Pre-Spawn & Spawning Walleyes
debate has occurred over the years about fishing and walleye activity
during the pre-spawn and spawning period.
Unfortunately much of the information that has been passed along
has been based upon mis-information or just plain ignorance. Understanding
walleyes and the proper techniques to use during this period will help you
greatly improve your fishing success.
well intended anglers nationwide have questioned the ethics of catching
walleyes during the pre-spawn. Remember this: It doesn't matter whether a
female walleye is caught during this time period or in the summer, the net
effect is much the same. Simply put, provided that anglers don't over
harvest the key spawners, (the three to six pound females) during any time
period throughout the year, fishing pre-spawn walleyes won't have a
negative impact on your favorite fishery.
practice good conservation skills not only during this time period, but
through out the whole fishing year. Now let's get into understanding this
calendar period. Walleyes
spawn in rocky areas, instinctively seeking places that receive large
amounts of wave action which does two things: oxygenates the eggs and
keeps silt from covering them. These areas should be sought out in the
early spring on lakes, reservoirs and rivers. The spawn begins when water
temperatures reach 40 degrees and lasts until the water warms beyond 45
degrees. In the period leading up to the spawn, look around. You can use
rip-rap, skull-sized rocks or other known spawning areas as your points of
reference when searching for pre-spawners.
quickest and easiest way to find spawning areas is to simply ask. Since
walleyes spawn in the same locations year after year, someone will know
where the spawn occurs. If you can't learn this information at local bait
shops, contact the local conservation officer to put you on the right
the spawning area has been located the fish staging for the spawn is easy
to find with the help of a few simple rules. Begin at the spawning area as
walleyes spawn in the same area year after year. Proceed from the spawning
area and locate the closest 30-foot level of water on the flattest bottom
possible. Whether this depth is found in the backs of bays or the bottom
of the lake, 30 feet is the key. If the lake doesn't have 30 feet of
water, move to the closest, deepest part of the lake and begin looking
fish can be easily found and are unmistakable. On your electronics,
they'll mark as big hooks a foot or two off the bottom. It may not be on a
red-hot bite, so fish them with confidence and big baits. Eventually a few
will bite and two or three fish on any pre-spawn day is considered a great
you have located the fish, move your boat to the up-wind side and drift
through them as slowly as possible. The best method for taking pre-spawn
fish is either Lindy rigging a large minnow four to six inches long or
vertical jigging with a 1/4 ounce to 3/8 ounce jig using a large rubber
body and a big minnow. My preference is both presentations at the same
time. Let the Lindy rig trail 75 to 100 feet behind the boat and set the
rod in a rod holder. Always keep an eye on the Lindy rig rod. When a hit
is made, open the bail and give the fish a good deal of line and time
before setting the hook. Remember these fish are somewhat lethargic and
you're using a large minnow, give them some time.
the Lindy rig rod is in its holder, vertically jig with the other rod.
Jigging is easy - simply bounce the jig off the bottom, keeping it as
close to vertical as possible. Unlike the Lindy rig, set the hook as soon
as you feel a hit. For that matter, set the hook as soon as you think you
feel a hit.
key to catching walleyes during the pre-spawn is to use big baits. The
young of the year haven't hatched yet, so the main food for walleyes are
the adult bait fish that have made it through the first year and are now
fully grown. Add the biggest body you have to your jigs and cast or troll
Is The Key
you've located fish with electronics, remember fishing slow is the key.
For jigging or rigging, you can't go too slow. Use your bow mount electric
motor on the slowest speed. The slightest breeze will push you fast
enough. Use a sea anchor to slow you even more if there is any wind.
spawn in water from one foot to over 20 feet deep. Rocky and gravel
covered shore- lines are the most typical spawning sites; however, if
habitat is lacking walleyes will also spawn on sand and in other less
desirable areas. An abundance of broken rocks and gravel in water three to
10 feet deep will normally attract the largest concentrations of fish.
walleyes typically migrate to the upstream end of an impoundment to spawn.
