A long winter is coming to a close, and preparation for open-water fishing is in full swing. This is one of my favorite periods of the year — big walleyes spend time shallow, and their movements are fairly predictable. This is one of the best times to score a trophy from shallow water.
When I target shallow walleyes, I’m talking depths in the 1- to 5-foot range. I’ve caught fish shallow enough that I could see the swirl of the take. In-Fisherman Professional Walleye Trail angler John Kolinski has it right when he says about this situation, “Once you think you’re fishing shallow, go shallower.”
After ice-out, walleyes begin to make some movements shallow, checking out spawning areas and feeding on baitfish that also move shallow at this time of year. They eventually begin to spawn as the water temperature pushes past about 43F. This gives an angler a pretty good block of time to fish for prespawn fish — anywhere from a week or two to a month, depending on the body of water and the latitude. The Prespawn Period tends to be extended in southern waters and compacted in northern waters, although a lot also depends on the weather during this time. Cold weather extends the Prespawn Period.
Male walleyes move up shallow first and stay the longest — through most of prespawn, right on through the spawn and into postspawn. The males are aggressive when they’re up shallow, dropping deeper when they’re not feeding actively. Female walleyes generally only move shallow during peak daily periods: morning, evening, after dark, and on windy days.
During most of the prespawn, females (larger fish) hold just off spawning areas in deeper water. These fish are in a neutral to negative feeding mood. When they move shallow, it’s to feed, and they become much more aggressive at that time.
Wing dams are an important locational structure on rivers. Walleyes use them in spring, but overall, current eddies hold the most fish at this time of year. Eddies are caused by obstructions like points, rockpiles, sunken wood, and wood debris protruding from the bank. Obviously, wing dams also often create eddies. The best eddies are near deep water.
With a little experience, it’s easy to locate eddies visually; the next step is to check each one with electronics. Find out how deep the eddy is and how close it is to deep water. The eddy itself doesn’t have to be in deep water, just near it.
This same idea works in lakes and reservoirs, where currents are caused by the wind. Mudlines are important. They may attract fish all day long because they cut light penetration, and baitfish accumulate in these areas. When a mudline coincides with a main-lake point or an eddy, you usually have a great spot.
My favorite jig-casting combo is a short-shanked jig like the Northland Fire-Ball. A compact jig casts better, snags less, and does a good job of hooking fish. In place of the typical minnow tipping a jig, I use a 5-inch Berkley PowerBait Jerk Shad or a 4-inch Berkley Power Minnow. Eventually, you may have to replace the plastic body; but there’s never a need to dip your hands into a minnow bucket. This presentation is just as productive and much more efficient than tipping with livebait.
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