Pitchin' and Flippin' Walleyes
August 01, 2012
Spring is the best time to target shallow walleyes. It's the time for flippin' and pitchin' jigs to fish that have moved shallow near shorelines and points, or for extracting walleyes from weeds or wood. The key is locating prime structure, precise depths, bottom with rocks or wood, and using a jig presentation that triggers strikes.
Shallow water warms the quickest, making it the most likely place to find concentrated populations of walleyes during prespawn and postspawn. Points, shallow ledge drops, rock, and weeds attract baitfish and walleyes. Points and shorelines with a darker bottom content or areas of dirty water warm earlier.
Walleyes typically start spawning once the water reaches from 40F to 45F. They expend energy spawning, and eventually a postspawn bite ensues to replenish energy. They often remain shallow to feed on forage and baitfish that also have moved shallow.
In-Fisherman's Professional Walleye Trail (PWT) 1999 Angler of the Year Mike Gofron and PWT Top Gun Chris Gilman both pitch and flip jigs shallow in spring for walleyes.
"In spring, the key to locating walleyes is finding warmer water," Gofron explains. "On any body of water, certain areas warm faster than others. In lakes, for example, the northeast shoreline often has the warmest water. I look for hard-bottom locations. Visible rock on the shorelines often indicates scattered rocks or shale in the water."
"Everything starts happening shallow where the water warms first," Gilman explains. "I've caught walleyes in only inches of water; I could see their dorsal fins sticking out of the water as they cruised the shallows. Shallow mud bays, where weeds start growing, bugs and tadpoles start hatching, and other fish and forage species move in to spawn often host a population of catchable walleyes.
"In rivers, anytime the flow is high, walleyes usually are tucked up shallow in flooded timber and backwater eddies to escape the main current flow. The only way to catch them is to pitch and flip right into the snags."
PERSPECTIVES ON LOCATION
Certain shallow locations attract and hold more walleyes than others. In spring, walleyes swim upstream under bridges and through narrows in search of shallow spawning bays, using current breaks as they migrate through these areas. Riprap, rock, and rubble near bridges, causeways, and dams also can be good.
"I key on some type of shallow structural element, whether it's a rock or weed point, shallow hump, or island." Gilman says. "Generally, walleyes relate to similar key spots throughout a body of water. Whether it's a 7-foot weededge, the tips of points, or a shallow bay near a patch of shoreline willows, walleyes seem to favor certain locations, sometimes daily. Once you develop a location pattern, you usually can find other similar locations that also are attracting walleyes."
According to Gofron, "Walleyes move around a lot in spring. Many anglers start out pitching to the points. Points are good, but they're the most obvious and hardest hit by anglers. Shorelines also attract a lot of walleyes and are overlooked by most anglers. Female walleyes, particularly, can be found near key spots like rocky shorelines adjacent to deeper water. Add a little wind to the shoreline, or across a point, and the bite often picks up. During low light conditions, however, I believe fish can be found up and down the shorelines, even if the water is gin clear.
"Anglers often shy away from fishing snaggy cover, but the sun beating down on flooded wood and roots in the shallows warms the water temperature, which attracts baitfish and creates key spots for pitching and flipping to walleyes," Gofron says.
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Water clarity affects walleye behavior and location. On many western reservoirs, for example, wind sends waves crashing into shorelines, points, and bays, which mixes sediment into the water, creating a cloud of murky water (mudline) in the shallows. As wind continues to blow, the mudline spreads out over the basin like an oil slick.
Where the overall water clarity is fairly clear, walleyes and baitfish are attracted to shallow locations with dark water for food and shade. Darker water attracts other spawning fish, like perch and other baitfish, into the area.
Gilman believes, "Anytime you can find murky water, like bays, shorelines, or locations where maybe spawning carp are stirring up the bottom, walleyes should be nearby. I've fished calm lakes and had no action where the bottom was visible in 5 to 8 feet of water. Once the wind started to blow a few hours later, the same area was loaded with walleyes."
Consider boat position when working shallow water to avoid spooking the walleyes, especially in clear water, but don't position your boat too far from the action. Keep close enough to stay in contact with your jig.
