Ice-Out Trophy Walleye Tactics
Trophy walleyes are on the minds of many anglers right now – primarily because spring is the best opportunity for fishermen to catch the monsters. The reason spring walleye fishing is so productive is big female ‘eyes are entering their spawning season and are vulnerable. Almost anywhere you fish across the country female Walleye are suspended in the water column 80% to 90% of the year, and this is what makes these big fish tough to catch. The reason they are suspended randomly throughout the water column is because they are feeding on larger bait fish. But guess what? During the spring these fish gather together and they can be targeted accordingly.
March and April is the primary spawning period for walleye. So during these months and even into May you will encounter pre-spawn, spawn and post-spawn fish. In my experience as a guide and tournament angler I choose to fish for the pre and post-spawn fish – not only are they easier to catch, but it is better for the resource to not target fully spawning fish. A walleye in full blown spawn mode is so focused on spawning that it is very difficult to catch. You literally have to hit them on the head with your presentation. Pre and post-spawn fish are on the hunt looking for food. Bottom line, for the best odds of catching trophy walleye, fish the post-spawn. After a walleye spawns, they rest for a day and then begin feeding to replenish the nutrition they lost – this is when you want to be on the water.
Walleyes are not stupid fish, but they try to take advantage of easy meals. The Great Lakes are an exception to this rule, but other than that the easiest meals of the day come at night for these fish. Walleyes are nocturnal creatures that see as well at night as they do during the day, but that is not the only reason they feed at night. The biggest reason is the poor night vision of their prey. Take Shad for example: Shad are a major food source for walleyes all over the country. When the sun goes down, shad realize they are on the evening menu and do everything in their power to stay alive. They swim towards the water’s surface to gain as much light as possible which helps them see their predators. As shad school on the upper level of the water column walleye take advantage of the smorgasbord of food. The food at night is so plentiful that it isn’t uncommon for these fish to turn into 100% nocturnal feeders. When this happens you have no choice to go where the food and fish are and that means night fishing.
My favorite way to catch big walleyes at night is to troll slow action stick baits over mud flats. Mud flats tend to warm-up a little faster than other structure which is what draws the bait, and the walleyes that follow. I am generally fishing fairly shallow – say 15 feet or less, and typically these fish are operating in the top half of the water column. Because these fish are cruising open water and are not holding on a single piece of structure, I use in-line planer boards to present my baits. Planer boards are helpful because they spread your lines out so your baits can cover more water. Anytime you are dealing with walleyes that are close to the surface you risk spooking them. When your lines are positioned to the side of the boat the odds of spooking surface fish go way down and your odds of producing that fish of a lifetime go way up. (A personal secret of mine is to make sure your presentation is level or above the fish. When walleye are in the pattern of looking up to feed above them, they rarely look down. Make sure they see your bait and fish equal to, or above the fish).
The exception to the rule previously mentioned is fishing the Great Lakes. The difference I see when fishing the Great lakes or any other large body of water is that after the spawn walleye migrate to where they live the remainder of the year. The big difference is these migrating fish tend to feed all day during this time to keep up their energy and replenish their systems to their pre-spawn status. The short answer is there is no need to target these fish at night.
Fishing for trophy spring walleyes is similar to all fishing – do your best to appropriately process every bit of environmental information you gather, adjust your fishing tactics appropriately, and things will start to shape up in your favor with big fish on the end of your line. The short answer on being successful with big spring walleyes is to think like one! Take advantage of what you can with these big fish in the spring, and I promise that you will consistently be putting big fish in the net. In most cases this means keying in on pre and post-spawn food sources. Whether you are fishing during the daytime or after the sun goes down, once you get in that zone it will be worth your time. Trust me.
About the Author
Zelinsky recently finished filming his first DVD: <strong><em>Ice Fishing: Trout Edition</em></strong>. 77 minutes of Gear, Techniques and Pro Tips. It is available for purchase at <a href="http://www.tightlineoutdoors.com" target="_blank">www.TightlineOutdoors.com</a>
Nathan Zelinsky fishes over 300 days a year between Professional Walleye Tournaments, guiding through his outfitting business, Tightline Outdoors, fishing with sponsors, product testing and scouting. Zelinsky specializes in monster pike, trophy walleye and huge trout on his home waters of Colorado.
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