Upriver walleye runs are annual events in waters where hard-bottomed creekbeds and riverbeds provide spawning potential. In highland impoundments of the southeastern US, late January, February, and March offer historic opportunities to ambush prespawn giants on their way to and within such spawning grounds. Casting or trolling shallow midriver rapids and riffles by night and jigging the deeper pools immediately below them during the day have produced many a walleye in the teens — some even bigger — including the world record.
By late winter, big walleyes typically stage somewhere below these river stretches in anticipation of the spring run. Eventually, spring rains trigger a flush of warmer (40F plus), darker water into the impoundment, raising the water level and expanding the creek environment. When this plume enters the main body of the reservoir where the creek arm meets the lake, walleyes go on high alert for imminent action. The first of several waves of fish may immediately begin moving upstream, alternately holding in holes below rapids, then racing across the intermediate shallow-flowing sections, eventually reaching an upstream stretch too shallow to traverse. The fish soon spawn at night amongst the turbulent shallows before dropping back downstream again, eventually dispersing into the main lake.
When walleyes are in inflowing major creeks and rivers, muddy water generally is a turnoff, fishingwise. Fish may be present, perhaps simply moving through, but not on the bite. Sit-and-soak tactics with livebait may produce a few fish, but the real action typically doesn’t commence until the water begins to clear; a subtle tinge to the otherwise normally clear water is perfect. Then it may be lights out for a day or two as the lucky few folks in position to catch active walleyes nail fish of a size most anglers only imagine in their dreams. Ah, to be in the right place at the right time!
If you’re lucky, have good local contacts, or are good at anticipating the proper conditions and are able to leave on a moment’s notice, you stand a good chance of intercepting these short peaks in the annual walleye run. If, however, like most anglers, you must plan your trip well in advance and fish when you’re able, it’s nice to have a Plan B in hand, in case you don’t arrive when fish are lining up to be caught. The backup is to anticipate staging areas and intercept the racers at the starting line, before the race actually begins.
Major rivers entering highland impoundments may offer many miles of navigable water, with walleyes perhaps moving far enough upstream to spawn near a dam. In numerous cases, however, the navigable portions of smaller rivers or active major creek arms are short (5 to 7 miles), shallow, clear, relatively steep, and swift-flowing, with little room to host loads of big walleyes. Thus the bulk of the prespawn walleyes stack up in the first available deeper water just below these river arms, providing a logical place to begin seeking them prior to the run, or during lulls in midrun.
Primary and secondary points — Prominent points at the mouth of a major creek arm, or partway into the arm, are logical starting places to looks for prespawn, prerun walleyes. These areas typically are sloping extensions of the shoreline, seldom large, and surrounded by 40 to 80 feet of water. Some may feature a few standing trees, although most have rock-sand bottoms and are devoid of cover.
The lip along the top of the point, where it first drops off into the deep water of the surrounding river channel or reservoir, is an obvious place to look for walleyes. If a lip is absent, a small edge may be sufficient to focus fish at a certain depth. Try slowly backtrolling a livebait rig and minnow along the perimeter. Hold the sinker just off bottom most of the time, interspersed with an occasional drop to touch and reconfirm bottom, then lift again to minimize snags. Or try forward trolling a snag-resistant bottom bouncer-spinner harness-nightcrawler combo along the edge. Note the presence and depth of fish on your electronics and rework promising sections.
If you catch a fish or two, however, don’t be surprised if others in the area spook and leave. The ultraclear water is seldom conducive to catching more than a handful in any one location before the rest depart. Move on to other potential spots and return later for a quick check.
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