After initial ice-melt surge, think spring river walleyes
Across the North Country, before regular inland walleye seasons begin, border waters provide fun opportunities to catch numbers of walleyes and sauger.
Anyone who’s encountered this bite before knows that prior to spawning is the best time for fast action and big fish. That’s why seasons are closed in many areas. But in Minnesota, we have access to a couple great border waters where we can get a taste of open water.
Spawning takes place when water temps reach the mid- to upper 40. I find that small males are much more catchable during the peak of this season. The larger female bite is almost nonexistent for about two weeks. Then, after resting, walleyes feed very heavy, and this is an excellent time for fishing.
Pre-spawn walleye locations are near spawning grounds. Check gravel and rocks in shallow water up to about 10 feet. Many anglers fish below dams where fish naturally stack up.
Look for saugers deeper, too. High water usually will move walleyes out of the main channel into riprap and trees. We can catch these fish by tossing light jigs into these areas. Vertical jig the riprap, too.
Also check current breaks. Walleyes prefer slower water whereas – general rule of thumb here – sauger like faster current most of the time.
As for jig weight, it must be heavy enough to contact the bottom – no lighter or heavier. Use a very slow (if any) classic lift-drop jigging method – my best results is to hold it 2 to 3 inches off bottom.
Tip your jig with large fatheads – I find that plastics can be quite productive. Three-ways are very productive with minnows. Also use live-bait rigs with heavier sinkers just to be in touch with bottom.
On places like the Mississippi River, you’ll be playing bumper boats below the dams with anglers from around the region. After all, it’s the only open-water fishing for miles. Work hard to avoid fishing pressure by searching back waters, bridge pilings, incoming rivers, and tail waters. Search for current breaks or seams that might just contain larger fish.
As for gear, I usually use a 7-foot, fast-action medium power rod with 8-pound mono or fluorocarbon line. And boat control is mandatory – either back trolling or hovering. I usually don’t anchor in these riverine situations, but you certainly have that option.
This is a short season but a fine prelude to open water fishing 2019.