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Walleye Week: Make Your Pitch to Late Spring Walleye

Pitching jigs to springtime walleyes pays out big time.

Walleye Week: Make Your Pitch to Late Spring Walleye
North Dakota walleye pro Ross Grothe shows off a fine NoDak walleye that fell victim to pitching techniques.

Rising water levels, warming temperatures, and lots of food—Ross Grothe knows that’s the formula for springtime walleye success. It’s not always easy closing the sale, but in his experience, it all comes down to making an effective pitch.

Doing so, of course, starts with an understanding of the fish’s preferences and practices. A seasoned tournament angler and walleye aficionado from Baldwin, N.D., Grothe focuses on finding the areas that best suit the walleyes’ seasonal needs and then breaking down the playing field.

“Typically, in the springtime, the walleyes are much shallower than any the time of the year because it’s usually the warmer water in a lake, river or reservoir,” Grothe said. “With the warmer water, that’s where the greater amount of baitfish (lake shiners, yellow belly perch, smelt and various minnows.) is going to be.

“Also the warmer water attracts the females when they get ready to migrate to spawn. In turn, when the females migrate, that’s where the males will be also.”

Following this insight, he progressively narrows his search by dialing in the particulars of springtime patterns.

Find the Fish

Focusing on tributaries where the water’s typically the warmest, he targets shoreline related structure like rock and gravel in 2-8 feet. Proximity to deep water is key, as these nervous spring fish feel most relaxed with safer depths within easy reach.

“Depending on the day, it will be a neutral to semi-aggressive bite,” he said. “There are feeding windows, and we will sit there and cast, cast, cast to what I know is a nice school of fish. There might be a 10-minute feeding window within a 2-hours period of time.

ross grothe holding real big walleye
Pitching takes precision and an understanding of where and when walleyes stage to feed.

“It’s hard to say when to stay or when to go, but while we’re targeting the larger (female) fish, you will usually have an opportunity to also catch the males. They’re following the migrating females, and they are way more aggressive.”

Site selection starts with basic geography. As he explains, waterbodies of the northern hemisphere always find their north sides warming quickest, due to sun angles and shoreline exposure.

“That gives me a starting point to go find the warmer water,” he said. “On the north end of the lake, there’s normally a little more weed growth that will hold more of the baitfish and the bugs hatching that attract the baitfish.”

Electronics play a key role in determining the necessary action—but it’s not so much the forward facing sonar, as the side scan imaging.

“It allows you to locate the fish and not throw a sonar signal at them and potentially spook them,” he said. “Typically, in the springtime they’re schooling, so you’ll find three or four fish together, rather than targeting one specific fish.”

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Grothe’s ideal day finds water temperatures between 43 and 47 degrees, calm wind and high skies. This allows for daily warmups that can trigger midday and afternoon flurries.

“If it’s windy, that turns up the bottom when you get some wave action on a shoreline,” Grothe said. “That gets the baitfish in there (to feed) and, in turn, the walleyes are going to follow that.

“If I get into that situation, I’ll go to a windblown shoreline. The water’s warm, but it’s not as crystal clear, so you can target those fish in the shallow water. I’ll go with brighter colors like chartreuse and orange, as opposed to the natural colors.”

Technique Details

While Grothe’s good with the time-honored jig and minnow technique, he knows the often moody springtime fish may need some prodding. This is where he calls in the A.I. (artificial imposters).

“It’s more matching the hatch and offering them something that’s going to trigger them rather than offering them a 2 1/2-inch minnow,” he said. “You have a scent impregnated plastic that has some vibration to it or some flashy colors for them to key in on. It’s more of a triggering mechanism than your traditional jig and minnow.

“I’m going to grab the plastics first to cover more water, because I can fish them more efficiently, but I’ll also catch the more aggressive fish. Then, if I find out those fish are not that aggressive, then I’ll downsize to a minnow or mix things up with whoever’s on my boat to see what mood the fish are in.”

For minnows and plastics, he uses 1/8- to 1/4-ounce jig heads. Preferring a pill style head, for cutting through current and falling efficiently, he favors 4-inch Berkley PowerBait Minnows and Curly Bones, as well as Berkley Gulp! Paddle Shads.

Describing his presentation, he said: “It’s kind of a lift and drop motion. I’ll cast out to a particular area, lift the bait, let it swing a little bit and let it pendulum down to the bottom.”

Altering the cadence shows the fish different looks. Paying attention to what consistently triggers the bites—that’s the path to consistency.

“Some days, it may have to be hopped across the bottom, or I might be swimming the jig 3-4 inches off the bottom with a continuous reel,” he said. “I see this changing often throughout the day.

“I’ll use my Garmin’s SideVü to see how far off the bottom they are. If they’re tight to the bottom, they’re not real aggressive; but if they come off the bottom a foot or so, they’re typically roaming and either searching for food, or migrating. At that point in time, they’ll be much more aggressive.”

Tackle to Tame ‘Em

Grothe fishes his baits on 6-pound Berkley Solar Green monofilament. He keeps plenty of braided line on his boat for other applications, but the mono offers strategic benefit.

big north dakota walleye
North Dakota pro Ross Grothe has relied on the pitching technique for many years, and it's still highly effective.

“A lot of people are super line oriented, but in the springtime the mono has more resistance in the water,” he said. “That gives your jig more hang time and that maybe gives the fish a little more time to key in on that. Whereas super line has less resistance and it falls quicker.”

He pairs an Abu Garcia Revo SX 20 reel with a 6-8 medium-light extra fast rod from Mags Custom Rods. The rod, he said, plays a critical role in presentation and response.

“It allows you to detect super light bites and still get a good hook set,” he said. “With those light jigs and monofilament, you need as fast a tip as possible to feel anything out of the ordinary.

“A lot of times, I can tell if my jig plastic is fouled, of if there’s anything on it just by the sensitivity of the rod.”

No Wasted Opportunities

As he pointed out, the biggest thing is making sure you always have good quality line and sharp hooks. He’ll often sharpen hooks throughout the day to make sure he’s ready for that one big bite.

At the moment of truth, his advice is simple and encouraging: “Don’t panic; that rod has some give and the mono has some stretch. Take your time and make that particular fish count.”

Spring’s a great time to find a legit trophy walleye, but he prefers releasing the giants.

“Let the big ones grow and create a memory for someone else.”




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