Part One: When & Where
In this two-part article I will discuss how one of the best early-season
walleye bites coincides with the shiner spawn each year. Part One will
concentrate on the all-important when and where; Part Two will explain the how,
giving you the exact presentations to take full advantage of this phenomenal
It's sad but true: One of the greatest fallacies in
walleye fishing -- an angler's reluctance to fish "skinny" water -- prevents
most guys from experiencing the walleye feeding frenzy that occurs in
waist-deep waters each year.
But that doesn't have to be the case.
Timing is key. Fish operate on a calendar, Mother
Nature operates on a calendar -- but when it to comes to spawning -- fish
relate to temperature more than any other factor.
I've learned to closely monitor water temperature from years of steelhead
fishing. Walleye fishing is no different. Key temperatures signal movements
that can mean extraordinary fishing. Start paying attention and the game
becomes simple connect-the-dots.
Whether it's a hand thermometer, such as I carry on steelhead
rivers, or the display on a Lowrance, keep a
close eye on it. Over time you'll notice that water temp is often as important
-- if not more so -- than depth, which we've come to rely on so heavily as
For example, I know that when the water reaches 53- to 55-degrees, a
biological alarm clock sounds and spottail shiners
migrate en masse to spawn in areas of downed bulrush stands and spotty grass on
sand flats -- and with them, pods of ravenous walleyes looking for an easy
Although it can vary a bit with water clarity, I've found this typically
occurs in the 3- to 5-foot range, areas outside the comfort zone of most
walleye sticks. And in stained water waters you can find this bite even
Here's the rationale. Bulrush stands -- bent over by sheets of ice and wind
-- provide cover, retain heat and provide the ideal conditions for bug hatches
that draw in forage fish. And it doesn't take walleyes long to figure out the
location of this early-season all-you-can-eat buffet.
But not all bulrush stands are buffet lines.
I look for smaller islands of bulrushes rather than the large expanses you'd
ply for spring crappies or bass. Find a big flat that extends off the shoreline
surrounded by deeper water and you're in the zone. Choppy days are extra credit
-- the movement of warm water off the shore into these smaller bulrush stands
can mean "game on."
Stop, Look And Glisten!
Next to not fishing shallow enough, one of the biggest fallacies in walleye
fishing is the notion that you have to drift or troll to catch fish. Not true
in shallow water. Make too much noise, get too close, and you'll blow out the
fish. And on these flats walleyes disperse quickly. The key is stealth; think
spot and stalk hunting.
Don't neglect a good pair or polarized glasses so you can locate dark spots
of bulrushes and sand grass. I'm a big proponent of electronics, but the good
Lord gave you a pair of legs and eyes, so stand up and scan where those fish
might be. On calmer days with a little bit of sun you can see the shiners from
a long way away, the sun glistening off their pearlescent scales.
Make sure to shut off your outboard and quietly engage your electric long
before you reach any of these potential fish-holding spots. How close? You want
to make the longest casts you can, typically 90- to 110 feet.
Wherever possible, position the wind at your back for Hail Mary casts. Since
you're looking for a windblown shore rather than an offshore wind, this isn't
difficult. The problem is making sure your boat doesn't shift downwind, leaving
you casting over the back of the boat.
A lot of guys will use the Spot Lock on their Minn
Kota bow-mount trolling motor -- and you can deploy your bow and stern anchors
-- but that takes up a lot of time as you move spot to spot.
That's where the 8-foot Minn Kota Talon, a shallow water anchor, really
shines. I can move in with the electric, punch the button on the Talon and then
fan cast from the front of the boat until I need to move to another spot. This
enables me to keep the boat nose down and make a lot longer casts with light
jigs and light line. Moving takes seconds. Simply punch the button again to
lift the Talon, engage the Terrova, slowly cruise to
the next spot and deploy the Talon again. Hover, hold, cast and repeat.
Hey, if it takes stealing boat control tactics from the bass and inshore
guys to catch more walleyes, count me in!
Now that we've covered the when and where, check out the how in Part Two.
Please read more in Part 2.
For a fine assortment of fishing gear, click here.