Catching spring walleyes is a ‘shore’ thing

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By Tyler French Special to the Farm Forum

Bottom-bouncer anglers will swear to you that summer is the best time to catch walleyes. Long-line trollers go on and on about catching walleyes during late fall nights. And ice fishermen say, of course, the best time and place for walleyes is in the winter, through the ice.

That must make me a true shore fisherman then, because I think spring is the best season to wrangle with ol’ marble eyes.

Of course, like many of you, I fish all seasons — from my boat and on the ice — but there is just something about the magic of spring walleye fishing that warms me up after an icy winter. One of the biggest appeals to chasing springtime walleyes is that some of the best fishing occurs right from shore, and anglers without a boat or who still have a boat in storage should head to the shorelines for the best walleye fishing of the year.

Make a pit stop

Although spring walleyes can be caught all day long, low-light periods typically produce the fastest and most consistent action, much like all other types of walleye fishing. Thanks to daylight savings and the longer spring days, most of us have plenty of time to make a quick trip to our local walleye waters after work, just in time for the bite.

Quick trips are perfect for many reasons. One, a boat is not required. Two, walleyes are most certainly biting on close-to-home lakes, reservoirs and rivers, which means there’s no need to drive for hours to find the hot bite. And three, all the gear you need is a couple rods, a small tackle box and a bucket to bring home your night’s catch.

Keeping the process basic is the key to successful spring shore-fishing success. This includes fishing waters close to home, finding easy access spots and using a few old-faithful shore-fishing techniques.

I believe in the old fisherman’s rule of thumb that 90 percent of fish are found in 10 percent of the lake. The magic of spring lies in the fact walleyes in every water body move shallow where they become concentrated and in reach of the shore angler.

This means there’s really no need to fish the best walleye lakes, reservoirs or river stretches in the spring, because even smaller bodies of water containing less-than-stellar walleye populations have plenty of walleyes within a cast from shore. Fish the waters close to home, and save your time and gas money for summertime fishing trips.

Where to look

It seems that every lake or river has its “spot” for shore fishermen. In the spirit of keeping spring fishing basic, these are great areas to start fishing. Keep in mind, however, that these spots are fished by other anglers because they traditionally produce plenty of shoreline action and are generally easy to access. When 90 percent of the walleyes are concentrated in a certain area, though, there are plenty of fish to go around, and there is no problem fishing near other anglers.

If you are into finding your own sweet spot, springtime patterns indicate several likely holding places.

Ideal walleye spawning occurs over shallow rocks, cobble and gravel. Before spawning, both males and females will be found in their staging areas close to the shallow spawning areas, often just off the deep edge. Great shore-fishing spots are where these deep hangouts align close enough to shore where a cast can cover both the deep staging area as well as the shallow spawning zones.

Inlet areas are known to be highly used staging areas and are usually the first places on the lake to gather walleyes, as these areas warm up first thanks to the influx of fresh and warmer water. If inflows are high enough, walleyes will run upstream to spawn. Inlet stream channels often extend out into the lake, creating a deeper area that holds pre-spawn walleyes.

Gravel points can also make for great shore fishing. Points are classic walleye structures year-round as walleyes cleverly use them to pin food up shallow. Points also allow walleyes to hide in the waves and mud lines and offer quick access to deep holes.

In the spring points can be great ambush points that offer anglers access to walleyes all throughout the spawning cycle. Not all points are created equal, but you often don’t know until you try them.

Riprap banks are one of the most popular areas to target walleyes from shore. In some lakes riprap banks offer the only source for spawning habitat. Walleyes use the cobble and smaller rocks usually found at the toe of the riprap where the rock transitions to the natural lake bottom. Walleyes cruise along these edges, especially during low-light conditions.

Many of the good walleye lakes across the Dakotas were created through flooding and may not have inlets, gravel points or riprap. On these lakes, road ditches are great areas to search for walleyes. Gravel roadbeds serve as spawning areas, and the now-submerged ditches provide deeper staging areas and act as super highways for cruising walleyes.

