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Walleye Biology

Postspawn Walleye Dispersal

by In-Fisherman   |  August 2nd, 2012 1

Looking for a better deal? Who isn’t? Even walleyes, who desert their current locations at the drop of a fishing hat when better opportunities arise, are notorious better-dealers. And during postspawn walleye dispersal, that’s exactly what happens. When you show up at your spot and suddenly your fish are gone, don’t be surprised. They found a better deal elsewhere.

When walleyes finish spawning, there’s no hanging around to guard nests and eggs and fry as bass do. Walleyes are out the door, leaving future generations to their fate. It’s time to start thinking about food. So, once water temperatures rise above 50 degrees F, indicating the end of the walleye spawning cycle, and you can’t find walleyes hovering somewhere in and around their rocky spawning grounds near inlets, shorelines or shallow reefs, you know why. They vamoosed.

If, however, it so happens that perch, shiners, minnows, larval insects, or some other forms of edible creatures happen to be in the neighborhood, well, walleyes might just hang around for a while. So it’s always a good idea to look for a baitfish spawning spot somewhere adjacent to a walleye spawning area, just in case. Because walleyes spawn earlier than baitfish, they just might have eased on over, awaiting the arrival of their anticipated prey, or may already be feasting on them. So check nearby shallow weed clumps for walleyes feeding on prespawn perch; sand flats for ‘eyes chasing prespawn shiners or minnows; mud basins for fish seeking emerging insects; or some sort of cover, bottom composition, current or other feature that might attract forage. Even a shallow warm bay with minnows, sunfish, or bullheads could be a temporary pit stop for hungry ‘eyes.

But at some point, the party’s over. There’s neither enough room nor sufficient forage in and around the spawning sites for such a large concentration of walleyes to remain for long. So they begin easing on down the lake to the next better deal. Since walleyes have been doing this since they were fry, they instinctively know the next stop, based on local habitat and forage availability.

Rates of dispersal from spawning areas depend on local factors. The shallower and more sloping the spawning area, the quicker the water tends to warm and the faster the fish tend to disperse; conversely, the steeper and deeper and colder the adjacent lake areas, the slower fish are to leave. Cover can help retain fish in an area for a while, be it fallen trees, flooded timber, broken reeds, emerging weeds, or some other form of security. But something nearby must be worth eating, and preferably plenty of it, to make hanging around worth the effort. Otherwise, walleyes want a better deal.

If they’re gone, look to adjacent deeper structures, spreading in all directions from the spawning site. Drop-offs, flats, points, shallow humps and reefs, developing weedbeds, open basins, downriver flooded shorelines or backwaters are potential candidates for dispersing walleyes, depending upon the type of water–lake, river, or reservoir. Just hope that walleyes haven’t moved too far too fast, so you can recontact them without too much effort, applying logical tactics in fairly predictable areas.

But the longer since spawning concluded, the farther fish may have moved and the more opportunities they may have encountered. And with walleyes still somewhat scattered compared to more organized schooling behavior typical in summer, postspawn dispersal can be challenging. It seems at times that a few fish are almost everywhere, and at other times, almost nowhere, but seldom are big groups of fish anywhere.

In the end, you hardly can blame walleyes for pulling up stakes and pitching their tents elsewhere once the local pantry’s empty and a new diner opens up somewhere down the lake. So they get up and go with no regrets, without so much as a goodbye note, leaving you scratching your head and your fishing patterns in the lurch.

Rather than digging a foundation upon their arrival at the new destination, however, they stick with the mobile approach, much like a pride of lions following gazelles across the African veldt. It’s great to get in on the goodies when the gettin’s good. But hey, if the water hole dries up or the herd leaves for greener pastures, a lion won’t stick around his favorite shade tree just because it’s still shady. He still has to eat, drink, and take care o’ business, and with walleyes, that’s a moving experience, particularly during postspawn dispersal. No lyin’.

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  • jake mccollum

    Susquehanna river in pa seems to be a different river than most I’ve seen profiled on shows or in articles. much of it is like a giant trout stream, a mile wide and less than 5 f t deep.. for me it is hard to follow fish seasonally. especially walleye. bottom is mostly gravel and large boulders. also other areas are like canyon reservoirs. you can be 20ft from shore in 100 ft of water. fishing is good in spring and early summer until hot weather sets in. then nothing but catfish. channel cats 1 to 5lbs are pests and now flat heads to 40lbs. I am not a fan of catfish

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