Walleye Time


My daughter Leah came home last year in the spring, wanting little more than to catch some white bass in the river not far from my home. We went fishing one beautiful afternoon when it was warm and still, and the white bass were still there, and hungry. Fishing with a light spinning outfit and six-pound line, Leah was having a ball, until we finally had a limit of fat whitebass, way more than I wanted to filet late in the day.

So as I pulled up the trolling motor and removed the lure from my line, Leah made one last cast. She sent the little Rapala-like minnow out into the slow current at the head of a deep eddy, and began to jerk it down into the depths as she had done all day. It had been an effective method for catching those whites.

And as she jerked it, it just stopped and her rod bent hard. That last quick jerk she made was a good one, and it had set the hooks into a hefty golden-colored walleye. Of course Leah didn’t know it was a walleye. She just knew that whatever had taken that little lure was one heck of a fish.

walleye, leah244There was lots of yelling and squealing as I gave her instructions, and the fish stayed deep and took line against the drag, which fortunately, was set just right. Leah hung on, and made a little progress, and then in the clear water I saw that fish flash its tail. The white spot on the broad tail told me she had a walleye, and I waited with the net until she got it up close, at which time I made a very deliberate attempt to net it. Moments later it was flopping around in the bottom of the boat and Leah stood there with wide eyes, looking at a fish much bigger than the white bass we were after.

Almost every year, in late February and early March, we land some big walleye while fishing tributaries to big reservoirs for white bass or black bass, sometimes even when we are fishing for crappie. They may be through spawning before April gets here, but many of them stay up those rivers for weeks.  In that three-month span, they are taken on a variety of lures, from 1/8-ounce white jigs to the topwater minnows that are jerked down into the depths, from little crankbaits and suspending lures to big spinner baits. We catch a good number of big walleyes when we aren’t fishing for them.

So you can’t really point out one method or one kind of lure for catching walleye in the rivers above our reservoirs. I think the best thing to do is catch them while fishing for other species. It is sort of like sneaking up on them.

Last year or the year before, a couple of friends and I went up that same tributary where Leah caught her fish, catching both black bass and white bass. One of the guys cast a deep running green and orange crankbait out in the middle and hooked a horse of a walleye. He grew up down on the Current River where walleye are so plentiful, and he commented that day about how you catch so many walleye out in the middle of the tributary eddies.

That’s something to remember. While you are casting against the banks to catch bass, the walleyes will more than likely be caught out in the middle in deeper pools just below the shoals. But who knows what you will catch them on? In years of fishing, I have seen those glass-eyed, fang-mouthed battlers caught on about everything that goes down into the water a ways. Never have I caught walleye on topwater lures!

So when it is warm, and still, I will try to catch a walleye or two this early spring, by sneaking up on them and acting like I’m not at all interested in them. And when it is windy and cold and cloudy and I can keep my hands warm, even before there’s a hint of spring, I might go try it then too. If it’s February, it is travel time for romantic walleye, and they get very hungry during the mating season.

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Photo: Angling Obsession (top)