Above the surface, we visualize a flat, still surface and imagine fish below. Beneath the membrane separating air and water, however, the aquatic world is anything but silent and still. Vibrations and sounds abound, alerting fish to opportunity and danger. Currents surge, diminish, and reverse. Sight comes into play — primarily at close range — but powerful forces other than vision dominate the walleye lifestyle.
Current is a universal fish attractor. Viewed from our perch above the water, we theorize and visualize the edges of current, with fish holding within a comfortable position and flow velocity, poised to shoot out and capture an unfortunate morsel drifting by in the adjacent faster flow. That’s right where you want your lure or bait, tumbling downcurrent to waiting teeth and jaws and ‘eyes.
But to walleyes, current is much more than just a food supply or feeding lane. Strong instinctual urges dictate walleye behavior, particularly in spring. Walleyes, genetically programmed and ingrained to run toward current and spawn among turbulent rocks and boulders, often migrate long distances to reach suitable combinations of depth, bottom content, and current flow. Thirty miles away in a lake or reservoir, fish can’t feel the current of a feeder creek as they can the main flow in a river, thirty miles downstream from a dam. But somehow, they know it’s there. A place to return to every spring to execute the spawning ritual, and perhaps to linger for some time afterwards should feeding opportunities be present.
In lake chains with current flowing between bodies of water, walleyes move toward rocky narrows in spring, and especially to the mouths of feeder creeks and streams with rocky bottom. They hold in adjacent deep water during the day, then move up into the current at night once water temperatures rise above 40F. Following a week or so of spawning activity, walleyes may disperse to other developing food sources. Or they may remain to chow down on minnows or insects in the area. In general, the faster the water warms, the quicker the walleyes tend to say adios.
In the cold Canadian North, however, many lakes never warm, or at best warm at a slow rate. Walleyes may linger around the first hole below a waterfall, narrows, or river mouth for weeks or even months, depending on current to deliver food in an otherwise infertile environment. Current becomes a powerful year-round fish attractor in many such waters. In others, it’s at a seasonal peak in spring, dwindling in importance as summer approaches.
In reservoirs — hybrids of lakes and rivers — walleyes often react like river fish in spring, moving far uplake into feeder rivers or creeks with rocky substrate. Should suitable rock bottom be lacking, they opt instead for windswept riprap along dams and causeways — an artificial substitute for productive natural spawning conditions. If windswept rock shorelines are available, they, too, may draw fish, much as in natural lakes. All else being equal, rocky shoreline spots most exposed to the brunt of the wind from several directions tend to attract the most walleyes in early season. Wind creates current, necessary to oxygenate eggs deposited into crevasses between rocks and boulders.
In essence, current draws walleyes from vast distances, long before they open their mouths to grab and gulp the first shiner, shad, smelt, or minnow along the prime edge of a current break. Once walleyes arrive, current takes on the dual role of both attractor and deliverer of sustenance. No wonder it plays such an important part in the walleye lifestyle.
HOW WALLEYES RELATE TO CURRENT BREAKS
In some cases, current is obvious. In others, current — or more appropriately the effect of current — is more subtle, but nevertheless important to fishing success. Here are several examples.
Feeder creeks — Tributaries flowing into lakes, rivers, and reservoirs create obvious feeding areas for walleyes. The flow flushes food items downcurrent, simultaneously attracting gamefish toward the source. Inactive walleyes may lie a short distance outside the actual current edge. As they become active, often at night, they proceed directly up into or along the knife edge of the flow, holding in an area of reduced current or slack water within easy reach of passing forage. Placing a cast or executing a drift along such edges is about as high percentage as it gets.
Tributaries tend to produce fairly uniform flow patterns for a period of days, unless sudden rain or snowmelt creates a quick rise in water levels and associated current. Such increases can attract lots of fish in a short time. But the point is, given stable conditions, consistent flows attract fish on a regular basis. Thus the fishing at tributary intersections tends to run from good to excellent, rather than from poor to the opposite extreme.
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