Archive for the ‘Walleye Fishing’ Tag

WINTER FISHING   1 comment


Perhaps at no other time of the year do anglers enjoy a larger variety of fishing opportunities. Weather conditions can vary significantly.

Whether fishing open water of power plant lakes or partially iced-up lakes and rivers, the water temperatures govern winter fishing. Some areas will be warmer due to warm water discharges or underwater springs affecting the temperature of the water surrounding them.  Some lakes and rivers receive water from slowly meandering feeder creeks that pick up warmth as they flow through open country.

So it is that anglers can still be ice fishing in one area and other anglers looking forward to pre-spawn activity. Add the conditions in the power plant cooling lakes and there is the opportunity to experience fishing for many species using a variety of techniques.

Ice fishing anglers use 2- to 4-pound fluorocarbon and small jigs to seek out primarily yellow perch, bluegills and crappies. For bait they prefer small jigs with plastic grubs are the best bet.  White bass and crappies prefer jigging spoons with spikes (maggots) or Fathead Minnows.  The bite is always a light one.

Open water anglers on the Great Lakes find the salmon species are a good bet using spawn sacks slowly jigged just off the bottom. An alternative is a white jig tipped with wax worms for the yellow perch.

Panfish anglers, in open water situations, prefer small plastic jigs or jig/minnow combinations with light line on long crappie poles. Good colors for the plastic jigs are white, pink/green and chartreuse.  Catfish anglers find their best results using cut bait, dough baits and nightcrawlers.

The larger cold water species (walleye and muskie) in open water will take spinnerbaits and some shallow running crankbaits, such as bladeless rattling lures.



Trolling crankbaits is a great way to fish as it allows you to cover a lot of water when going after aggressive fish.  You get aggressive strikes at speeds upwards of 3 mph.  The strikes are from the fish’s reaction to what they see.  Walleye are a predator and they just naturally want to bit that crankbait.

On the Mississippi River water levels are somewhat under control in late winter.  Dependent upon conditions upriver, the ice may not be moving downstream.  The result is deep water conditions both above and below the dams.  Public boat ramps are available in each of the river towns and at the dams.

Fishing the diverse habitats created by the river/dam combination is somewhat intimidating to some anglers.  Each dam creates its own habitat both above and downstream.  Anglers need to select a specific dam/pool combination and study water flow, levels, and depths.  One dam may have deep water holes that hold suspended crappie relating to the rocks and logs that have wash into them.  By contacting local bait shops and anglers, a profile of the pool is constructed.

Fishing around anything that looks like deep water structure in slack current is a good idea.

As a predator Walleye and Sauger want to take advantage of timber, of structure so they can get out of the current and have things floating past.  The do move out to get their forage and return to the shelter of the structure.

Walleyes are going to be on the front sides and backsides of wing dams.  Typically there is a wash hole on both sides of the wing dam.  Active fish like the front side.  They feed on the front side and rest on the back side.

Fishing the river you learn to read slicks.  You see these water slicks of everything from trash to leaves and seeds that have fallen in the river.  Fish in the slicks can feed with little effort as the river brings them food.  The fish are on the side of the slick with the least current passing.

Anglers often troll downstream because they believe that the fish sit facing the current.  That is true if they are in the main current.  However wash holes in the bottom create eddies.  In an eddy the current is flowing the opposite direction from the main flow above the fish.  As a result the fish are actually facing downstream.

Anglers trolling downstream think they are putting the lure in front of the fish and they are not.  They are bringing it along side of the fish and not giving him enough time to look at it.

As one goes south on the river, the waters tend to be more muddy.  Up north the water tends to be clearer, an important factor to consider in lure selection.

In muddy water it is advisable to go with lighter colors especially white.  Dark colors in dark water can actually be good.  Fluorescent colors tend to lose their color in dirty water.  It is not that the water is stained, but rather that it contains particles blocking the vision of the fish.  When a fish looks up against the light from the sky it is easier to see the profile of a bait.

In the clearer water up river the more natural colors or shad, perch, crayfish work well.  White always seems to work everywhere in the river.

The fish tend to be shallower this time of year.  If you pay attention, you can walk crankbaits over submerged wood.  Walleye and Sauger will hold right by timber just like bass.  Pitch the right bait up against trees and run them along bumping occasionally.



With the air temperature in low 90’s and water temps in low 80’s the crappie fishing seems to have slowed a bit.  It is times like these that conversations among anglers tend to drift to other kinds of fishing.

As outdoor writers Brad Wiegmann and Mike Dixon cast to submerged wood on Mark Twain Lake near Hannibal, MO, guide Lynn Tharp and I discuss his winter fishing activities fishing for walleye and sauger on the nearby Mississippi River.  Although we were there to fish for early fall crappies, I am one to never waste an opportunity to learn patterns for fishing other species.

