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Spring is in the air and with that comes big walleye. This time of year offers a situation for everyone, however you feel comfortable fishing. There’s a bite for trollers, casters, jiggers and even live baiters. Most of our front range walleye waters are reservoirs and when it comes to the spring spawn, it is both predictable and long lasting. When it comes to walleye in the spring, there are three stages; pre-spawn, spawn and post-spawn movements. Keep in mind, in the natural lakes and rivers, these spawning stages happen very quickly and when it’s over, it’s over. Whereas in the reservoirs, there can be several different schools of fish, and each of these schools can be in different stages. One school may be in the pre-spawn while another may be completely spawned out. It is not uncommon to catch these fish in their different stages in the same day. We have even seen situations to where females spawn anywhere from late February to early March, and others coming in late April, over a month later, stretching the spawn to six or even seven weeks.
The typical pre-spawn is in February and March. This is when most fish migrate toward feeding areas near spawning grounds, whether it’s humps, ledges, channels and anywhere they can feed heavily before spawn. Pre-spawn fish can be in a variety of depths, anywhere from 8 to 25 feet of water. Typically, they are hanging out on top of whatever structure they are on. Jigs or even spoons are my favorite way to catch these fish. Jigs such as round heads in ¼ to 3/8 oz. with 3 to 4 inch bodies work well. I prefer to use either 3” Power Grubs by Berkley which is a twister tail or Gulp! Alive 3” or 4” minnows. I start off running these baits plain (without bait). This allows me to work them a little more aggressively, as well as eliminating short strikes. If the bite is extremely tough, you can tip your jig with a minnow. Spooning will also work right after ice off, but as the water temperature warms up, I tend to stick with jigs. If I do use spoons, I like the ½ oz. Tasmanian Devil lure. No matter which baits I use, I like to position my boat just off the structure I will be fishing, so I don’t spook the fish I am targeting. I then cast up on the structure and work it back to the boat. If you do happen to find a large school of pre-spawners, it is such a blast and a great way to put fish in the boat.
Now comes the spawn. The spawn can actually take place on many different areas of the lake. Places like river inlets, creek inlets, rip rap of the dam face or any rip rap structure. If you can find some rocks surrounded by sand or mud in shallow water, that would be a key area. The actual spawn takes place in anywhere from 1 to 10 feet of water, but usually in the shallower water, 5 feet or less. When it comes to catching spawning fish, you have a couple of options. Jigging is one possibility, it works great and catches a lot of fish, but normally these fish are spawning on rough areas where you will lose a lot of gear trying to target them. The other way, and my favorite way, to catch these walleye is casting or trolling cranks. I tend to cast so I can pick apart shorelines. When casting, I choose to throw either stick baits or shad style baits, which is rare this time of year, but I use them simply because they are a little more aggressive baits and can cause a reaction strike. I like to use the Berkley Flicker Shad when using the shad style baits. I cast these with a spinning rod spooled with Fireline Crystal. I like using Fireline because it allows me to cast far, while still remaining a very sensitive line and most importantly to pull my baits off the many snags I will get fishing this way, due to its lack of elasticity. I typically put my boat in 7 to 10 feet of water and cast up to the shallow range, about 1 foot, and start working my bait back.
While these fish are spawning, they are not feeding. All of the fish you catch are hitting out of anger and aggression. You are getting a reaction strike by bringing your bait near their spawning areas. After the fish are done spawning, they go into a post-spawn mode. Immediately after spawn, they rest for a day or two, or even a week if the weather or conditions are disagreeable. After their rest, they will go on the prowl to recover their weight they lost during the spawn. Most of the walleye will feed shallow, but truly they will feed where ever to food is most abundant. There are times where post-spawn fish are slow and subtle, and then there are other times where the fish are extremely aggressive. Jigs, cranks and live bait rigs can all be used to successfully catch these spring walleye. Keep these tactics in mind and do your homework by scouting the structure. Remember to try and get your bait right in their faces, they will not come to your bait. Also, be persistent. It may take a few times before you get a strike, but these baits need to aggravate and annoy the walleye before they attack. Good luck to everyone and keep us posted on your success!!
About the author, Nate Zelinsky: Nathan Zelinsky is a full time professional walleye angler. He has fished the MWC along with many other tournaments. Besides tournament fishing Nathan is owner/operator of Tightline Outdoors guide service which is an all species guide service, fishing for Walleye, Smallmouth Bass,Northern Pike, Trout, Catfish, Carp, Perch, Tiger Muskie, Kokanee Salmon and Wiper. Nathan spends around 300 days a year on the water or ice. Nathan also runs a Ice Fishing School in the winter months. He is a frequent guest on ESPN Outdoots with Terry Wickstrom and also appears frequently on Angling Adventures, Fishful Thinker and Lip'em & Rip'em.
Nathan is also a member of ICE TEAM.
Nathan is sponsored by Lund Boats, Mercury Marine, JR’s Tackle, Interstate Batteries, JIffy Augers, Berkley, Fenwick, Phlueger, White Caps, Crowly Marine, Replicas INC, The Sign Guys and Gal, Ice Armor, Clam, Vexilar, Mr. Heater, Ice Team, Blue Quill Angler, Todays Tackle and Line-X. Contact Nate