Spring is undoubtedly one of the best times of year to fish for walleyes. Fish are in their pre-spawn phase and full of bait and eggs making them the heaviest they will be all year. In this article, we’re going to cover how to find and how to catch walleye in the spring to help you capitalize on the best bite of the year.
- Pre-Spawn Tactics
Whether a walleye hasn’t spawned yet, is spawning, or has already spawned, what it’s doing in the springtime revolves around the spawn in some way. Early spring walleye fishing in the pre-spawn period right after ice-out can be tough. Frigid water can have fish lethargic, but they are far from uncatchable. By the time the water reaches around the 40°F mark walleyes will begin to migrate to their spawning areas. These are rocky reefs or flats just off the main lake basin, or in some cases, they’ll head for the mouths of a nearby tributary. Slow trolling large wide-wobbling crankbaits like the Rapala Down Deep Husky Jerk at speeds of 1.2-1.8mph can yield excellent results. Walleyes tend to hug the bottom this time of year, so it’s important to run your baits very close or even touching bottom. The same technique also works excellently with worm harnesses like the Northland Baitfish-Image Spinner Harness, but these can be easily drifted and bottom bounced as well, which can sometimes be more effective for lazy spring walleyes.
So, when do walleye spawn? The exact week, day or hour that occurs is going to depend on where you are in the world, but most walleye will spawn when the water is in the 42°F - 50°F range. For us here on Lake Erie, that’s typically early-mid April but can certainly begin earlier and end later than that. The spawn can last anywhere from 2-3 weeks all the way up to 2 months depending on the year, so it’s important to know how to catch spawning walleye. The process will typically last longer on bodies of water with a high population of walleyes as the fish are more likely to spawn in waves. Some walleyes are wired to run upstream to spawn similar to how a steelhead or salmon would. For example, we have a population of walleyes that runs up the Maumee River to spawn every year while some just slide on top of the rock reefs and flats of the main lake. For the river spawners, a Carolina rig with a Northland High-Ball floater Jig and a white, pink, or chartreuse Mister Twister Curly Tail Grub is a staple. As for the population of fish spawning offshore, getting right over them and vertical jigging is hard to beat. Blade baits such as a SteelShad and rip baits such as a Rapala Jigging Rap are excellent options for vertical jigging spring walleye. One of the best spring walleye tactics is “video game” fishing. That is, idle over a rock reef, find the concentration of arches on your electronics, get right over top of them, and start jigging while watching your bait on your screen. This can be some of the most entertaining fishing of the year.
After walleyes have completed the spawning process they’ll begin to work their way back out to deeper water in search of food to recuperate from the spawn. A good place to begin looking is the first drop nearest the flat or rock pile the fish were spawning on. This is when trolling becomes the dominant technique again. Fish begin to just roam the basin in search of bait rather than being concentrated on one rock pile, so covering water is key. It becomes hard to say what the best bait for walleye in spring is at this point in the year because these hungry post-spawners will sometimes seem to bite almost anything that moves. Spoons such as Michigan Stinger Scorpions, plugs such as Berkley Flicker Minnows, Bandits, and Bombers, and worm harnesses such as Dreamweaver Wormburners all take fish.
Hopefully this article taught you something about how to catch spring walleye! Look in some of these locations and try a few of these baits on your home water next spring and you might just be surprised by the results!