Walleye Hero Shot

Early spring Walleye fishing on the Mississippi River is dependent upon the spawn.  Nevertheless, when it is on, it is really on!  The action of the March Madness Basketball pales by comparison.

Walleye are lean and mean in body style.  Their lean shape makes them better able to handle current.  Because of it, they often stay close to dams in the fast current and for a mile or two downstream.

Prime areas are around the current breaks.  River Walleye are a fish of highly oxygenated water.  The key to finding them is current.

Retaining walls and rock shoreline as well as rock points sticking out into the current are good locations.  Even those submerged rock piles that appear only as a boil on the surface often contain fish waiting and resting out of the current flow.

These fish will take a variety of rigs.  Perhaps the most popular rig is a three-way swivel tied to monofilament line of 8 to 12 pound test.  On the second eye of the three-way swivel is tied about one foot of 6-pound line with a heavy bell sinker on the other end.  In faster more current, heavier sinkers are best.

Most anglers maintain that it is important to fish vertically regardless of the current.  The fish move up out of holes in the bottom to grab the bait and back down again.

The line from the remaining eye will require about two foot of 6 to 8 pound line.  At the end of that piece is the terminal bait.  A crappie minnow or flathead minnow make good bait.  The minnows give off distress signals with their vibrations.  Stinger hooks attached to the bait will improve success for short striking fish.

Cast the rig just above the location in which you suspect the fish might be waiting out of the current.  They idle in these areas awaiting a hapless minnow drifting past.  By being out of the current, they use less energy burning up fewer calories.  The rocks also conceal them from the prey that might pass this way.

By maintaining a tight line, the angler can control the drift of the rig into the waters where the fish await.  It is important to keep the bait just off the bottom and bounce the sinker.

Minnows rigged on a slip bobber also produce fish.  The key here is the size of the minnow.  The fish are particular and seek out a specific size.  They seem to prefer longer and thinner baitfish.  The angler should have a variety of sizes in his minnow bucket.  Try each until you find the one preferred on a particular day.  Make notes as to fishing conditions and what works for future reference.

Artificial baits with a lot of noise and color of shad as well as baits with crazy colors, polka dots and pinks, work well.  Walleye like bright colors and take blade baits because of the noise.

It is a good idea to keep only the smaller male fish as the females lay the eggs for the next generation.  It is probably a good idea to keep those fish you plan to eat soon.  This helps the resource and provides better angling opportunities next year and beyond.

As mentioned earlier, current is important to locating the staging fish.  The current can be in a variety of locations.  The fish may be staging near shoreline structure or they may be out in the river off humps awaiting food washing past.  A rock bar or eddy may be the attraction.  The fish like to find locations just out of the current, down stream from the structure, where they have to exert less effort to remain in position to gobble up some hapless baitfish as it washes past.

One can cast lure or minnow through rock-strewn areas to pick up fish.  The Walleye is not an aggressive fish.  Where the bite of a sauger is a whump, the bite of a walleye is a tick!  Once you catch one fish, chances are good that there are others in the same location.  One must expect to lose tackle.  River fishing is always a tackle busting situation.



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  1. Very good article on the Mississippi. We live out west and have the mighty Columbia river where fishing above the dam very little current and below the dam massive current. How much does the current on the Mississippi fluctuate?

    • For the most part the Mississippi is a slow moving river as it spreads out along the lower part of Illinois. Further north there are a number of dams that control the flow. Water below them tends to be faster than in the pools above the dams.

      • Thanks Don

        If you could only use one walleye rig setup for the entire year what would it be?

      • I seldom fish the same water more than once due to my profession. I need to travel a lot to get stories. I find that the best bet is to talk with guides and bait shop owners and use what they recommend. Walleye seem to be kind of finicky and take different bait or lures at different times. The common thread seems to be use of live minnows. There are a number of good artificial lures on the market too.

      • I know that probably sounded like a trick question and I am sorry for that. I was just curious because out west on the Columbia worms are the best bet because we can’t use minnows. I was hoping you might say blade baits or jigs. Hey if you have any Miss. River articles I could re-publish let me know.

      • I fished with some Walleye pros on the Cumberland River a few years ago and they liked the worm harness rigs. Jig and minnows are my favorite. The Lindy Rig is famous for producing fishing action in big water like the upper Mississippi River. Why can’t you use minnows? I had never heard of that one. If you find a Mississippi River story on my blog, feel free to re-publish it. I don’t recall any others off hand but you can click on the left side of my blog, the fishing archives section, and look. You might find something there you like. I have run almost 500 pieces since I began the blog and may have forgotten one or two.

  2. Thanks Donald i will look around and let you know before I re-publish it. OK?

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