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SUMMER RIVER WALLEYES

SUMMER RIVER WALLEYES

As spring evolves into summer, river walleyes typically disperse downstream and break up into small groups, setting up temporary residences near current-breaking objects or structures. Once water levels drop low enough, flooded shoreline cover becomes too shallow to attract fish. Now walleyes have no choice but to move toward the center of the river or to holes formed at bends. Current becomes moderate, but it remains a primary moving force in the lives of gamefish and baitfish — something to be dealt with every moment of every day. As water levels drop, then, current-deflecting structures projecting into the river become prime summer walleye locations.

In adult or mature rivers, long shallow runs typically become devoid of walleyes because fish concentrate near deeper holes. Thus even small rivers with weak walleye populations may offer fair summer concentrations of fish.

Aggressive walleyes tend to lie near distinctive current breaks like rock points or along the lips of holes, rather than in basins, which appear to be used chiefly as resting or cold front locations. Look for visual current seams, eddies, or other distinctive interruptions in flows. Without the threat of freezing, currrent-breaking structures that drop into as little as 4 — 5 feet of water may hold plenty of walleyes in summer.


On larger middle-aged rivers, even straight stretches may be deep enough to hold walleyes in summer, provided that distinctive current breaks are present. The basins of deep holes near river bends may not attract many fish until fall. Natural rock points and wing dams become primary summer walleye locations almost everywhere they occur.


Fishing a big river like the Mississippi during summer is a pleasure. The hordes of fishermen who descend on the river for the spring walleye run are long gone; like walleyes, spring also concentrates fishermen. During summer, fishing pressure becomes lighter and more spread out. You'll catch plenty of walleyes and still have time to pull off the river at noon for a cup of coffee and a sandwich, and you'll be able to find a cozy restaurant to enjoy a traditional riverside fish fry in the evening, too.

During 1982 and 1983, Iowa Department of Natural Resources biologist John Pitlo and co-workers radio tagged and followed walleyes in Pool 13 of the Mississippi River. Their conclusions, coupled with our fishing experience on many large rivers during summer (and fall), provide a clear picture of where walleyes are, based on available habitat and water conditions.

Most larger river pools contain a tailwater area, a main channel, main channel border areas, side channels, river lakes, and ponds. Pitlo compared the time that radio-tagged walleyes spent in specific habitats to the amount of each habitat type in Pool 13. Seventy-five percent of Pitlo's walleye observations occurred in about 25% of the available habitat.

"To be more specific," Pitlo said, "wing dam habitat makes up only about 5% of the habitat available in Pool 13, but it accounted for 32% of our observations. Flowing side channels make up about 15% of the habitat and accounted for 23% of our observations, and main channel border areas make up about 5% of the habitat and accounted for 20% of our observations."


Continued - click on page link below.

In essence, wing and closing dam structures are the principal walleye areas under normal pool (water level) conditions during summer and fall. Main channel border habitat is most important when the water level is low in winter.


As the amount of water discharged from Lock and Dam 12 increased, walleyes' use of wing dams decreased. Under high water conditions, in other words, walleyes vacate wing dams for side channel habitat, in which they are protected from heavy current. When the water drops, they move back to wing dams.

The Best Wing And Closing Dams

Wing Dams

Some habitat areas, in this case certain wing and closing dams, are better fish attractors. The two most important physical characteristics affecting walleyes' use of wing and closing dams are the depth over each structure and the location of the structure in relation to the river's meandering channel.

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 'run ' 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 'bobber ' 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.

Water depth is greater around structures located on outside river bends and less on inside bends; so is the current velocity over the top of those structures. Some of the volume is directed toward the main channel, while the remaining volume increases in velocity in order to pass through the restriction. Current velocity almost doubles over the top of the structure compared to velocities upstream and downstream. Higher current velocity increases scouring action and results in deeper scour holes below wing and closing dams, especially near structures located on outside river bends.

The quality and diversity of habitat appear to be enhanced by dams with shallow water depth over the top and deep scour holes below them. Many bait- and gamefish species gather around structures that possess those characteristics. Current velocity decreases with increase in depth, so deeper scour holes make better resting spots. This, plus the diversity of fish life, probably makes wing dams with these traits better areas for walleyes.

Feeding Versus Resting Walleyes

The deep scour holes behind wing and closing dams make good resting spots for walleyes, but fish don't usually feed there. During summer and fall, feeding walleyes almost always position themselves at the base, just up the face, or on top of wing or closing dams.

Wing and closing dams are best located by (1) consulting a map of a river pool, (2) looking for marker cans that occasionally mark main channel ends of dams, or (3) watching for telltale signs of surface disturbance caused by water being forced over the top of dams.

Wind blowing against current sets up distinct wave lines that mark the tops of dams. Position your boat from 50 to 100 feet upcurrent from such wave lines, stay there, and you're in proper position.

If wind is blowing with current, you need to create your own wave line by motoring along the backside of the dam with your boat. It's amazing, but one run usually sets up a distinct line that can last for 10 minutes.

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