In the final section of a three part winter river walleye series Scott Fairbairn shares why leaving the river before dark might be a mistake.
In the last two sections I covered two of the three steps to winter walleye success. Vertical jigging and three-way rigging are good ways to put numbers of fish in the boat with an occasional big fish present. There is an option that is highly overlooked by most walleye anglers for catching not just numbers, but also some of the largest fish in the system. Pitching light jigs and plastics for walleyes during the low-light periods can produce tremendous catches of monster fish. Most anglers write the low-light period off as too cold. If you are tough enough to brave some cool conditions and want to catch the catch of a lifetime, what follows is for you.
I have seen the scenario play itself out over and over. A strong midday bite in deeper water on jigs or three-way rigs suddenly dies at 3:00 in the afternoon. Most anglers resign themselves to thinking that the fish quit biting. As most of the midday crowd heads for the ramp, a few diehards head for shore, not to pull their boats out, but instead to pitch big plastics on light jigs to shallow water. As the sun starts to set and lowlight conditions take over, walleyes use their natural feeding advantage of being able to see well in dimly lit conditions to put on a massive feeding binge in shallow water.
In order to intercept these shallow fish you should concentrate on depths less than ten feet deep. Often water as skinny as one or two feet in depth will hold fish. Forego the traditional jig and minnow presentations and pitch plastics like Powerbait in the four to five inch range. Use jigs with wide gaps and skin hook the plastic baits to make sure you have enough hook gap to ensure hookups when a walleye inhales your presentation. Pitch the jigs toward shore and let the current sweep the presentation along on a slow lift drop presentation and hang on. Often the strikes from these fish in shallow water are as vicious as you will encounter anywhere.
Specific structures to key on are tapering rip-rap, shallow sand flats adjacent to key deep water staging areas and the shallow tops of wing dams. The key is to be near the areas that the walleyes are holding in at midday and intercept them as they come up for their evening binge.
This bite is strong both in the morning and evening periods, as the sun rises or sets, and can remain strong all night long if you are out during the few days on either side of the full moon.
Next time that you are out fishing on the river and everyone is headed to shore, follow their lead, just don’t pull the boat out!