A Pitch For Shallow Walleyes

A Pitch For Shallow Walleyes

A long winter is coming to a close, and preparation for open-water fishing is in full swing. This is one of my favorite periods of the year -- big walleyes spend time shallow, and their movements are fairly predictable. This is one of the best times to score a trophy from shallow water.

When I target shallow walleyes, I'm talking depths in the 1- to 5-foot range. I've caught fish shallow enough that I could see the swirl of the take. In-Fisherman Professional Walleye Trail angler John Kolinski has it right when he says about this situation, "Once you think you're fishing shallow, go shallower."


THE FISH



After ice-out, walleyes begin to make some movements shallow, checking out spawning areas and feeding on baitfish that also move shallow at this time of year. They eventually begin to spawn as the water temperature pushes past about 43F. This gives an angler a pretty good block of time to fish for prespawn fish -- anywhere from a week or two to a month, depending on the body of water and the latitude. The Prespawn Period tends to be extended in southern waters and compacted in northern waters, although a lot also depends on the weather during this time. Cold weather extends the Prespawn Period.

Male walleyes move up shallow first and stay the longest -- through most of prespawn, right on through the spawn and into postspawn. The males are aggressive when they're up shallow, dropping deeper when they're not feeding actively. Female walleyes generally only move shallow during peak daily periods: morning, evening, after dark, and on windy days.


LOCATION


During most of the prespawn, females (larger fish) hold just off spawning areas in deeper water. These fish are in a neutral to negative feeding mood. When they move shallow, it's to feed, and they become much more aggressive at that time.

Wing dams are an important locational structure on rivers. Walleyes use them in spring, but overall, current eddies hold the most fish at this time of year. Eddies are caused by obstructions like points, rockpiles, sunken wood, and wood debris protruding from the bank. Obviously, wing dams also often create eddies. The best eddies are near deep water.

With a little experience, it's easy to locate eddies visually; the next step is to check each one with electronics. Find out how deep the eddy is and how close it is to deep water. The eddy itself doesn't have to be in deep water, just near it.

This same idea works in lakes and reservoirs, where currents are caused by the wind. Mudlines are important. They may attract fish all day long because they cut light penetration, and baitfish accumulate in these areas. When a mudline coincides with a main-lake point or an eddy, you usually have a great spot.

PRESENTATION

My favorite jig-casting combo is a short-shanked jig like the Northland Fire-Ball. A compact jig casts better, snags less, and does a good job of hooking fish. In place of the typical minnow tipping a jig, I use a 5-inch Berkley PowerBait Jerk Shad or a 4-inch Berkley Power Minnow. Eventually, you may have to replace the plastic body; but there's never a need to dip your hands into a minnow bucket. This presentation is just as productive and much more efficient than tipping with livebait.

Continued -- click on page link below.

Fish prime locations by pitching the jig up into the shallows and letting it sink to the bottom. Then lift your rod tip to raise the jig slightly, letting it fall on a semi-tight line back to the bottom. This sort of "lift-drop" retrieve is a standard at this time of year. It works in lakes, rivers, and reservoirs. Bites are indicated by a tick in the line as the jig settles or swings in the current.

Fish each current eddy thoroughly, beginning at either the head or tail of the area. Some eddies are big enough to require many casts, while others only take one or two. Giant eddies at times require anchoring, especially when it becomes obvious that lots of fish are present. Anchor in deeper water and pitch shallower, letting the current sweep the jig along as you lift it and let it fall. If you find a prime eddy -- one that's consistently used by fish moving upriver or moving shallow (in a lake or reservoir) in the evening. It isn't unusual to continue to catch fish from the same spot for an hour or more, sometimes all day.

CRANKBAITS

I often use crankbaits in this situation, especially as search lures for finding fish. You can work through an area with a crankbait faster than with a jig. It's also the tool of choice anytime an area's too rocky to work a jig, and works well when it's too windy to ply a light jig. You may note, too, that sometimes crankbaits seem to produce larger fish than jigs do.

Control of both depth and speed are the most important factors in choosing a crankbait. Right now, the crankbait also shouldn't be too large. For water less than about 2 feet deep, I use a #7 Count Down Rapala or a Rapala #10 Husky Jerk. If a little deeper, I go with a Shad Rap or a Rapala #7 Tail Dancer. Usually the subtle-wobbling baits produce best at this time, but sometimes the wider-wobbling Tail Dancer produces best when fish are aggressive.

