Winter walleyes can be very unpredictable. This especially holds true in midsouth reservoir walleyes. Another reason they seem so elusive is that very little fishing pressure occurs specifically for walleyes, so the learning curve is steep.
Finding them from December to the time they migrate up creek arms may be easier based on research from the Lake Cumberland fishery biologists. This sprawling Kentucky reservoir has been sampled with gill nets every other year, and John Williams said the department conducts a “same time, same place” comparison.
On the lower end, they run five nets off the main lake points near major creek arms in the Jamestown Dock area. In mid-November, they stretch 150 feet of net from shore to 40 feet deep. “Most walleyes are in the 20 to 35 foot range,” Williams said. Another set of nets are erected at the Conley Bottom Boat Dock area, and the fish favor the same depths.
“I think they hang there all winter–well into February, even though there’s very little fishing at that time,” he said. Fish start moving up the major creek arms (Cumberland River and the Big South Fork), in February and March. People generally start fishing the rivers in mid-March. The department also collects brood fish on the dam rip rap. “Yes, we have some main lake spawners,” Williams said.
Anglers heading to Cumberland should be excited about the research results. “We have seen really good numbers during the last two sample years–2000 and 2002. But, 2002 produced the best numbers ever. The walleye population is improving,” he said.
Fishing guide service owner Tim Tarter (email@example.com) said, “Walleye anglers here in winter need patience. Walleyes seem sluggish and stay close to bottom, but at the few warm water discharges and at night, casting shorelines with cranks can be productive.”
Over on Bull Shoals Lake bordering Arkansas and Missouri, a few local guides chase walleyes quite religiously. Working from Bull Shoals Boat Dock (870-445-4424), guide Jeff Moore said, “Fishing walleyes is my favorite thing to do.”
Most of the year, walleyes key on shad, and the winter months are no different. The walleyes either follow the shad or coincidently move towards the backs of the creeks as the winter calendar pages slip into February. In January, walleyes are about two-thirds of the way back, and can be found on ledges at about 20 to 25 feet deep on “channel swings.”
“Spoons work well in winter, but most of the time, worm harnesses and simple tackle is what we use,” Moore said, “Not many anglers fish walleyes in the dead of winter, and everything we learn is by hard work.”
Guides like Moore are anxious for the PWT tournament on Bull Shoals next June. This will be the first time for the PWT on this huge reservoir, and Moore expects many lake secrets to be discovered. For PWT info and entry blanks, go to the PWT web site (www.professionalwalleyetrail.com).