The 'Eyes Come Marching In
Pre-Spawn River Walleye Tactics

by: Mark Martin

The month of March means the start of Walleye moving up the streams, creeks, rivers and tributaries on their annual spawning run.  These fish are in no great hurry and move in a methodical manner , stopping and feeding along the way.  Catching these fish on a consistent basis means moving around and watching river conditions to predict the areas they will be in.  There are several different tactics  we can employ to work over the  areas thoroughly and search out these fish. Once fish are located in a particular  depth and type of area, they can usually be found at that same depth and related structural elements up and down the river.  That's when we can really begin to hoist the fish and have super productive days on the water.  During periods of water level stability, the fish will move up river slowly and spend the bulk of there time in runs and holes that provide shelter from the current running over there heads.  This means slightly stained to clear waterand more subtle tactics to trigger the fish into striking.  During these periods of low flow, the most predictable location for river 'eyes are the head, tail and along the edges of holes or deep runs.

The hole itself should be worked over methodically so that we can determine the position of the bulk of the fish using it.  Nearly all holes have a funnel or run leading into and out of the hole, and we should start at the upstream head and work down along the edges.  The most effective technique for working over  as current area when the operator of the boat is vertical jigging is to have the others in the boat fan casting either jigs or ctrankbaits.  There are two ways to slip- either bow troll or back troll.  I prefer the bow trolling technique that employs the use of my trolling motor.  I point the bow of my Lund 2025 Pro V into the current, lower my PT 109 trolling motor and move down river at a slow pace.  How slow I move is dependent upon water depth and jig weight and which technique I wish to employ to work over the area.

The first technique we'll talk about is vertical jigging the hole.  For this technique you need to match the size of the jig to the depth of and current of the river.  The idea is to have a jig you can feel hit bottom.  Maintaining bottom contact is key and without it you will never know how well you are working the area.  A Stand up jig like the Blue Fox Foxee or the Northland Fireball is ideal for this presentation.  The idea is to keep your line as close to vertical as possible.  You do this by watching your line and adjusting your trolling motor position.  If the line starts drifting back towards the stern of the boat, you need to position the thrust of the trolling motor so that you move downstream and get vertical with your line position again.  If the line moves upstream away from the bow, you need a quick thrust of power forward from your trolling motor to maintain vertical presentation.  Never let your line get out farther than a 45 degree angle and you can make vertical jigging an effective technique.

As to tipping the jig, you can use minnow. Berkley Power Baits or a combination of the two.  A note here about a mistake I see many fishermen make.  Tie your line directly to the jig, and don't use a snap or swivel.  I use six lb. test Trilene Flame Green Fireline or six lb test  XI solar.  The idea is that you don't want the jig b to fall over on it's side when it hits bottom or be more resistant in the water.  The high visibility of the bright green lines will tell you when you've touched bottom or whether your up or downstream to far with the jig.  The rhythm of jigging is another key to catching fish.  Use only about a six inch lift drop and as soon as you see or feel anything that interrupts that rhythm, set the hook.  If you let the rod tip down, and it goes slack before your normal drop length , hit it.  It may be a fish grabbing the jig on the way down.

Another technique I use for working over these areas is fancasting either jigs or crank baits.  to do this technique I still use my PT109 to maintain position in the current.  However I try to keep the boat absolutely still, not slipping downstream, until I've made seven or eight casts and worked over the area completely.  Then I move twenty yards downstream and start the process all over again.  The most efficient technique for fan casting jigs is to make a moderate length cast out slightly upstream to the side of the boat, allowing either the jig or crank bait --I use a # nine Countdown  to settle to the bottom.  After contact with the bottom, allow the current to sweep the jig back in a semi-circle while using a lift and drop method until it is directly behind the boat.  Then make another cast in the same area, but of shorter length.  Every cast after that should be shorter than the last until you are almost totally vertical.  By working these semi circles back to the boat, you will cover the area over completely and find where the bulk of the fish are in relation to the hole or run.   When using a Rapala # nine Countdown after it touches bottom use the twitch and crank method all the way back to the boat, and repeat the process with shorter casts.

The last technique we'll cover is trolling lead core upstream.  The key to trolling upstream with lead core is not to move to fast.   The idea is that you want to keep your crank bait just above the bottom with an occasional tick to assure that position.  To control my speed I turn my bow into the current and forward troll.  I then start my 9.9 four stroke kicker motor, put it in forward and keep my direction right on line, even in crosswinds or cross currents, and because I can adjust my speed or direction with the hand held remote control, I can spend more time working on my presentation and catch more fish than people without an auto pilot.  When trolling like this I like to use two rods- one in a rod holder the other hand held.  With the hand held rod, use a pumping action with a pause.  many times this will trigger strikes from fish looking closely at my baits and be more productive than a rod sitting in a rod holder.  Also if I get a big fish on , I can just hit the idle resume on my hand held remote  and the boat will stand still in the current and allow me to fight the fish without putting to much pressure on it and tearing out the hooks.

A couple of parting pieces of wisdom before we hit the water.  many times rain and runoff in the spring will change the river conditions to faster current and murkier water.  When this happens we need to adjust not only a different position of fish in the river , but baits and colors that will bring them in.  During period of high current, most fish will move out of the holes and runs and up onto the flats above or below the the holes and runs or move closer to the bank, so make adjustments to the areas you will fish.  As to bait changes, we need to attract the fish better towards our presentation, and that means rattles.  I'll use a  Buckshot Jig or a  Bullet head jig and add a  Rattle ring.  The rattles shaking every time the rig thumps the bottom will help bring fish towards the bait so they can find it. As to color , get much more fluorescent during dirty water.  In clear water these fluorescence may actually spook fish, but in dirty water it helps fish to find the bait during periods when it is harder for them to feed.

The last thought on this subject is to remember that this is pre-spawn.  If you should happen into a large egg-gorged female, think about putting her back.  That fish is going to be producing the fish that five years from now are going to be the ones you want to catch.  There will be plenty of males, should you want to take some home for the table fare.  Don't succumb to the temptations of killing prime spawners.  Have yourself a great season and I"ll see you on the water.


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