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Open water frenzy: Avoid the crowds and catch big river walleyes

Posted on March 30, 2013

Terry TumaAs ice recedes, the spawning of many game fish species kicks into high gear. It’s already begun on many of the region’s big rivers.

Walleyes usually begin their upstream movement toward spawning grounds when water temperatures reach the upper 30s. On big rivers, they’ll orient themselves on wing dams, as well as any structure where they can avoid strong currents.

I especially like to search areas downstream from dams, especially along current edges where fast water meets slow. They’re not all below the dam. Look for current breaks, like wing dams, boulders, points, flats, high-water trees, and brush. One of my personal favorite areas to investigate is clam beds.

Water levels generally run higher in spring, so take extra care when boating. The current is lightest in the deepest water, so that’s why walleyes are hugging the bottom: They want to avoid heavy current.

I try to time my fishing during periods of stable water. That’s challenging with rapid melt-off occurring, so follow some other basic rules. Rising water is OK, but dropping water levels create a tough bite.

Think of dropping water levels as a fish relocation factor. It’s similar to a front where they’re adjusting.

The spawn is usually when water temperatures reach the low to mid-40s. The bite may not be as aggressive, but remember that not all individual fish spawn simultaneously.

Boat control is very important. You want to hover over these fish, especially when jigging and live bait rigging. Use your electric trolling motor or a kicker. I typically shift in and out of gear, a technique many anglers calls “slipping,” or a controlled drift.

And it goes without saying how important catch and release is during the spawn. I’ll take a couple of small fish home to eat, and release the rest.