Postspawn Reservoir Walleyes

Postspawn Reservoir Walleyes

In spring, prespawn walleyes move to specific shallow locations ranging from about one to six feet deep. In reservoirs, walleyes often migrate to the current of feeder rivers or smaller tributaries in creek arms, keying on gravel and rocky sections near incoming rivers and tributary streams, main-lake points, and shorelines. Some walleyes may even spawn on riprap along the faces of dams and causeways. During years of high flow, even flooded shoreline terrestrial vegetation may provide a place for spawning.

Last spring, during an In-Fisherman Professional Walleye Trail (PWT) tournament held on Lake Francis Case reservoir in South Dakota, the tournament coincided with the tail end of the walleye spawn, which gave anglers the opportunity to witness interesting walleye behavior associated with spawning.

Early in the mornings, walleyes could be seen thrashing and spawning in the shallows. The most intriguing behavior, though, was watching anglers hook, fight, and net a fish, only to find one or two additional walleyes flopping in the net. The males were so aggressive that anglers frequently netted multiple fish that followed and chased a hooked walleye right into the net.

Although it's rare to actually net walleyes following a hooked fish, instinct during the spawning period is to follow and chase other males that are possibly chasing a female, or pursuing food. In fact, the next time you're fishing during the walleye spawn, consider looking for other walleyes following behind or below those you hook. You may be surprised at how many walleyes are following.


Again, males are the aggressors and remain competitive throughout the spawn. This aggressive behavior often starts a few weeks before the spawn and lasts for several weeks after peak spawning. Some of the best walleye action of the year is targeting aggressive males in key shallow locations.


Females, on the other hand, often stage slightly away from spawning sites, yet seek warmer water during the Prespawn Period while their eggs mature. They generally don't spend much time at the actual spawning site. In fact, once they move in and drop their eggs, they almost immediately vacate the area.


To catch postspawn females, key on adjacent deeper structure. The action likely won't be as fast as the shallow bite, but classic deeper spots offer the best opportunity for larger females. Look for females staging on main-lake points or holding along the edges of old river or creek channels. In creek arms, primary points near the main river channel or midlake structure like submerged islands or humps are potential spots.

POSTSPAWN RESERVOIR VARIABLES

During postspawn, many things can dictate walleye location. Fish can be found in deep water within upstream creeks and river sections, suspended in the midsection of the impoundment, and in the shallows of creek arms. Depending on conditions, a percentage of a reservoir walleye population may key on shallow forage, while others key on coldwater baitfish out deep, and yet others search for food both deep and shallow.


Forage types, abundance, and seasonal movements noticeably affect walleye location. Forage abundance also can have a big effect on walleye location. With abundant food in the shallows, walleyes may stay shallow or at least move shallow to feed. Available food allows walleyes to feed relatively quickly and easily without expending much energy.

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In spring, a variety of baitfish species seek similar shallow spawning locations, triggering walleyes to stay shallow to feed on baitfish preparing to spawn. Shad, chubs, and juvenile fish like white bass and perch tend to reside in shallower water, using shallow cover like weeds, scattered rocks, or flooded wood.

Walleyes key on different forage species as seasons change and as baitfish make seasonal movements. In western reservoirs, a spawning run of spottail shiners in June or July into creek arms triggers walleyes to home in on this shallow feeding opportunity.

In many reservoirs, self-sustaining populations of coldwater baitfish (smelt or alewives) create deeper feeding opportunities and fishing patterns. As summer approaches, walleyes in reservoirs with coldwater baitfish tend to roam and suspend, often following these baitfish out to open water. If the predominant forage is smelt, by early summer the walleyes follow them deeper, out to the edges of the flats or points, and even out to the main basin where they suspend near baitfish schools.

Water levels also determine how long walleyes remain shallow. During low-water conditions, walleyes tend to quickly vacate the shallows and migrate back out to deeper structure soon after the spawn. When water levels are high, though, shoreline vegetation floods, serving as good spawning cover. The shallow cover also provides shelter for baitfish and young-of-the-year forage. Walleyes may remain in creek arms throughout the summer to feed on baitfish in the flooded brush or grass.

Wind -- or lack of wind -- alters walleye location in reservoirs. During calm clear conditions, reservoir walleyes may drop deeper, depending on forage availability, water clarity, and temperature. In deep water, walleyes generally are easier to graph, and the exact depth at which they're holding can be pinpointed. They're generally harder to catch, however, compared to walleyes in the shallows.

