Optimize Your Spring Walleye Ground Game
Apr 5th, 2016 by OutdoorsFIRST
Modified Apr 5th, 2016 at 12:00 AM
Targeting spring walleyes from shore is incredibly productive during the spring pre-spawn period. Photo by the author
Optimize Your Spring Walleye Ground Game
by Dr. Jason Halfen
Spring is a time of transition, both for fish and the anglers that pursue them. Walleyes transition from their deep winter haunts to shallow, wind-driven or current swept hard-bottom areas, responding to changes in water temperature and moon phase that trigger the spawning process. Anglers put their ice augers and shelters into storage, rig new electronics on boats and dust off long graphite rods to begin the annual pursuit of open water fish. These two transition behaviors converge at rivers, as anglers position themselves to intercept early season whitetips in a ritual repeated throughout the walleye belt.
While the words “walleye fishing” often conjure images of large, windswept bodies of water, big waves and bigger boats to tackle them, the early season period, particularly in rivers, is a time when shore-bound anglers stand on equal footing with their brothers in boats. Consider this: high springtime water levels and flows drive oversized walleyes to river shallows, as shoreline slackwater areas and current seams provide the only refuge from raging river current. Think about the number of times you have seen a walleye boat anchored near one of these current seams, with its anglers saturating the shoreline with casts. Why fight the crowds at the boat launch or jockey for position as you and your neighbors play bumper boats? Work on your walleye ground game this spring. Grab your gear and fish those prime areas from the opposite direction: from the shore.
Fishing spring walleyes from shore requires only the fundamental tools for the job. Gone are the chores of filling boat compartments with untold numbers of tackle boxes full of “just in case” baits. You’ll be carrying all of your gear with you, and just like the early season ice angler, carry only the essentials to maximize your mobility. Here are the tools I carry when I’m chasing spring walleyes from shore:
Rod and reel. Bring a single spinning rod/reel combo. Yes, just one rod is all you’ll need, so make sure it’s up to the task. My recommendation is a St. Croix 7’6″ MLXF rod, available in rod families from the Legend Xtreme (LXS76MLXF) to the Eyecon (ECS76MLXF). The 7’6″ length of this rod allows me to make long casts with light baits, especially important when my target current seams are set up at a distance from shore. The medium light power is more than ample for the 1/8-1/4 oz baits that I will generally be presenting. Pair this rod with an appropriately sized spinning reel, and spool up with 10-12 lb test braided line.
When current seams form out of casting distance from the bank, slap on a pair of chest waders. Photo by Bill Lindner
Here’s a quick tip from many years of chasing walleyes from shore: keep that rod in a protective rod sock as you travel, like the one that comes standard with the Legend Xtreme rod series. This will prevent your rod from getting tangled in the brambles and brush that you’ll be navigating on the way to your spot, and also protect the rod’s finish while you scurry over rocks and rip-rap.
Bait, tackle, and storage. All of my essential shoreline walleye tackle fits into two Plano 3700-series boxes. Yes, just two. One Plano box is exclusively for jigs and related baits, especially blades. I carry an assortment of 1/16 -1/4 oz Precision Jigs from B-Fish-N tackle, in colors that range from drab-and-natural to bright-and-bold. Colors like Black and Purple/Pearl are good choices for clean water, while Orange/Chartreuse and Hot Pink rule the roost when the water is dirty.
Fishing tea-stained, but relatively clear water? Don’t forget gold. The other baits in my jig box are B3 Blades from B-Fish-N Tackle. I only carry ¼ oz blades for these shoreline excursions, and find the Gold, Orange Glow Tiger and Red Tiger patterns to be very effective.
My second Plano box has an assortment of 4-6″ floating crankbaits and jerkbaits that primarily see the water after darkness settles on the fishing grounds. This box also contains other essentials like cross-lock snaps (used when fishing blades and cranks) and a smattering of split-shot weights and live bait hooks, for those days when finicky walleyes demand a live minnow. I pack these two boxes into a Plano soft-sided tackle bag, which also accommodates a variety of B-Fish-N tackle Ringworms and Moxi baits to dress my jigs, a spare spool of braided line, and other shore-fishing necessities like forceps, scissors, drinks and snacks. Toss this Plano bag over your shoulder and you’re on your way.
Essential accessories. There are three other essential accessories in my shore fishing “bug out” kit. The first is a Frabill Sit-N-Fish bucket. This bucket provides me with a dry, padded place to sit while I tie knots or contemplate the meaning of life. It also serves as a means to transport live bait to the fishing grounds if needed, and to haul the day’s catch back to the cleaning table.
Travel light when chasing spring walleyes from shore by carrying only the most essential equipment.
The second essential is a landing net. Leave that long-handled trolling net in the boat, and instead grab a Frabill Folding Net. This is the same net I use when wading for stream trout or fishing from my Old Town Predator XL kayak, and you’ll appreciate having a quality net when you’re trying to land a super-sized pre-spawn female walleye from shore. The final essential is a pair of boots. Not hiking boots necessarily, but insulated, rubberized work boots like Muck boots. These boots allow me to wade with comfort into shallow water, and avoid shoreline reeds or brush that might otherwise impede my progress or block a casting lane.
Where to find biters. Not every shore fishing location is created equal. You’ll be looking for shorelines with access to distinct current seams. The best shorelines will have some sort of obstruction, like rocks, underwater bars, a small inlet, or timber that blocks the current and creates a near-shore area of reduced flow. The junction between the fast flow of the main channel and the slower flow near shore is the current seam, and represents your target area for casts.
Present your bait to the current seam, and let the flow of the river sweep your bait downstream. Select a jig/plastic combo that allows you to contact the bottom occasionally as your bait sweeps downstream; 1/8 and 3/16 oz jigs are generally my favorite. When your bait is directly downstream of your position, retrieve slowly along the shore and then repeat the process. After a few casts, walk several steps upstream or downstream and repeat the process until you have saturated the entire current seam. At any given time, the most active fish may be right on the seam, or inside the seam, or even just a few feet from shore, so be patient, let the current do the work, and fish that entire slack water zone.
The early season period represents a unique opportunity to target the biggest walleyes in your favorite river system from shore. So work on your walleye ground game this spring: grab your shore fishing essentials, and go toe-to-toe with some skinny water walleyes!
Look for active spring walleyes along near-shore current seams and adjacent slack water areas.