Spring river walleyes
Fishing the Midwest
I took a drive the other day and happened to travel over the bridge that spanned one of my favorite spring walleye rivers. There were several anglers within eyeshot of the bridge. It’s a small river, very similar to many of the small rivers that are found across the Midwest. It’s maybe a quarter mile wide at the widest, ten feet deep in the deepest hole, and has a dam every fifteen or twenty miles. These rivers have a fair to decent population of walleyes, and at this time of the year, a high percentage of that population can be found within a couple of hundred yards downstream of the dam. Rivers such as this usually aren’t great walleye fisheries. In fact, they’re usually better for smallmouth bass or channel catfish depending on the river. However, if you like to catch walleyes and you have a river like this near your home, April and into May is the best time of the year to catch walleyes in rivers like this. Here’s how you go about doing that.
Much of our fishing will be while wearing a pair of waders, although you can stand on shore or fish from a small boat. I have fond memories of catching hundreds of walleyes from a twelve foot johnboat and while wearing hip-waders in the spring in these small rivers over the past forty plus years.
Many of the walleyes will be in water about four feet deep. If there is some color in the water they’ll be a bit shallower: If the water is clearer, they’ll be maybe a tad deeper. Use bright colors, orange or chartreuses, in stained water, and natural colors, silver or white, in clear water. If you can see bottom in water a foot or two deep, consider that clear water.
I usually carry two rods when wading. I’ll be casting one rod and have the butt end of the other inside one of my waders. There will be a jig/plastic combo on one rod, a minnow shaped hard-bait on the other.
The jig rod will have a sixteenth ounce jig tipped with a plastic tail. A jig/minnow combination will work also, but it can be a nuisance wading with a minnow bucket, and the plastic is usually just as good and a lot easier to work with. I like a Mr. Crappie Grub this time of year. The tail wiggles even at slow speeds, and the wiggling tail seems easier for the walleyes to find in stained water. Swim this set-up slowly across the bottom. The cold waters of spring call for a slower presentation.
The other rod will probably have a KVD Jerkbait in the 200 size tied to it. This bait can also be fished slowly and will be more productive when the fish are active and for larger walleyes. Cast it out and start to retrieve it. This gets the bait near the bottom. Then fish it with jerks and brief two to three second pauses. Expect the strike to come right after a jerk.
I’ve also had success with a jig/minnow fished below a slip-bobber, especially in areas that have a lot of snags. The slip-bobber lets you fish slowly and will help to keep the jig out of some of the snags. If you do get snagged, you’ll probably be able to wade over to the snag and free the jig.
It’s best to move around as little as possible. Get into a casting position and work the area thoroughly before moving. You’ll have fish strike your bait with five feet of line out every now and then.
Chasing walleyes in small rivers is a great way to start a fishing season. Make sure that it’s legal to do so in your area, then get out and do it.
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