Rivers, the ultimate fishing universe for avid walleye anglers, provide certain advantages over lakes and reservoirs when it comes to catching fish in tough conditions.
River walleyes can be fairly predictable. Changes in water levels force them into more suitable areas, where local currents push them into specific, often visible locations such as current breaks. River walleyes are also less affected by weather fluctuations than those in lakes and reservoirs, again thanks to the river's current. Anglers can therefore find actively feeding fish in rivers regardless of the time of year, the weather, or various unforeseen natural factors.
But -- and there is always a but -- what happens when you can't catch fish in otherwise predictable river situations? When, why, and how come into the equation.
Determining when this happens can be tough. During summer, difficult bites generally occur -- even on rivers -- when the skies are clear and the winds are calm. This is especially true of clear rivers. In all rivers, however, a substantial change in water level can place walleyes in a neutral mood.
Why it happens is easier to answer. Increased sunlight penetration associated with high, clear, calm skies will most likely have a negative affect on walleyes, since baitfish find it easier to evade predators under these conditions. Changing water levels affect walleye location because the depths and locations of both feeding and resting zones change.If the water is excessively muddied by rain, it may also put river walleyes in a neutral, or even a negative, mood.
The how part of the equation is fundamental, though often overlooked by walleye anglers: Neutral fish are catchable if you show them a presentation that appeals to their neutral mood. To my mind, the undisputed king of neutral-mode presentations is the slipbobber, almost never applied in riverine fishing. And therein lies the answer to catching river walleyes during those uncatchable situations.
There are several keys to using slipbobbers for river presentations. The first is the location you plan to fish the slipbobber.Is it in a current flow situation, or calmer water? The answer determines which livebait you should put under the bobber.
In slackwater situations, minnows are the bait of choice. They create the motion needed to make the presentation effective, slowly moving the bobber around in the still water.
Leeches may also work well in this situation. If you're using minnows and not getting bit, switch to a leech. In some instances, minnows have too much movement for the fish's neutral mood. A leech, however, is just right: it's subtle enough to draw the fish in, yet not too active to spook the fish away. It's the ultimate trigger for neutral, and sometimes even negative, walleyes.
If you're in a fast-current situation, however, you want the slipbobber to drift exactly along with the current; if you put a lively minnow on, it may continually pull the bobber out of the drift zone. So, when working such areas, a leech is your best choice for bait. The leech still has good motion, but is not strong enough to hinder the drift of your bobber. A nightcrawler might also work, though leeches are your first choice, outproducing crawlers in fast-water situations.
But there is one situation in which nightcrawlers might be your first choice, when slipbobbering. Crawlers barely move under a bobber, and if walleyes are in a negative mood, they might gather enough interest to nip on a crawler, but not much else. Even here, though, leeches work just as well and are cleaner to handle -- no messy bedding.
The location aspect of river slipbobbering is pretty simple: fish the same locales you'd normally fish for walleyes. Current breaks, wingdams, mudlines, and the edges of shallow flats are all good locations for slipbobbers. If the water is deep enough to mark fish on your electronics but you still can't catch them, definitely pull out a slipbobber and give it a try.
The hardest part of this technique is actually doing it. Stepping "out of the box" and trying something different can be difficult. The only way to see if this works, of course, is just to try it out, yourself. The technique can pay great dividends, so why not give it a shot? For fishing stubborn river walleyes, you might be amazed how well a traditional bobber presentation can still perform.