Wind creates current that often triggers walleyes to move and feed. Wind blowing waves into shorelines, points, and bays mixes sediment into the water, creating a cloud of murky water (mudline). In spring, stained water absorbs heat from the sun, warming the water, which may attract walleyes that have yet to spawn or baitfish preparing to spawn. Either way, fish seek warmer water in spring, and so should you.

In all cases, changes in bottom composition, shape of the contour, or depth tend to concentrate walleyes in limited areas, even in the shallows. Sometimes these changes are subtle -- depressions, gravel patches. Other times, they're obvious and even visible to the eye -- rock slides along shore, flooded wood cover, deep-water swing-ins toward shore. In reservoirs, what you see on shore often extends out into the lake, indicating the shape and nature of the nearby terrain. Use your eyes to help locate reservoir 'eyes.

Remember, reservoir walleyes tend to roam and they're really on the move in spring. Conditions change daily, even hourly, however. Note weather conditions, wind direction and speed, water temperature, and time of day. Points, windswept shorelines, shallow ledge shale drops, stained shoreline water (mudlines), flooded shoreline vegetation, or riprap are prime shallow locations. Depending on conditions, consider doing some reservoir roaming yourself to find postspawn walleyes.

Drop Shot Rig

Dropper Rigs

These rigs can perform well for panfish, like crappies and perch, that are feeding near bottom. One rig is called the dropper-loop rig for the looped snells holding the hooks off the 6- to 12-pound-test monofilament mainline. Sinker size ranges from 1/2 to 2 ounces depending on conditions. Typically, one to three pre-tied snells are secured 12 to 18 inches above the sinker for presenting multiple baits simultaneously, state laws allowing.Drop-shot rig — The drop-shot rig is a type of dropper rig, often used in bass fishing. On a drop-shot-rig, the hook is attached directly to the mainline rather than on a loop or leader shooting off the mainline. Below the hook is a sinker fixed to the end of the mainline. The rig allows baits to be presented off bottom a set distance, and is effective with livebaits, as well as with artificial softbaits such as worm, grub, and minnow imitations. On a drop-shot rig, baits can be worked very still, or jiggled and twitched, to attract fish and trigger strikes.

Generic Egg Sinker Rig

Livebait rigging is used to drift or troll livebait on or near the bottom, with frequent pauses to give fish a good look at the bait. If a fish strikes, drop the rod tip toward the fish and feed a little line as it swims off. A sliding sinker reduces weight resistance. Heavier fixed sinkers risk spooking fish that strike the bait and feel unnatural pressure.

Generic Slip Rig

Livebait rigging is used to drift or troll livebait on or near the bottom, with frequent pauses to give fish a good look at the bait. If a fish strikes, drop the rod tip toward the fish and feed a little line as it swims off. A sliding sinker reduces weight resistance. Heavier fixed sinkers risk spooking fish that strike the bait and feel unnatural pressure.

Lindy Rig

Livebait rigging is used to drift or troll livebait on or near the bottom, with frequent pauses to give fish a good look at the bait. If a fish strikes, drop the rod tip toward the fish and feed a little line as it swims off. A sliding sinker reduces weight resistance. Heavier fixed sinkers risk spooking fish that strike the bait and feel unnatural pressure.

Northland Roach Rig

Livebait rigging is used to drift or troll livebait on or near the bottom, with frequent pauses to give fish a good look at the bait. If a fish strikes, drop the rod tip toward the fish and feed a little line as it swims off. A sliding sinker reduces weight resistance. Heavier fixed sinkers risk spooking fish that strike the bait and feel unnatural pressure.

Rubbercor Rig

Livebait rigging is used to drift or troll livebait on or near the bottom, with frequent pauses to give fish a good look at the bait. If a fish strikes, drop the rod tip toward the fish and feed a little line as it swims off. A sliding sinker reduces weight resistance. Heavier fixed sinkers risk spooking fish that strike the bait and feel unnatural pressure.

