Cranking to Locate Walleyes

The month of March, heading into April, always gets the walleyeheads' blood boiling. Springtime walleyes are a welcome answer to the doldrums after a long winter. In western reservoirs and rivers, it's the time to pitch jigs up shallow, almost a flippin' technique. In many anglers' eyes, it is the most enjoyable way to catch walleyes all season long.

Western reservoirs and rivers contain certain structural pieces that all walleye fisherman look for in order to pitch jigs up shallow: rocky points, shallow shelves with deep-water access, and the list goes on. For anglers making their first trip to a western reservoir -- Lake Oahe in South Dakota -- the sheer number of spots can be mind-boggling. It's point after point after point as far as the eye can see. Where to start? And how?

As a general rule of thumb, pick points that lie up inside creek arms at this time of year. More specifically, select points in these creek arms that have both shallow water (2 to 6 feet) and quick access to deep water (10 to 20 feet). This usually eliminates about half the points, making your job easier.

Second, mudlines play a crucial role on these reservoirs in attracting active, feeding walleyes. Mudlines mean walleyes at this time of year, so note which way the wind is blowing and select points on the downwind shore, exposed to the waves. This strategy eliminates more points, yet still leaves a lot of water to cover.

The most consistent method for catching these shallow eyes is pitching a jig and a minnow. The problem with this technique is speed. Pitching jigs is a slow technique, which in turn means that you're not covering a lot of water. Trying to locate fish with slow tactics can be a long, drawn-out process.

To locate walleyes and cover water more effectively, get out the crankbaits. Cranks in March and April? Sound too early? It's not. Cranks are great locater-baits this time of year, trolling or casting, even in cold water. We're not talking about trolling here, however, but rather focusing on casting cranks up into mudlines.

I like a Shad Rap style crank for this technique. Shad Raps, Wally Divers, CC shads are all good choices. You'll typically be casting in 1 to 5 feet of water, so shallow runners are in order.

Retrieve patterns can vary at this time of year, but the norm is a crank-and-stop retrieve. Cast the crank up shallow, give a good ten turns on the reel, then pause for two seconds, and repeat throughout the shallows. Once your bait reaches deep water, reel it in and cast again.

Casting cranks does two major things for you. First, it lets you cover lots of water quickly. In return, it eliminates unproductive spots. Second, it locates and catches the most aggressive fish.

Using this technique, you can create a "milk run", allowing you to go back to mudlines and points where you caught fish, and then fish back through the areas with slower techniques, such as pitching jigs. Pitching covers the water more thoroughly, and you will pick off fish that were not aggressive enough to hit the cranks.

This dual approach to springtime walleyes in western reservoirs and rivers can completely change how you fish at this time of year. Casting cranks speeds up the process of locating active fish. This in turn increases your catch-rate on jigs. It makes you a more efficient and productive angler. Isn't that our goal? To catch more fish, more quickly?

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