of the river.  When you tip the jig with a flathead minnow the minnow stands up and looks like it is trying to pick up the jig.  As the minnow struggles against the weight of the jig it sends off wounded signals and the natural scent attracts the walleyes and allows them to hang on just that much longer.
 Colors of the jigs should be bright in dingy water.  Colors such as fluorescent orange, chartreuse and my all time favorite gold, are great for fishing those spring walleyes.  Anytime that you can bring attention to your bait it will help you up your odds for catching those spring walleyes.
 Trolling or drifting for spring time walleyes will find you exploring the river in many ways.  You will be able to move from spot to spot and if you follow these tips you will find yourself a successful fisherman.  Trolling to find the walleyes and then jigging them will produce a limit of fish.  For more insights into fishing rivers and lakes drop me a line at www.walleye.info and hopefully we can connect.  Who knows maybe we will see each other on the water real soon!

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