It might seem just a little early (maybe a lot), but it’s the time of the year when you can make some plans and start plotting against the walleyes. It takes a good well thought out plan to be successful, and you might as well get started right now.
“Where to go?” is first on the list, and there are some terrific options including something north, south, east and west. As a full time professional walleye angler I’ve had the opportunity to travel across the country and spend quality time in a tournament mode on the nation’s top walleye fisheries. Tournament time is intense and can give you a real feel for just how good a fishery can be. Not only do you have your own success to look at it, but everybody else’s as well. At the end of tournament there’s a lot of information that comes to light, including how many and just how big the walleyes really are.
Great early season action means rivers and tailrace areas and the West has some of the best including the upper reaches of Lake Sharpe and Fort Frances in South Dakota. The action on these two hot spots can heat up in February and stay that way right through March and April. The earliest action is really dependent on the weather with the best being a nice long warming trend. Walleyes load up in the stretches beneath the dams and where they are relatively easy to find and not that hard to catch.
Basically it’s the areas of reduced current that hold most of the fish and you can look for little breaks like points along the bluffs that can change the flow and slow it down. You can even find walleyes in the main channel if the current is slow enough. In either case about all you need to do to start putting fish in the boat is drag a jig and minnow. Vertical jigging while using a controlled drift is the technique most often used and accounts for most of the early tailrace walleyes that are caught. Jigs in the 1/8 to 3/8oz range are the ticket, with key being the use of the lightest jig possible while still being able to stay in contact with the bottom.
Erie still ranks high on the list and every serious walleye angler should experience what this Great Lake has to offer at least once in their lifetime. April and early May is prime time for finding huge schools of walleyes stacked up in the western basin. Much of the action takes place around the reefs just north and west of Port Clinton and is a good place to start looking. The reefs themselves load up with males while the bigger females tend to hold just off, out over deeper water. A Down Deep Husky Jerk trolled over and through the suspended schools is a top producer especially early on when the water temps are still fairly cold. The reefs themselves can be trolled but you can also work them vertically with a jig and minnow. Although we haven’t been catching as many monsters as we did just a few years ago there’s plenty of nice average size fish, and there’s always a chance for nailing a real hawg.
Mille Lacs in Minnesota made the hit list and is a good bet for finding solid numbers of mid May and early June walleyes. It’s one of my favorite natural lakes because it’s so diverse and is loaded with fish. You can catch walleyes here just about anyway you want including rigging, jigging, pulling spinners, and trolling cranks. Early on most of the action takes place in shallow water and you can rig sand breaks and weed beds, use slip bobbers and leeches over rocky reefs and bars, or troll the same with a #7 Shad Rap if the wind is blowing hard enough. As the season progresses and things start to warm up a little, walleyes will move deeper and deeper and will show up in masse on the mid lake mud flats where they fall hard for a live bait rig and a leech or crawler.
Bull Shoals is a southern reservoir that is loaded with walleyes but really doesn’t turn on until later in the season, like June and July. In fact according to the locals the action in August and September is exceptional. The problem with the early season is an abundant population of shad which move shallow and make things extremely tough. By June the walleyes start showing up in classic areas like deeper points and there are thousands of them and most hold fish. Bottom bouncers with a spinner harness, or a plain snell and a hook, is about all you need to pick them off. You can look for fish with your electronics, drop a bouncer and a rig, and probably catch them.
There’s more that deserve honorable mention including Devil’s Lake in North Dakota which is the best natural lake in the country right now, Oahe in South Dakota which has really turned around after several years of super tough conditions, Green Bay in Wisconsin, and Saginaw Bay in Michigan. With so many great opportunities there’s plenty of good reason for the making plans, the reservations, and the road trip.