I know its cliché to say it was a long winter, but face it … it was! And while a good number of hard core walleye slayers have been hitting their early season river spots for those first few eyes of the season, the word has gotten out that the spring bite is on and things are beginning to get a bit like bumper-boats out there. But where can a walleye angler find good early season fishing other than rivers? Fear not, because while the masses are jigging their way in moving waters, the still waters are virtually going unnoticed. However, to get the most out of this bite, you’ll want to leave your jig tackle at home and pull out the trolling gear.
By the time the ice moves off most northern lakes and reservoirs, walleyes have spawned and begun to switch their focus from mating back to the business of putting on the feed bag. That means the high percentage areas are going to be where there is an abundance of feeding opportunities and few lake structures offer more of those this time of year than shallow flats. A good lake map will help you pinpoint key spots to begin your search. Large shallow flats with depths from five to twelve feet are ideal. Look for the ones located in northern sections of your chosen body of water as they will warm first, and are good places to start. The absolute best flats will be located near prime spawning grounds and offer deep water close by.
The walleyes will be in roaming mode, scattered across the shallow flats and difficult to pinpoint. Because of this, a presentation that covers water will out produce traditional cool water tactics. For this scenario, a great line of attack is to slow troll bottom bouncer spinner rigs behind boards.
When it comes to the rig itself, you’ll want to use a little lighter bouncer than you might use if you weren’t utilizing the boards. Remember, you’re concentrating on shallow flats, often in less than ten feet of water, so a quarter to half ounce bouncer will work nicely for this application. The lighter bouncers tend to stay upright easier at slow trolling speeds, especially on turns where a larger weight would tip over, drag bottom and be more apt to get snagged.
You must take a bit of extra care when deploying bottom bouncers on boards too. The best way to do this is to let out the bouncer along side the boat until it’s just barely ticking the bottom with your rod tip right at water level (this way it will emulate how the bouncer will run when attached to the board). Then attach the board and SLOWLY let the board take the bouncer rig out to the side. It’s very important that the board is deployed slowly so that the bouncer is not allowed to fall over and drag bottom.
The spinners that will suit this early season, cool water trolling the best will have small blades, typically a size 2, and you don’t want the snells too long (about twenty four to thirty inches is good), otherwise it’s too easy for the hooks to drag bottom picking up debris and/or getting snagged. A two hook spinner harness dressed with a crawler is the most popular rigging, but in the cooler water of spring, don’t forget to bring a good supply of minnows. If you tie your own spinners, a harness rigged with a single #2 hook works great for minnow rigged spinners.
Trolling speed is also an important factor to make this technique work. Keep the speed just fast enough to keep the spinner blade spinning. Whenever possible utilize your bow mount trolling motor to pull your boat along your trolling path, not your kicker outboard. These shallow water walleyes may be active and feeding, but the skinny water also makes them spooky. Trolling with an electric motor will not only allow you to maintain a good slow, quiet speed, but do it in a stealthy manner that’s sure to increase your odds of success.
One thing you’ll notice is that unless you’re fishing with ballasted boards, it’s going to be tough to troll effectively at the slow speeds necessary to make this system work. Off Shore Tackle’s OR-12 Side Planers are perfectly weighted so that even on an ultra slow troll they remain upright and running true. If your boards do not sit upright in the water when at rest, then they aren’t ballasted and are going to cause you headaches running this presentation.
It’s such a tradition for walleye anglers to migrate to rivers for their spring fishing action that they miss out on some dynamite angling on waters ignored by the masses. When things begin to get crowded in your favorite walleye river hole this spring, head for the still waters of a near by lake and try the shallow flats with this Bottom Bouncers and Boards technique. It’s sure to give you even more reason to be glad winter has finally come to an end.