Lynn guides on the Mississippi River below Lock and Dam 22 from November through February, weather permitting.  The Lock and Dam is near Saverton, MO at mile marker 301.2.  He explains that if the weather cools earlier in the fall he sometimes fishes in October.  “It is kind of a bonus,” explains Tharp.

Although he guides for other species from bass boat or pontoon, Lynn uses a Jon boat for his river activities.  His other tackle is also pretty basic.

Bucktail jigs are popular with most walleye and sauger anglers and Lynn is no exception.  He makes his own bucktails in ½ or ¾ once sizes.  He generally uses just the natural color but occasionally he slips in some a white curly tail grubs.  He will add some chartreuse or tinsel.

Lynn fishes his bucktails with a 2 or 3 inch chub on the hook.  It seems that the fish this time of year want big baits.  Most of the shad have maxed out and the chubs imitate the preferred bait.  Lynn believes the walleyes are not feeding much.  They seem to be feeding about one time per week.

Lynn works the tailwater area below the dam because the fish find everything they want or need in those waters.  The water is highly oxygenated, with a good current.  It has deep holes and a good forage supply.  A cold water species, the walleye move up river to as close the dam as they can get in preparation for the spawn.  When water temperatures rise to 40-degrees, the fish spawn and leave for a journey down river until next fall.

Unlike other game fish that guard the nests and young, walleye and sauger just release their fertilized eggs to the whims of the river.  The eggs catch in the rocks and gravel bottom until they hatch.

As the water temperature below the dam increases in to the 50-plus range all the other game fish in the river move and take over.



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.


Late autumn and early winter can be an intimidating time to chase walleyes. With more anglers sitting in treestands instead of boats, fishing reports get a little sketchy. Plus, the demise of the thermocline means old marble-eyes is free to roam the entire water column — opening up a wealth of potential habitat. Fortunately, some of late fall’s finest fishing is a satisfyingly simple and straight forward affair.

“As soon as the water temperature hits the low 50s, migrations of lake-run minnows, and other baitfish begin arriving in the shallows,” explains veteran guide Jon Thelen. “Hungry walleyes follow, and fish often hang around to take advantage of the forage through freeze-up and beyond.”

The ensuing feeding frenzy often creates fast action for anglers, although few capitalize on it. Thelen cites a prime example.

“For one of my trips this October, I found a small lake where the water temperature was 48 degrees,” he said. “The water was cooler than in some of the surrounding lakes, so I knew there was a good chance of finding walleyes shallow. Sure enough, the fish were snapping in just 7 feet of water, and I had the entire lake to myself.”

To tap the shallow bite, Thelen sets his sights on near-shore structure. He says that it typically outperforms offshore humps, flats and reefs because water temperatures close to the mainland better hit the preferred range for baitfish.

“Shoreline breaks and points are good, as are humps that are either connected to the shoreline or adjacent to it,” he says. “Having deep water close is a plus.”

The aptitude of likely structure improves with the presence of cover in the form of vegetation, timber or rocks.

After identifying promising fishing grounds on a lake map, he motors in close with his main engine, kills the outboard, fires up his electric trolling motor and edges closer to scan the deep, structural perimeter with his electronics.

“Stealth is important in shallow water,” he notes. “So I move in quietly from deep water, watching for fish on my electronics.”

Once fish are marked, he drops a minnow-tipped jig to bottom and slowly but surely begins fishing his way into shallower water until the action stops.

Depths vary by lake and conditions, but Thelen rarely fishes deeper than 15 feet once the cold-water shallow bite heats up. Even when walleyes aren’t feeding high on the structure, they don’t automatically zoom out to depths of 30 feet or more, he says. They rest close to their feeding areas. By fishing my way up the structure, he catches some of these inactive walleyes while working toward the most aggressive ones.

Key colors hinge on natural tones, such as blends of brown and white.

This time of year when the fish focus on large concentrations of the same type of forage and the water is clear you’re not going to fool them with gaudy presentations. You want jig and grub colors that match the norm.

Snap the rod tip 6-inches or so to lift the jig and get the walleyes’ attention. Then let it fall to just off bottom and hold it still, before lowering it all the way to the bottom and setting it there for a few seconds. Raise it again, snap the rod tip and repeat the process.

Walleyes, being the moody, require some experimentation with the intensity of the lifts and duration of holds. Sometimes, successful variations of the snap-drop-hold-drop cadence include dragging the jig along bottom.

“If you set the hook the second you feel a fish you’ll often pull the jig the out of the walleye’s mouth,” Thelen said. “Wait for the second ‘thunk’ before setting.”

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