In large reservoirs, such as those along the Missouri River, walleyes have
been known to travel 100 plus miles to reach prime spawning sites.
Fisheries' biologists have tracked walleyes tagged with radio telemetry
transmitters from one end of Lake Oahe in South Dakota to the other.
Although this long distance may be an isolated incident, walleyes are
nomadic creatures that won't hesitate to migrate many miles to find
suitable spawning habitat.
shorelines near the dams are often prime spawning areas. Trolling
crankbaits along this rip-rap edge can prove absolutely deadly on big
fish. The best action usually takes place after dark and continues until
many walleyes prefer to spawn just downstream from dams, the rocky
shorelines and tributary streams also attract spawn-laden fish. Not all
the fish spawn at the same time or in the same places. This is Mother
Nature's way of ensuring that an entire "year class," those
particular fish that are born each year, isn't destroyed by floods or
other natural disasters.
that spawn in rivers are the most predictable of all. Clearly, 99 percent
of the fish that enter the river to spawn will physically swim as far as
they possibly can before stopping to deposit their eggs. Low head dams,
waterfalls, or natural and man-made diversions, usually stop the upstream
movement of fish and often cause the concentration of tremendous numbers
of big fish in amazingly small areas. At times, the walleyes will be so
thick you can feel your lure bouncing off the backs of the fish. Fishing
under these conditions can be easy and rewarding.
that spawn in natural lakes are often the last fish of the season to
deposit their eggs. It usually takes a week or two longer for the sun to
warm these large inland lakes to the magical 40 to 45 degree spawning
temperature that walleyes prefer.
the spawning areas with shallow diving crankbaits such as a Rebel Minnow
or Rattlin' Rogues. Trolling is by far the most effective method I have
found for taking spawning walleyes along rip-rap or rocky shore lines.
Long-lining crankbaits with eight to ten-pound test monofilament line will
produce the best results. Troll at a fairly brisk pace and use a
combination of long and short rods to stair-step lure depths to match the
angle of the structure. This will keep all your baits in the fish zone.
the rods on the side of the boat closest to the rip-rap. Use a long rod
(eight to nine-foot) to reach out from the boat and present the crankbait
along the edge of the rocks. A shallow diving Rebel Minnow is the ideal
lure for the outside rod. The Rebel Minnow only dives two to three feet,
but that is enough to keep the lure ticking the stones near shore. Next,
set up a shorter rod with a slightly deeper diving lure like the Rattlin'
Rogue. Set an even shorter third rod with an even deeper diving bait such
as a Wally Diver or one of the new Shad-R baits. By following this
procedure, you'll effectively cover the sloping rip-rap edges.
the spring, ignoring water temperature can be a costly mistake. Since
walleyes spawn in the same places every year at predictable temperature
levels, it is a simple matter to determine where the fish are in their
spawning cycle. You can tell by temperature if the fish are close to
spawning (pre-spawn) in the middle of it, or finished (post-spawn). This
information, in turn, gives you a general idea of where the fish will be.
best chances to catch a spawning walleye are definitely between dark and
midnight. The telemetry studies we've reviewed show a definite trend with
the majority of the fish arriving just at dark and spawning until about
also found that fish spawn primarily for about four hours. One fish might
pull in and spawn for four hours and be done all in one night. Another may
come four different nights and spawn an hour each night. In between these
nightly visits, she'll make large movements, sometimes up to five miles as
the staging areas can be a long way away from the actual spawning bed.
Again, a key to big walleye success during pre-spawn:
Be there at dark and don't stay any later than midnight."
note: Be sure to check out Mike's book "Walleye
Trouble-Shooting" available for $14.95 plus $3 S&H from Fishing
Enterprises, P.O. Box 7108, Pierre, SD 57501. Credit cards call toll free