Rappers! They come from far and wide every spring, lining the banks with lanterns and landing nets, long into the inky night. They come not from L. A. nor Manhattan, but from exotic frontier outposts like Indianapolis and Omaha. And while we’ve yet to witness an angler formerly known as Stanley change his name to Rock Face, some of these grizzled old-timers have sufficiently deep crags worn into their weathered faces to warrant the metamorphosis. Tough as the rocks they scramble along and across in total darkness, they’re shore ’nuff graduates of the school of hard knocks.
Bank fishermen and boat anglers alike sing the praises of manmade rock structure in regions where soft-bottomed reservoirs offer little or no natural walleye spawning habitat. Rock riprap along the faces of dams and causeways creates what Mother Nature forgot to provide: suitable hard-bottomed spawning habitat washed by current, perfect for the deposition and oxygenation of walleye eggs, safe from predators until the fry hatch and scatter into the open-water surface layers of the main lake. This is the ideal spring fish attractor once water temperatures rise into the walleye’s spawning range of around 40F.
Fished by boat, by boot, or on foot from the bank, riprap’s where it’s at–hotter than hot for spring walleyes. And in most cases, the government has even built a road right down to the spot. What more could you ask for?
RAPPIN’ THE ROCKS
Riprap walleye activity typically focuses during the nighttime hours as prespawn walleyes move shallow along the rocks to feed or shift into the spawning cycle. During the day, they remain somewhere in the adjacent deeper water, depending on available habitat. In shallow impoundments, they may simply lie along the base of the riprap. The deeper slot formed by nearby riverbeds or creekbeds is particularly attractive in shallow reservoirs, especially where channel intersections, bends, or flooded timber create distinct concentration points. In deeper reservoirs, walleyes may simply linger and swim along the face of the dam, or more likely suspend adjacent to it. The first primary point adjacent to the dam likely will attract fish as well.
In any case, when darkness falls, fish move shallow. Rather than the entire length of the dam being equally attractive, generally some factor or factors make certain stretches more susceptible to walleye use. Irregularities in the rock face are a good example. Perhaps a point or concrete wall extends out into the lake. Differences in current caused by wind action or an incoming creek or drainage culvert tends to draw fish to a limited area. You won’t know unless you investigate. A boat angler has almost unlimited access to the face of the dam or causeway, whereas an angler on foot may be restricted by fencing or the dreaded “Keep Out” sign. But just because you’re on foot doesn’t mean you’re at a disadvantage. Some of the best fishing spots are within an easy park-and-walk of the highway.
Shorecasters typically rely on some form of crankbait casting presentation. Long thin minnow imitators are common choices, even though they don’t dive more than a foot or two. Many fish are caught in shallow water by anglers casting parallel to the face of the dam rather than out toward open water. Use a long cast and a slow, steady retrieve with only an occasional pause. To make your lure run a bit deeper or achieve neutral buoyancy, add a sufficient number of adhesive Storm SuspenDots along the belly to counteract the lure’s natural buoyancy.
In areas with long, sloping dam faces and minimal pressure, anglers have begun walk trolling–using long rods and simply walking along the face of the dam, pulling the lure alongside on a long line. In other areas, casting deeper-diving crankbaits in specific areas may be a better tactic. You won’t know until you try. In most cases, however, you won’t be the pioneer. Head out to a dam or main causeway at night during the spawning run, and a handful of other anglers most likely will already be positioned in key spots. Note where they’re fishing and the methods they’re using. They provide clues for adapting to local conditions.
The Rap Zone
Due to limited mobility, shorecasters prefer distinctive fish-attracting spots that draw fish to them. Changes in the rock face of the dam, intersections with concrete walls, current brushing the rock, or the downstream side of the causeway where current sweeps out a deeper hole below the bridge all have good shorecasting potential at night. Note, too, that current breaks below the dam are ideal nighttime shorecasting spots. In all cases, walleyes may move up into a foot or two of water under cover of darkness, during the spawning season, and likely again in fall.
Boat anglers revel in the luxury of mobility, executing long trolling passes parallel to the face of the dam. Yet more often than not, most of their action comes in and around the same shoreline irregularities that draw walleyes and shorecasters. Inevitably, shorecasters begrudge boats anglers moving in too close, while boat anglers hate to steer out and around casting distance from prime shorecasting locations. Ah, the competitive aspect of it all! Fortunately, the competition generally is limited to a few hardy souls, boat and bank, who share the rap zone after sundown.