Author Tom Neustrom can turn a Fire-Ball Jig into about anything he wants, from a fast and furious baitfish to something
dragged along the bottom, barely moving. Walleyes will tell you how they want
it. Photo courtesy of Northland Fishing Tackle (www.northlandtackle.com)
Some states have an official “Walleye Opener”. It’s circled
on calendars in kitchen after kitchen. In equally as many states, though, “Opener”
describes the second that the ice vanishes. Either way, I believe the ties to
the tradition of the “Opener” are too strong.
Let me explain in an anecdote… Three generations of the Doe family get
together on that hallowed weekend and cross their collective fingers that the
walleyes will bite. No matter the weather. No matter what experts say about
the lake. No matter nothing. They fish the same lake every year.
Not that the relatives shouldn’t get together and fish. But unless your
lake oozes with spring walleyes, you’re better off leaving the comfort
of the cabin, putting the boat on the trailer and driving to a bite.
That’s not meant to be harsh. It’s factual. And here are some tips
for picking the right pond and putting a bend in your rod.
Flat as a Pancake and Colored like Syrup
Our education as fisherman tells us that walleyes are fish of clear water and
deep structure. That’s only partially true. Yes, walleyes thrive in crisp
clean northern lakes. But likewise, they can flourish in bowl-shaped lakes with
more weeds than rocks and water colored like beef-bullion. In fact, they often
grow faster and are more plentiful in the soupier stuff.
The point is that if your family cabin rests on a cold clear lake, consider
The flatter and shallower the area the faster the water warms – fact.
Nothing speeds up post-spawn recovery like daytime heat. Walleyes get in gear
faster, especially the males. They’ll form six, eight, and ten member
packs and work the flat. Simultaneously, the warming shallows load up with baitfish.
The combination is lethal.
Big Pieces of the Same Thing
A long expansive flat looks totally boring on a map. “No structure, no
fish,” one might say. My guiding buddy Brian “Bro” Brosdahl
sees things differently. “I look for the least contours on a lake map,”
says the Frabill fishing pro. “Having structure nearby is a bonus, but
not a prerequisite.”
Bro really likes large flats on the warmer, north end of the lake, where cold
spring winds are fought back and the sun strikes the longest. Build in some
walleye spawning structure and the campers will be even happier.
“Can’t beat the pea gravel to golf ball sized rocks. Perfect spawning
habitat. And a great place to rest and feed after breeding,” says Bro.
The short shank of the Fire-Ball Jig marries minnow and lure to vastly improve your hook-setting percentages.
The compact presentation is ideal for light biting spring walleyes. Photo courtesy
of Northland Fishing Tackle (www.northlandtackle.com).
Scattered rock is welcome as well. Essentially, you’re looking for fat
shoreline flats with hard and irregular bottoms; gravel here, sand there, rocks
in between. Even though fish are working mostly flat surfaces, instinct still
guides them towards available structure and edges.
Certain shoreline points also fall into this category. Not the sharp tipped
point with cascading sides; maybe later this summer, but not now. You want a
point that’s more of a swollen section of the bottom. Compare your thumb
to a kids’ pinky finger. You want the point to look like your thumb, flatter
Bro further qualifies the perfect point. “My favorites will open into
the main lake from a bay. Again, bigger, longer and flatter points are best.
It’s typical for the attached bay to contain darker, warmer, and shallower
water. The bay’s water conditions mix with the main lake, creating improved
conditions for spring walleyes.”
Super stealthy spot: There’s a phenomenon that occurs on large sandy
lakes. Wave after wave crashing against a shoreline can dig out a little trench.
The back-churning water actually relocates the sand. The change in depth doesn’t
need to be dramatic, either. I’ve found walleyes in a six foot deep trough
with four foot edges.
The Soft Sell
Remember these fish are just coming off the spawn. Their attitudes are down
in the dumps; probably not moving around much, either. (Note that their moods
can flip like a light switch. Suddenly they’ll go nuts, usually following
a string of warm weather days.)
Generally speaking, early spring walleyes won’t climb over each other
to grab a lure. And force feeding isn’t an option. As a result, I throw
an old-standby – the jig and minnow – but deliver it in a slow and
Go as light as possible. Depending on wind and depth, that means nothing over
1/8th ounce. 1/16th ouncers are preferred. And even though it’s called
a jig, don’t jig it. You drag it. Think about how you Texas-rig for bass.
Pulls and tiny lifts, no jerking.
The Fire-Ball Jig from Northland Tackle is ideal for dragging. Its short-shank makes quick
business of short strikes. The minnow’s lips sit right against the base
of the jig head. Doesn’t take much for a walleye to find the hook.
You can pitch it or drift it. With a little wind I like drifting, stopping
and starting with the Minn-Kota, keeping it slow and steady. In flat calm conditions,
troll around and fan-cast, but still retrieve slowly. Anchoring and dragging
is an option, too, especially if it’s really rough or fish are concentrated
in an area.
The motion of the drag puts a light load on your rod tip. Feels like you snagged
a bread bag. The smooch of a sluggish walleye simply increases that load. Give
it some time, up to even ten seconds – walleyes have no trouble carrying
a light jig. If the line twitches or the fish makes a turn, set.
I’m not trying to ruin your family tradition. But I would like to see
you catch more fish. Check some maps. Ask around. Remember, your cabin doesn’t
Note: For three decades author Tom Neustrom has shared his fishing insights
with readers, guide clients, and seminar attendees. A recent inductee into the
National Freshwater Hall of Fame, Neustrom promotes and develops product for
Northland Fishing Tackle. See Northland’s complete lineup of summer and
winter products at www.northlandtackle.com.
Posted on Tue, February 17, 2009
by Tom Neustrom filed under