Although all of these classic shoreline areas can hold plenty of walleyes, finding spots where multiple structure types are present can create some of the best shore-fishing spots. Because the temperament of springtime walleyes is a moving target due to spawning rituals, unstable spring weather and ever-changing water temperatures, don’t give up on a likely spot if it doesn’t produce the first time you try. Fish the area several times throughout the spring before you cross it off the list.

Tweaking your technique

When it comes to technique, don’t be afraid to stick with the basics. A few jigs, a couple of crankbaits and some rigs for your set rod are all you need in most shoreline situations. Colors, size and shape aren’t anything to get hung up on as springtime walleyes are usually up for attacking whatever gets in their way.

In fact, the main purpose of choosing the correct lures and techniques is to just get the bait in front of the fish. As a rule of thumb, cast jigs when it is light out and throw crankbaits after dark. Why? Jigs can be casted further and fished deeper where the walleyes are during periods of light, and crankbaits add vibration and a defined profile when fished shallow as walleyes crash the shorelines in low-light or nighttime conditions.

Early in the season, tip jigs with a fathead or a small shiner. Work the jigs back to shore with slow motions and long pauses.

As the water warms up, switch to the much more durable and ever-productive curly tail grub. Something about that tantalizing thump from a slow and steady retrieve makes a 3-inch tail the perfect shoreline walleye plastic.

The benefits of using plastic are fairly straightforward. Leaving the minnows in the bucket means warmer hands, more casts and the ability to put some power behind your casts without worrying about losing the bait. Walleyes will fall for a slow and steady retrieve almost every time as long as the jig is in the zone.

Keeping your jig-n-plastic or jig-n-minnow in front of the fish is controlled mostly by retrieval speed and jig weight. A 1/4-ounce jig will serve almost all situations you will find yourself in this spring for shoreline walleyes. As with most jig fishing, keep it heavy enough to keep the feel but light enough to stay just above the snags during a slow retrieval.

In extremely shallow water, 1/8-ounce jigs are able to be retrieved slower and usually get more bites. If the wind picks up or the water gets deep quickly, don’t be afraid to step up to a 3/8-ounce jig.

As that last bit of sun sinks below the horizon, tie on a crankbait and start casting. Smaller sizes and shallow runners work best this time of year. Wide-wobbling baits such as the Rapala Original Floater and Rapala Husky Jerk in sizes 7 through 11 are dynamite along rocks and riprap.

Along productive shorelines, you will often hear walleyes crashing the shore in the dark. It may surprise you just how close these walleyes get to shore, as it is common to catch them a foot or two off the rocks.

One of the most productive methods at night is to cast parallel to the shore to your right and left in order to cover more of the shallow shoreline.

While fishing after dark, don’t forget to turn off the lights! Keep your head lamps and lanterns away from the water’s edge and you will catch more walleyes.

During the day, one of my favorite techniques for my second line is a crappie rig. Why they aren’t called walleye rigs is beyond me, and I can only assume other parts of the country use them differently because around our parts, these are walleye rigs.

Add a weight to the bottom, a minnow on each hook and toss it out there. The key is to keep the line tight. I like to add a bell to my rod tip or a bobber hanging from my line in an “L” fashion. Walleyes will often mouth the bait, so a tight line and easy bite detection is a must. As the water warms up and walleyes finish spawning, I like to thread on a night crawler to one of the hooks in place of a minnow.

Another option for your second line is a slip bobber. I especially like to use a slip bobber and minnow when fishing rock and riprap late in the evening. There is always a walleye sweet spot at the toe of the rock edge, and slip bobbers can suspend a minnow right in the walleye zone.

As the sun goes down and the skies darken, switch over to a lighted float to help with bite detection. It’s not only a productive way to catch walleyes, but it’s fun and exciting when that light suddenly disappears.

About the author: Tyler French is a water resources engineer and freelance writer who has lived all across South Dakota and now resides in Wyoming.

Using a “crappie” rig is a great way to target spring walleyes from shore. Make sure to keep the line tight so you can detect light bites. Use minnows on each hook, or, as the water warms up and walleyes finish spawning, thread on a night crawler to one of the hooks in place of a minnow. Photo by Tyler French
Some of the best walleye fishing occurs right from shore each spring, and all the gear you need to be successful is a couple rods, some jigs, a few crankbaits and a bucket to bring home your fish. Photo by Tyler French