Fish a crankbait through an area just as you would a jig, casting up shallow and working through the eddy with either a straight retrieve or a stop-and-go technique. With this lure, I usually fish a pool from top to bottom.

SLIPBOBBERS

If you encounter flat-calm conditions, sometimes the splashdown of a jig or crankbait spooks shallow fish. This is where the slipbobber comes into its own. In rivers, cast to the head of the eddy or pool and let the bobber slip through the area. In lakes and reservoirs, cast beyond prime areas and slowly bring the bobber into the strike zone, with minimal surface disturbance.

A leech tipped on a jighead is my favorite bait choice, even though many anglers think it's too early to fish with leeches. If it's difficult to find them this soon, minnows work, too. A slipbobber also is a top choice if you have beginning anglers in the boat with you -- anglers who need help getting the hang of pitching jigs, or have difficulty controlling their casts with crankbaits. The slipbobber option also sometimes works well in heavy wind and when it's particularly cold out.

Fishing deep is sometimes the right option at this time of year -- often, conditions demand it. Walleyes spend some time shallow each day and, once they move shallow, they're some of the most aggressive and catchable fish during this season.

I usually look shallow first, to determine whether or not I should probe deeper water. Most anglers do the opposite. Too many anglers never consider fishing shallow at this time of year. Big mistake.

Get Your Fish On.

Plan your next fishing and boating adventure here.

Recommended for You

To help you get a handle on it all, we offer the following rundown of top choices on the buzzbait scene. Bass

Buzzbaits for Bass

Dan Johnson - February 02, 2015

To help you get a handle on it all, we offer the following rundown of top choices on the...

In-Fisherman

Here is a way to calculate prop performance with different props, a formula Boats & Motors

Technical Notes: Calculating Prop Performance

In-Fisherman - May 01, 2019

In-Fisherman Here is a way to calculate prop performance with different props, a formula

These secrets will put more and bigger bass in your boat! Bass

Topwater Lure Secrets for Bass

Jim Edlund - April 26, 2018

These secrets will put more and bigger bass in your boat!

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

MLF BPT angler and former Classic champ Casey Ashley has been with Costa del Mar sunglasses his whole career. At ICAST 2019, he shows OSG writer Lynn Burkhead some new products and talks how to pick the right lens color for the water.

As KVD tells OSG's Lynn Burkhead, innovative Humminbird products and cutting-edge technology like that found in the new Mega 360 Imaging sonar are major reasons contributing to his unparalleled success.

Mustad Skatter Shad Bladed Jig

Mustad Skatter Shad Bladed Jig

As Mustad continues to expand into an all-around tackle company, Reid McKinstry shows off some innovative features that make the Mustad Skatter Shad bladed jig a winner in big bass waters.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

Several methods are available to estimate the weight of a fish. Some use length as well as girth Biology

Walleye Length To Weight Conversion Chart

Dr. Rob Neumann - January 03, 2017

Several methods are available to estimate the weight of a fish. Some use length as well as...

Catfish are among the most popular groups of fish with over 7 million catfish anglers nationwide. Catfish

All About Catfish

Rob Neumann

Catfish are among the most popular groups of fish with over 7 million catfish anglers...

Now more than ever, understanding each category's strong suits is critical to choosing a powerplant that best fits your personal needs and preferences. Boats & Motors

2- Vs. 4-Cycle Outboard Motors

Dan Johnson - April 16, 2018

Now more than ever, understanding each category's strong suits is critical to choosing a...

See More Stories

More Walleye

Spinner rigs are a key element in walleye fishing. Walleye

Spinner Rigs for More Walleye

Steve Ryan - January 03, 2018

Spinner rigs are a key element in walleye fishing.

If you're convinced that cold-water walleyes and crankbaits don't mix, a change of heart could Walleye

Crankin' Tactics for Cold-Water Walleyes

Dan Johnson

If you're convinced that cold-water walleyes and crankbaits don't mix, a change of heart could

When fish move shallow, pitching a variety of baits will often take more fish. Walleye

Pitching Baits to Shallow Walleyes

Matt Straw - March 09, 2018

When fish move shallow, pitching a variety of baits will often take more fish.

See More Walleye

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

×