In the cold of early spring, it’s not uncommon to see anglers patrolling those early openwater areas for the first active walleyes of the season. As they stage for their spawning run, these fish provide a welcome bite, however, early spring walleyes can provide a unique challenge.
Spring walleyes can often be found in the first openwater of the season, relating tight to the bottom. Using current breaks such as shifts in depth, sand bars or obstructions such as rocks and boulders, the low-light opportunists will hold out of the fast current, waiting for easy meals. Use a jig that makes contact with the bottom in those slackwater areas, eddies, and seams. Using a no-stretch superline will help feel out the bottom and detect those bumpers like boulders and bottom shifts that determine where spring walleyes are.
Additionally, the sensitive line will also telegraph subtle bites that spring walleyes are known for. While sometimes they may inhale an offered bait bumped along in front of them, more often than not they’ll slowly eat an offering and it may take a count of five or ten before the hook point is anywhere near a fish’s mouth. If a minnow is coming back with a few scales missing along the back side of its body, odds are that walleyes are slowly taking the offered bait, and more time is required from the detection of a first bite to a hookset. Count down and wait to feel a slight bend in the rod before setting the hook on the next subtle tap. Waiting can pay off.
The addition of a stinger hook can help with the problem, however, it may also affect the natural movement of the baitfish offered up, and can also increase fouling of a presentation with debris such as last autumn’s leaves still found on the bottom of a flow. Play the adding on of a stinger hook by water conditions and the mood of the fish.
The timing of the spring run often brings the smaller male walleyes to the forefront of a staging area, providing anglers with a good opportunity for some eaters, but that’s not to say there aren’t some opportunities to hook into some bigger female fish too. Be selective ahead of the spawn and release those bigger fish to deposit their eggs and beget the next generation to help sustain fisheries that are self-sustaining. Using jigs allows for greater sensitivity and better hook placement, preventing damage to spring fish and an easier release. Use a rubberized net to further prevent damage to those fish which will be released.
This spring, take advantage of those first opportunities to open up on flowing water where walleyes can be found. Feel out the bottom and find those classic haunts where fish hold against the flow and pick off easy meals, noting that the take may move in slow motion this time of year. Wait for a solid connection and set the hook. While spring may provide a few different aspects and sometimes excruciatingly delicate rod work, the adventures can be worth it, especially after a winter away from the action.