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by Norb Wallock
Early on in the walleye season, patterns emerge that can produce incredible action, if only they are discovered. Even when it seems like the deck is stacked against you, the pattern is there, if you can find it. Unlocking the secrets to early ‘eyes requires keeping a pulse on the current conditions, understanding their needs, and reacting accordingly.
The most important and predominate force during the earliest part of the open water season is the spawning cycle, and will dictate where walleyes will be found, and just how active they’ll be. A basic understanding of the process can get you started in the right direction, and help you begin putting together a solid early season pattern.
Shortly after ice-out, walleyes start heading for suitable spawning areas, like rock rubble shorelines, bars and reefs, as was well as incoming creeks and rivers. Incoming streams attract the earliest runs of spawning fish, which may occur a couple of weeks ahead, or more, of the lake run variety. Walleyes will react to the increased flow and increase in water temps, and can come in so heavy that you’d swear you could walk across the river on them. The process starts with a few eager beavers showing up first, followed by heavier and heavier runs, and then quickly thinning out, finally coming to end a week or so after the whole thing gets started.
The next group of walleyes to complete the cycle is the shoreline variety, whereby the females drop their eggs on fist size rock and rubble that is exposed to current or wave action. Females will move up, drop their eggs and head back to deeper water, while the males move up, release their milt, and stay in the general vicinity. Maybe they stay put in case more females show up late, or maybe it’s something else. It doesn’t really matter, as long as you know the situation.
Bringing up the rear is the latest of the spawners, which do so on off shore bars and reefs. Reefs that top out in the four to eight foot range get the most use, but walleyes will spawn in deeper water, depending on what’s available. On Lake Erie, for example, walleyes have been to known to spawn on reefs that are eighteen to twenty feet deep!That certainly isn’t the norm, but it does happen.
Understanding how males and females interact will help you put together a pattern that allows you to key on a specific size. For example, if your intent is to catch a lot of fish, and size doesn’t matter, or if you’re looking for walleyes that will fit into a specific slot, a good portion of your efforts should certainly be dedicated to probing shallow spawning areas.
If you’re looking for a larger model, you may want to start with the same shallow spawning areas and head a little deeper. The only drawback is the fact that when females finish dropping their eggs, they seem to lose their appetite, and may not get it back for aweek or so. If you’re dead set on chasing down a big hawg, you may want to concentrate on the night run, as at least a few big walleyes could still be active once the sun goes down.
When targeting early season ‘eyes, it would be a good idea to keep their metabolism in mind, which probably isn’t on high. Dead slow presentations are the rule, and include slow trolling crankbaits, jigging, and live bait rigging.
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