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The Rising: Changing Water Levels Affect Walleye Location and Behavior

by In-Fisherman   |  July 25th, 2012 0

As winter loses its icy hammerlock on the environment, meltwater droplets form trickles, trickles become rivulets (or vice versa, depending which is larger), continually unifying to become creeks and streams and, finally, rivers, the granddaddies of all flowing water. No wonder they call him Ol’ Man River. Mother Nature dictates the weather, but Ol’ Man River shoulders the flow.

Walleyes react to increasing currents and changing water levels as winter creeps almost imperceptibly in transition toward spring. It doesn’t take a major change to trigger fish movement and activity; walleyes sense the small stuff we mammals are too land-oriented and big-brained to detect. But suffice it to say that when water enters the river, walleyes react and go with the flow.

Early on, water temperature remains virtually constant; 32F ice dwindles into water of the same chilly temperature. Yet, as the flow picks up, the river deepens ever-so-slightly, currents subtly shift and build, and walleyes react, adjusting their location, swimming upstream, adopting a positive attitude toward feeding, and in general increasing in aggressiveness.

And bite. We like that.

The first hint of increased activity comes with the arrival of new waves of fish at the dam. Having swum upstream until nearly bumping their noses against the impassable structure, they drop back slightly and take advantage of the best available feeding lanes where flowing water will drift food past their noses. Also early on, current is slight to mild, meaning that nearly anywhere walleyes can sit slightly out of modest flow, in position to make a mad dash into it and grab a meal and then immediately return to safe harbor, is a candidate to draw fish.

This can be in the form of large, slowly spinning eddies; visible current breaks along shore caused by points, wing dams, riprap, or other current-breakers; or downstream obstructions like bridge pilings or islands. Basically, current breaks you can see.

Or it can occur along current breaks of the invisible kind, although detectable on your electronics. During low flow, the basins of most holes at river bends, and even deep midriver basin areas just downstream from the dam, often have so little flow that fish can merely spread across the basin, belly-to-bottom, and watch for food to wash over their heads. Obvious areas, like the head ends of holes, are high-percentage feeding areas. Subtler areas, like a middepth stretch of rolling sand dunes providing a series of tiny current-breaking peaks and valleys, are missed by most anglers unaware of their potential. The point is, during low water and reduced flow, walleyes are not restricted to using certain areas because current forces them to do so. Instead, they can be nearly anywhere, often within a few miles downstream of a dam, or within holes at river bends, but are not limited to being there.

This spread-out behavior lends itself to long downstream drifts with jigs and minnows, often through areas of barely reduced current. It favors longline-trolling lipped diving crankbaits on superlines or leadcore, scratching and scrabbling lures across bottom, contacting the occasional rock or odd piece of wood, occasionally discovering the haunts and hideouts of midriver walleyes. And it accommodates zigzagging across and through potential areas with three-way rigs trailing minnows, floating jigheads, even minnow-imitator crankbaits. Show the fish options; they’ll tell you what they want.

Increasing flow and slowly rising water levels begin changing the river angling scene, generally as water temperatures creep into the mid to high 30F range. As midriver areas begin bearing the brunt of the new current, baitfish and walleyes begin diverting toward areas with less flow. This generally means that the fish move tighter to shore, to islands, to wing dams and bridges. Where fish were once spread throughout massive gentle eddies, the strengthening storm, much like a hurricane, draws them tighter into the eye. In essence, fish location becomes focused upon distinctive current breaks — things you can see due to their telltale visual indicators on the surface.

Continued – click on page link below.

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