Spring Walleyes: Location in Natural Lakes

There's more to the location of spring walleyes than simply fishing on or near rocks. Myriad factors combine to create habitat options. Some are common to most natural lakes; others, less so.

The accompanying chart indicates that fishing the primary drop-off outside a spawning area is a universally good choice in most natural lakes. This pattern offers a predictably strong combination of depth, cover, food opportunities, and seasonal location.

In comparison, fishing for spring walleyes roaming clean, shallow flats may not produce fish. In most cases, other options are probably better, unless the lake lacks depth or cover near spawning grounds and the primary food source is roaming the shallows. Under such conditions, walleyes may react by remaining shallow, roaming areas with little to concentrate fish. It depends on what's available.

Classic spring patterns near spawning grounds include primary drop-offs in deep, clear lakes; shoreline rocks or weedcover in shallow stained waters or prairie lakes; current inflows in Canadian shield waters; and river inlets or shallow reefs in bays of the Great Lakes. They're like money in the bank, but may not be the only investment opportunities worth checking.

Universally ignored options include remnant or emerging weedgrowth, changes in bottom content, depressions or rises on shallow flats adjacent to spawning grounds, and suspended fish or fish roaming open basins adjacent to spawning areas. Subtleties on the flats may concentrate fish in limited areas or depth ranges, even if at first glance little change appears to attract and hold fish.

Walleyes may opt to use deep open areas due to a lack of cover or structure near spawning grounds, or if a better food source is available in deep open water -- generally suspended forage like smelt, ciscoes, or shad. Walleyes take advantage of available options and react accordingly.

When you fish natural lakes this spring, focus on walleye spawning grounds, then turn around, face the middle of the lake, and ask: "If I were a hungry walleye, where would I go in this environment?" Then begin checking the nearest options, expanding your search until you strike gold. Doesn't matter where you catch them -- only that you do.

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