Jason Mitchell Opening Day Tactics
Category: News Release
May 1st, 2017 by OutdoorsFIRST
Modified Nov 21st, 2018 at 3:24 PM
A new season of optimism awaits. In many states, the inland walleye seasonsopen in May. Even in states where thereis no closed walleye season, the kickoff on many natural lakes and somereservoirs begins in earnest during the same time. What has always amazed me is how patterns andlocations can sometimes vary from year to year. No two years are quite the same. Ice out dates flux, surface water temperatures can vary and seasonalweather patterns can be all over the board.
Looking back, I can remember one specific year when we couldget on the ice in early May. There havebeen other years where we were bundled up in boats, finding fish in over thirtyfeet of water. Of course, there havealso been times when we found fish shallow. Nothing surprises me anymore but there is often a method to the madness. The following are a few observations.
Deep Fish Factors
So often when we look at early season walleye fishing, muchof the talk revolves around finding fish using shallow water. Shallow water is warmer and finding walleyesearly in the year often revolves around water temperature but there is a bigexception. Traveling fish often run deepand unstable weather along with wicked cold fronts that crash watertemperatures will also send fish deep. Wheneverenvironmental factors cause fish to move multiple miles, these fish oftenfollow the deeper contours as that is often the least amount of distance totravel. Especially during periods offrigid and brutal weather, don’t be afraid to look deep and fast forward aheadto locations offshore that you wouldn’t expect to catch fish until much laterinto the season. Speaking fromexperience, it took me many years to learn that lesson.
Stable and Able
Steady progression of rising water temperatures and stableweather typically sees the classic patterns unfold on many fisheries and thispredictableness works in the angler’s favor. Each body of water has a unique personality. On some bodies of water, the norm would be tofind walleyes relating to 15 to 20-foot gravel bars while fifty miles away on adifferent body of water, you might anticipate fish in five to ten feet of wateralong emerging weed lines. On big bodiesof water, find bays and other protected pools of water that are warming up at aquicker rate.
Look to see if wind is stacking warmer water along a shoreline. Big water often demands finding these pocketsof warmer water which can make these larger bodies of water morechallenging. Because water temperaturecan be so important to early season success, a tried and true strategy is tofocus on smaller and more protected bodies of water that are a step ahead inwarming up. You can sometimes fastforward by a week or two into the biological clock by shifting to smallerlakes.
As a rule of thumb, cold water is usually much clearer. As the water warms up or get churned up bywind, the water will develop some color. This stain in the water often coincides with water temperature. Too much wind can hurt some bites when thewater begins to get turbid from wave action but some color or stain is usuallygood. Look into the water with polarizeglasses and gauge the visibility. A goodgeneral rule of thumb I like to use for starting out on a lake is to double thedepth that I can see. If you can seedown to five feet, start fishing in ten feet of water.
This rule of thumb often gets me pretty close most of thetime during stable weather but of course there are always exceptions especiallyin regards to what we discussed earlier… wicked fronts carrying a lot of windthat crash water temperatures and send fish deep.
So often, many anglers assume that they must fish slow andmethodically early in the season. In fact,on many bodies of water, many anglers will be slinging a rig or perhaps ajig. Don’t always assume that time ofyear or water temperature dictates the presentation. If fish are clumped on a small location orholding on a “spot on the spot,” use a presentation that can be surgical like ajig or live bait rig. If fish are fannedout over large spots like channel edges or flats, don’t be afraid to trollcrankbaits or even a spinner harness. The key to catching fish is matching up the presentation to the locationso that you can efficiently fish through the spot.
Typically, on most fisheries, there will be several patternshappening and this variety of location types and patterns is furtherexaggerated by the fact that walleyes will typically be just wrapping upspawning come May. Thus, anglers canoften target male walleye that continue to linger in current and hard bottomareas. Classic spawning locations likebottle necks, rip rap areas and rubble or rock shorelines often hold malewalleyes for an additional month at times… long after the females vacate theselocations.
In reservoirs where fish will sometimes move several milesduring this time of year, a population of fish can often be found deep as theyfollow the edges of old river channels. As the water temps continue to climb, post spawn females will oftenslide up onto shallow sand flats to warm up. Because these productive patterns and locations can often be a movingtarget, don’t get affixed to just one pattern or type of location. Be flexible and take samples of differentlocations and patterns until you get into the groove.
Fifty Shades of Gold
Because of the amount of distance some fish move or travelduring the spring, there are different populations of fish living completelydifferent lives on most top walleye fisheries. Some fish won’t travel far over their entire life while some fish put onseveral miles. As a rule of thumb, fishthat have not been traveling great distances will have darker and more robustcoloration while fish that put on a lot of miles appear pale and washedout. Fish with the dark and robustcolors have been hanging out in the same location while the paler fish aretransition fish. Both fish can betargeted and caught but having that understanding and grasp of what these fishare doing can make you much more attune to the patterns.
Note that on some fisheries, the fish are constantlyroaming, moving and on the go and are typically always pale. Each body of water also has its owncharacteristics as some lakes produce green and gold walleyes where as otherfish look almost black depending on the water in which they live. On many fisheries, however, you will havewhat many would consider a normal looking walleye and then there are much palerfish.
Some anglers believe that shallow fish get darker colorationand deeper fish get pale and this change in color is a result of sunpenetration. My personal believe is thatthis change in color is caused by slight stress. You can take a dark colored walleye and putit in your live well with the lid open and so often, the fish will lighten upin color within an hour… caused by stress.