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               Spring 2007 Feature Article

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Early Season Walleye Tactics
by Keith Kavajecz & Gary Parsons

  We've all been there. Cabin fever syndrome ... staring at the walls crazy. We want to go fishing ... but we haven't been able to ... until now! The time to start is here, so let's get you started off on the right foot by giving you a "spring-through-early summer" run-down of the hottest locations, and latest techniques with the best tackle choices for the new year.

 Rivers can be the ticket in spring. Fish location is a real key, with walleyes concentrating close to shore, during high current conditions near swirling back eddies and slack water refuges. In years of slow or moderate current flows the fish will relate to the deeper main channel edges. Boat control is the most critical part of a precise presentation needed to fool these current orientated walleyes. It's desirable to match your boat speed to the exact speed of the current by using a bursting technique to compensate for winds and bottom contour changes. Minn Kota's Genesis bow mount electric motor, with 74 lbs. of thrust, makes this type of river fishing a breeze, even with the largest of fishing rigs. Vertical jigging techniques rule during this cold water time frame and arming oneself with the ideal weaponry to do battle with these lethargic post winter fish is a must. A Walleye Angler Signature Series jigging rod, a handful of Northland Tackle's Buck-Shot Rattle Jigs, some Berkley Power Jig Worms, minnows, stinger hooks and premium 6 lb. FireLine or Trilene Premium Strength mono will be the right stuff to win a few walleye wars.

Another fantastic spring area is the shallows of both rivers and lakes. Spawning areas are particularly productive as both males and females relate to the gravel and stone substrate. Pitching 1/16 to 1/8 oz. FireBall Jigs along these rock studded shorelines should prove to be a satisfying fishing experience. Walleyes won't be the only thin water victims as many bass, sunfish, and catfish go shallow this time of year. Sometimes our favorite fish likes to spend time hanging around flooded timber and such. Use the same jig pitching technique but vary the jig style to a hook guarded Northland Weed Weasel. Throw the jig quite close to shore, and retrieve with a lift, pause, lift, pause type of stroke. Beginners and novices who have not yet garnered the experience to positively identify a soft bite or that have a rod that is not an expensive high-tech graphite model will have much more luck with using no-stretch FireLine. For those experienced, lightning fast reflex guys and gals, Trilene Premium Strength mono will be your choice so as not to repeatedly pull the hook out during your hard positive hookset.

As spring rolls to summer, walleyes normally move deeper (10-15 feet) to the breakline edges, down the slope and sometimes even to the bottom edges. Offshore humps and long shoreline finger points dumping to deep water all hold fish. One of the simplest, most deadly methods for early summer walleyes is the Rock-Runner Bottom Bouncer. Bouncers of the 1/4 to 1/2 oz range coupled with a 7 foot snell, bare hook and live bait, slow trolled with an electric motor can literally fill the boat on certain days.

 Another great method for these mid-depth breakline orientated fish, especially if they seem to be scattered along the break, would be crankbaits. Using a Mercury 4-stroke kicker (9.9 -15 hp) outboard to troll ultra-slow, maintaining a constant depth is called contour cranking and can be devastatingly effective. Normally this will be a numbers game, in effect, trolling crankbaits such as Storm DTS09 Deep ThunderSticks and Rapala #7 Shad Raps past hundreds of fish to get one bite. Surprisingly there are times that walleyes will congregate on a reef by the thousands making for a quick limit even when bucking the numbers odds. During contour cranking you are concentrating on a fairly narrow fishing zone, "along the break", so make the lure spread with 3 rods. Two 8 foot 6 inch trollers out the side, in the rod holders and a 7 foot 6 inch hand held version directed behind the boat (check local regulations for number of rods allowed per angler).

Trolling is an awesome early summer tactic, but let's switch to another location. Shallow flats. By definition, these areas will be relatively structure free, but as far as overall lake depth is concerned, definitely not in the deepest part. For instance, in natural lakes a good flat might be from 8-10 feet deep while in Lake Erie we may be talking 30-40 feet. The first overlooked trolling technique is using the same rod setup discussed earlier but adding a fourth 7 foot 6 inch troller. Lines will be spread using Offshore Planer boards and on natural lakes bottom bouncers with Northland 3-D Rainbow Spinners baited with crawlers. When the water is clear, choose blades that are shiny and emit a lot of flash.

Deeper Great Lakes flats will often find the walleyes suspended, making the use of open water type spinners imperative. These spinners are still baited with crawlers but sport treble hooks instead of singles for better hooking power. Suspended walleyes feed in an upward direction which means replacing bottom bouncers with Off Shore Snap Weights. When the fish are close to bottom use a 10 foot lead on a Open Water Spinner, attach the Snap Weight and drop the offering just above the depth finder's "hooks" you're marking. If they are suspended higher in the water column, make the lead longer (50-100 feet- depending on water clarity) before attaching the Snap Weight.

Whenever the fish are setup on flats it's very important to locate them electronically. Usually there are no structural marking points, so schools of walleyes must be found and marked by using a combination of sonar and GPS. Units like Lowrance's LCX-15MT, that combine sonar and GPS in one unit, are great for this. Cruise the proposed fishing area with sonar, marking likely looking areas with GPS icons, but use a non fish symbol to mark the potential school. Once the area is scoped out, go back and fish in the vicinity of the icons. When you catch a walleye, drop a fish icon, and work the area thoroughly, dropping more fish icons for each walleye caught. This way a school location will become quickly apparent.

The last early summer technique is the probing of these same open water flats with planner boards and crankbaits. As the water warms to 50 degrees and above, walleyes will turn to cranks. Subtle action baits like ThunderSticks and Rapala Husky Jerks work well in cold temps and moderate action baits like Shad Raps or the new ThunderCranks take over when water is on the warm. In clear water use chromes and natural colors. Dingy water dictates FireTiger or other bright colors.

We think that you'll find the summary of spring and early summer techniques and locations helpful this year. Fishing season is almost upon us, so sharpen those hooks, and spool up some fresh line ... cabin fever can't last much longer!