Gofron says, "If I've fished a spot in the past and know the layout, I anchor where I can cast downwind, which gives me ultimate boat control and feel of the jig. I simply fancast the area."
"I use a 6- to 6 1â„2 foot medium-light spinning rod spooled with 4- to 6-pound mono for most pitching situations. According to Gilman, "If you're using a medium- or medium-heavy-action rod in shallow water and setting the hook at close distances, it's possible to set the hook too hard and lose fish. I use a 6-foot medium-light rod, which allows me to make accurate casts and still offers good sensitivity, yet it's limp enough to let me set the hook when a fish strikes close.
"I use 4-pound fluorescent Berkley XT Solar mono," Gofron says, "in combination with 1/16- to 1/8-ounce Northland long-shank jigs. I tie my jigs directly to the line, which doesn't seem to bother the walleyes. I always watch my line to detect jumps, pecks, and ticks that indicate a strike. I often catch fish that I don't feel hit the jig."
Gilman echoes Gofron's sentiments about the advantages of fluorescent monofilament: "Use line you can see and watch. Wind often blows your line, putting a slight bow between your rod tip and the point where line enters the water. Being able to watch the bow in my line and to see it jump when a fish strikes, even though I didn't feel a thing, puts a lot of fish in my boat. Clear lines would be my second choice, but low-visibility green is almost impossible to see."
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Jig size and how you retrieve it can make the difference between catching and not catching walleyes. Gofron feels the lighter the jig, the easier it is for walleyes to inhale it all the way into their mouths, increasing your chance for a good hookset. Gofron's favorite combination for most situations is a 1/16-ounce jig and 4-pound Berkley XT Solar mono. But he also stresses that it's vitally important to stay in contact with the jig at all times. Using lighter jigs calls for experience and angling skill.
"If you're losing contact with the bottom and your jig, you're probably moving too fast. For example, say your fishing a river using a 1/4-ounce jig. Then the wind starts blowing and you lose contact with your jig, so you increase to a 1/2- or 3/4-ounce jig to stay in contact with the bottom. You're probably moving a lot faster, changing your presentation completely.
"Many anglers forget that wind increases the speed of a jig presentation, which can make a huge difference if the fish want the jig slow. Before I change my jig size, I adjust my boat control to compensate for the wind. The absolute key is to stay in contact with your jig, which includes being able to maintain contact with the bottom."
All good pitchers develop their own style and methods of pitching and retrieving jigs. The best maintain an intense level of concentration so they always know exactly what their jigs are doing. They find the best locations and use the best jig presentation possible, whether it's a retrieve that has worked in the past, or a combination of lifts, pops, drops, and drags developed on a daily basis.
"How I work the jig depends on the type of day and how the fish are reacting to what I'm doing with the jig," Gofron says. "In the morning when the water is colder, I start off by pitching the jig out and letting it sink. Then I lift it a couple inches, drag it, then let it sit, but not for long. Lift, drag, sit; lift, drag, sit. If I pull and feel a fish on, I start dragging it a bit longer.
"As the day goes on and the water warms, walleyes become more aggressive. I often start popping the jig a bit more, and the fish almost always hit on the fall. When they start hitting aggressively, more fish with the same attitude likely are in the area. Popping the jig helps the fish spot your presentation."
Gilman almost always uses a slow, but fairly steady retrieve when pitching shallow. "My favorite jig for pitching shallow cover is an 1/8-ounce Northland Weed-Weasel tipped with a leech or a half crawler. The weedless design makes it fairly snagless. It also has a slower fall rate than, say, a round-head jig," Gilman says.
"I like to work my jig over the fish, almost like working a crankbait. Walleyes in shallow almost always will come up to feed. Occasionally, I let the jig fall, but most of the time, I use a steady retrieve back to the boat. By keeping the bait moving above the fish, active walleyes come up and hit it.
"Walleyes rarely rush to inhale the jig as soon as it hits the water, as a bass does. Most of the time, they follow the jig, sometimes striking after a few cranks of the reel. They may even follow it to the boat before hitting it, so concentrate and be prepared for a fish to hit right at the boat."