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Secrets to Early Season Walleyes
by Norb Wallock

One of the season’s first opportunities for getting in on a little open water walleye action, takes place on many of our Nation’s rivers.   Early season river angling can beabsolutely phenomenal at times, and unbelievably tough at others.  It equates to a feast or famine situation, but it doesn’t always have to be that way. 

Catching walleyes when things are good can be a relatively easy task.  On the other hand, when things are tough it can seem down right impossible.  The thing is,  even when it’s tough,  there will still be some catching done by somebody.  Those that continue to catch have made the necessary adjustments to keep them in the right place at the right time, doing the right things. 

 Timing is the key to phenomenal action, and is dependant on a couple of factors, including water levels and the actual spawn. 

Activity levels surrounding the spawn can vary greatly, depending on just exactly wha stage they happen to be in.  Pre-spawn walleyes for example, are often found to be extremely active and aggressive,  and is a condition anglers would do well to key on. 

Catching spawning walleyes, on the other hand,  can be darn near impossible.   And while post spawn fish might be a bit tough, it’s certainly not an impossible task.Water levels dictate where walleyes can be expected to be found, and may also effect how active they’ll be.  Low water tends to spreads them out, while higher water levels may help bunch them up.   Although high water can be a good thing, it isn’t always, especially if you get so much run off that it turns a river to mud. 

When it’s good, just about everybody does at least some catching, and basic 
presentations rule the day.  The most basic techniques include pitching and dragging jigs, tipped with minnows, along current breaks and across deeper flats.  Dragging a jig with a slow downstream trolling approach allows you  to cover some ground,  which will increase your odds of contacting scattered fish.   Pitching or casting jigs into shallow water is often overlooked, and may be the key to finding and catching the real hawgs.    A good rule of thumb is to pitch shallow at dusk and dawn, and drag deep during the day. 

Tougher conditions ( like post spawn walleyes in a high muddy water environment ), call for techniques outside of the standard fare,  and includes  trolling against the grain with a minnow imitating crankbait, through deeper holes and current breaks. The upstream program consists of a dead slow trolling run, against the current, with a long slender crankbait.  The technique can best be accomplished by employing a  three way swivel with a dropper line tied to a heavy bell sinker, and a leader attached to a crankbait that can produce the right  action at the slowest of speeds. 

The right speed may be so slow that you seem almost stalled out, but don’t let that bother you.   Even at a stall,  the current is probably enough to give your bait all the action it needs. 

Mercury Marine 4-stroke 9.9 .  Keeps me on the fish quietly and efficiently
Mercury 9.9 h.p
To help achieve the right speed, a kicker motor can prove to be invaluable.  A smaller four-stroke kicker like the  9.9 hp Mercury Big Foot, can help you achieve precise trolling speeds, as it has an incredible range.  The Big Foot can also troll down to nothing, and do it all day without ever skipping a beat. Heavy bell sinkers mean sizes in the three to six ounce range ( which can be a real oad ), but may be exactly what it takes to stay with the bottom.  Staying with the bottom is one of the keys, and if you can’t pick up the rig,  drop it, and feel it hit the bottom, you’re probably not in the “zone”. 
Norb Wallock with an early season walleye That lift and drop makes up a good portion of the presentation, and  is one of the top methods for working a bait at a near stall, against the current.  As you work up stream, you may be doing nothing more than lifting and dropping the sinker, and actually walking it across the bottom.  The most effective bait for this presentation hands down, is a number nine, or number eleven, Floating Rapala.   The Floating Rapala can produce a tight little wiggle at the 
slowest of speeds, and has proven itself over and over again. 
That slow motion wiggle is made possible by a lightweight  balsawood  body, that simply can’t be duplicated with any other material. Although there are other more important factors, color can definitely  have an effect. Good dark or muddy water colors include chartreuse, fluorescent orange, and fire tiger. In clear water situations,  the slivers, blues, and gold patterns may be more effective. It wouldn’t hurt to have a few colors in both the number nine and eleven sizes, with a backup bait or two, because sooner or later you will hang up, and you will lose a bait. It’s part of the program, but the results could be well worth the expense. 

Norb Wallock

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