As spring approaches, rising water temperature is an important key in predicting walleye movement and location. In the southern states, at the end of winter and in more northerly locales shortly after ice out, the water temperature will be about 40F and walleyes will be on or near spawning areas. On southern bodies of water such as Greers Ferry (Arkansas), walleye prespawn generally occurs in mid to late February. On southwestern bodies of water like Lake Powell (Utah Arizona), where ice rarely forms, it will be early to mid February. Slightly farther north on Lake Cumberland (Kentucky), it will be March, while April usually sees prespawn in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and New York. Finally, walleyes may not spawn until early June in much of Canada, even later in far northern reaches.
Walleyes prefer to spawn on rock rubble -- gravel to fist sized and sometimes larger rock. The fish spawn at night in shallow water, depositing eggs into the nooks and crannies between rocks. Current attracts them because it oxygenates the water. Thus shallow rock rubble areas, current flow (feeder rivers, creeks, inlets, and narrows), and windswept shorelines or shallow reefs tend to attract early-season fish.
Where walleyes spawn is the focus for early season fish location. Walleyes may be on spawning spots for a month or more; sometimes they don't leave. When they do leave, though, usually it's in a patternable progression.
Whether you get to the lake at ice out or early summer, finding walleyes is a matter of determining how far along they are in that progression. Then you must determine whether to concentrate your fishing during the day or at night.
Locational priorities are basically the same in lakes, rivers, and reservoirs, once walleyes reach spawning areas. In a small river, for example, walleyes will move upstream to a dam. At the dam, they'll hold on or near rock rubble in slackwater areas immediately adjacent to current. Key locations usually are in the immediate tailwater area.
In large rivers, the same rules apply on a larger scale; that is, walleyes will tend to be on rock rubble in slackwater areas near current. They'll tend to hold deeper during the day, shallower at night. But in a large river, immediate areas may include dozens of spots in the mile or more area below a dam, instead of a few spots in the 100 yard stretch below a small dam.
If a reservoir has a long, narrow, riverlike feeder stream with hard bottom, walleyes may run in it. Natural rock barriers, not dams, usually block the upstream movements of fish.
In reservoirs with hard bottomed shallow shoals in the main reservoir or in major creek arms, but without hard bottomed feeder rivers or creeks, walleyes move to those shoals, just as they do in a natural lake.
In reservoirs where the only available hard bottom is manmade riprap, the face of the dam or causeways often are the focal point for prespawn and spawn activity.
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This lake is typical of natural walleye lakes, but the tips also apply to reservoirs. Rivers are a different story.
This lake has a feeder stream plus a spiller dam that regulates water level. The key attraction for early-season walleyes is rock-rubble bottom in shallow water. Main-lake rubble areas swept by current or waves are best because rubble provides an ideal surface for walleye eggs to cling to, and the moving water provides oxygen.
Rock rubble is present in several areas. Each area isn't equally attractive, though.. The first rubble areas to warm attract the first prespawn walleyes. Look for current areas. Inlet Area A and Narrows Area B are classic examples.
Less distinctive, but perhaps as good, is Main Lake Narrows C. High spring water means current there.
Consider how current might move through the lake. The water flows in at Area A and perhaps slightly brushes the north shore as it passes through Area C. Then it may cross the lake and pass along the south shore on its way to the spiller dam.
As the water continues to warm, other areas attract fish. Check shoreline points like Area D. A similar rocky stretch lies along the shoreline at E. You'll have to fish the two areas to determine which is better. Things being equal, though, concentrate on the area with wind blowing into it.
Other subtle factors may make a difference. If the shoreline tapers slowly and continues out into the water at the same slope, don't look for walleyes near shore. If the shoreline drops quickly into 1 to 2 feet of water, walleyes may be near shore.
As the water continues warming, walleyes in current areas complete spawning. It's time to check sunken islands like F. If it has broken rocks on top and is about 6 feet or shallower on top, it may attract walleyes.
There's spawning progression in most bodies of water. Some groups of walleyes spawn later than others. While some are spawning and not feeding, others may be in prespawn and still feeding fairly aggressively.
Get a feel for each body of water. Check different areas. Try different presentations. Don't automatically anchor at the mouth of a feeder stream. If your timing's right, it's a great spot -- but if you're a week late, you'll be short a limit of walleyes.