Sinker Placement

Slipsinker Rig

Teamed with livebait, the slipsinker rig has accounted for more walleyes than any other presentation, but this versatile rig also is a favorite of catfish anglers and has taken many bass, pike, sturgeon, and panfish. The heart of this rig is a sinker that slides on the monofilament or braid mainline above a barrel swivel. For walleyes, for example, you might use a 1/4-ounce walking sinker, 6- to 10-pound monofilament mainline, and a leader of 4- to 10-pound monofilament or fluorocarbon, with an octopus style hook of a size appropriate for the bait. For larger fish, like big catfish, upgrade to line tests of 20 to 30 pounds or more. As with the split-shot rig, the length of the leader determines bait action and control. Use sinker weights appropriate for current and depth. Slipsinker rigs used in strong current might require sinkers up to 8 ounces or more.
The slipsinker rig can be cast and slowly retrieved, slowly trolled, or used as a stationary presentation, so the depth of the water, bottom terrain, and how fast the bait is being moved by the boat, current, or during retrieval, all play a part in determining the weight of the sinker. The sinker usually is a boot-shaped walking sinker or egg- or bell-shaped sinker for gravel and sandy bottoms, or a bullet sinker in weeds and wood. Beads or blades are sometimes added to the leader in front of the hook as an attractant.
Because the mainline slips through the sinker, anglers often find it to their advantage to let a fish 'œrun' with the bait, fishing the presentation with an open spool and letting the fish pull line off the spool with the least resistance possible. This gives the fish more time to get the bait further in its mouth or throat, which can cause more — often lethal — injury to fish. If you can set the hook quickly, or fish on a tight line, it's often better to do so, especially if you intend to release your catch.

Slip Float Rigs

This is the rig that just about every angler fishing today started out with that first time they went fishing, although most were probably too young to remember. Nothing too fancy, just a float or 'œbobber' a couple of feet up the line from some split shot, and a hook baited with a worm below that. Works like magic on panfish.
There are two primary types of float rigs — fixed-float and slipfloat. The fixed float is just that, when the float is fixed to a certain point on the line, and is best fished in situations where the fish are feeding shallow, say four feet or less. The slipfloat rig allows the float to slide up and down the line so you can fish in deeper water. A small bobber stop is fastened on the line somewhere above the bobber to limit how far up the line the bobber can slide, determining how deep the bait is fished. When the rig is reeled in, the stop goes through the rod guides and onto the spool of the reel to allow for casting and retrieving.
While the fixed-float rig is a good way to target shallow fish like crappies, bass, sunfish, catfish, and trout, the slipfloat rig's ability to go deep broadens the potential species list to include pike, walleye, muskie, striper, and more. A longer light-to-medium action spinning rod, about 7 feet long, with a slow to moderate action, spooled with 4- to 8-pound monofilament, is a good choice for a float rig. Hooks should be matched to the bait, such as a #4 to #8 baitholder hook for angleworms and nightcrawlers, for example, although a jig also can be used.
Fishing a float rig often is a case of not doing anything at all, letting the bait do the fish-attracting work, as the float is slowly moved by wave action on the surface. Both rigs should be cast by gently swinging the rig sideways and behind you, then thrusting the rod toward the target with a slight upward motion as you release the line. You want to lob the rig to a specific spot as gently as possible. If the wind is blowing, or you're fishing in current, target your cast so that the wind or current moves the rig into your target zone. In other instances, a little bit of action added by quick twitches of the rod tip or even substantial pulls that move the bait up in the water column and then let it settle, induces strikes. The float signals when a fish is on the line, a visual experience that remains exciting to anglers no matter their age or fishing experience.

Standard Three-Way Rig

An alternative to the set rig is sometimes called the bottom rig or three-way rig. While this rig can be used from the boat, slowly trolled, it also works well as a stationary presentation. Instead of attaching the mainline to the sinker, the mainline is attached to a three-way swivel, with a dropper line to the sinker, and a leader and hook. This adaptation allows the bait to move a little higher off the bottom.

Weedless Bullet Sinker Rig

Livebait rigging is used to drift or troll livebait on or near the bottom, with frequent pauses to give fish a good look at the bait. If a fish strikes, drop the rod tip toward the fish and feed a little line as it swims off. A sliding sinker reduces weight resistance. Heavier fixed sinkers risk spooking fish that strike the bait and feel unnatural pressure.

Split Shot Rig

A hook tied on the end of the line with a sinker pinched on the line above the hook might be one of the best-producing panfish presentations of all time, but it works for bigger fish, too. Most often fished with live­bait like nightcrawlers, angle­worms, minnows, or maggots, this rig can work with some softbaits, like smaller worms and curlytail grubs. The beauty of this rig is that it lets the bait swim free to attract fish with its natural movement. The closer to the hook the sinker is placed the less movement allowed; the farther away the hook and sinker are separated the less control you have and bites can be missed. The number and weight of the sinkers is determined by depth, current, and size of the bait. You want just enough weight to keep the bait freely moving and in the strike zone.
Due to the light weight of this rig, it's usually fished in water shallower than about 20 feet, and most often shallower than 8 feet, with a 6- to 7- foot slow to medium action, medium-light power spinning rod with 4- to 8-pound-test monofilament line. The split-shot rig can be gently cast and slowly retrieved, fished stationary, or allowed to drift. Follow the drift with your rod tip to be sure it drifts naturally and doesn't snag.

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