Spring Open Water Fishing is Here

February 23, 2009 by  

By Jason Mitchell

In some places like the Missouri River, signs of spring have been showing for well over a month as a fantastic walleye bite continues

In some places like the Missouri River, signs of spring have been showing for well over a month as a fantastic walleye bite continues

Spring fishing is always good for people. The signs of spring put people in better state of mind. For many lake anglers in the upper Midwest, this month is the time to get the boat out. The first time to use a long rod in over six months. We wait for spring all winter. Yes the fishing is always good in the spring, who can’t appreciate some fresh air? The catching however can be questionable.

Spring Walleye

Early season walleye are typically shallow if all goes well. Stable weather is required for a pattern to emerge that is consistent. When we have stable weather on Devils Lake for example where I make my living as a guide, we have good consistent patterns that produce fish. The biggest wild card we are dealt with spring walleye fishing is inconstant weather. Fronts and changes in weather can kill whatever patterns there are. Perhaps no other time of year can a front do as much damage to the bite as early and mid spring.

Strong wind is one such result of a front that I dread more than anything when I am trying to find walleye during the spring. I actually avoid the wind at this time of year and here is why. Strong winds seem to have a drastic cooling effect on the lake at times. You might be catching walleye on some shallow sandbars in five feet of water for example and the water temperature might be 58 degrees. The next day, the wind rips through at twenty miles per hour and the water clouds up and drops 5 degrees because cold water from the bottom of the lake has been pulled up by the strong wind. Whenever water temperature rises during the spring, the bite often improves. When the temp drops, watch out because things are going to change for the worst. I try to avoid the brunt of the wind all together by looking for sheltered bays and calm parts of the lake not effected as much by strong winds. I also keep a close eye on my temperature gauge to monitor the effects of wind on surface temperature readings.

There are a few ways I approach changing weather patterns. First and foremost, slowing down is important. I have a big advantage in the fact that I am on the water just about every day guiding customers. When the weather hits, one strategy for me is to sit and anchor where I caught fish before the change in weather. I might have been catching fish the day earlier by pitching crankbaits into shallow water for example. The next day, I might start in that spot and sit with slip bobbers. Slip bobbers are by far; the best presentation I have found for catching turned off fish in shallow water. The problem with slip bobbers is the fact that finding fish can sometimes be difficult if you have no starting points.

(Tip: When targeting walleye with slip bobbers in shallow water, take notes of what structure options have been most productive. On Devils Lake for example, flooded timber and emerging weeds in shallow water can be very productive but difficult to fish, use a Lindy Timber Jig below a slip bobber to reduce the amount of debris you pick up on the hook.)

We also will still pitch crankbaits into shallow water when the water temperature drops but with a few twists. We generally have much better luck by hanging the boat out further from shore and making as long of casts as possible. Long casts result in many more fish when the fish are turned off. What happens is that negative fish will often follow a crankbait for a long ways before hitting. Long casts give the fish more opportunities to bump the bait. Short casts often result in nothing more than a short hit right at the boat when you don’t have much line out or a mere follow. Even if you don’t hook up with the crankbaits however, follows and short hits can tell you exactly where to sit with live bait.

Minnow Lure

Dropping water temperature often coincides with cloudy water because of wave turbulence and or run off. Long wobbling baits with easy to find profiles are often the most effective. Fish these baits slow with plenty of pauses as you bring the lure back to the boat. By far, the best crank bait we have found for walleye in the scenario described above is the Salmo Shallow Running Perch PH8F. This particular lure has a “perch like” profile that is a little broader than most stick baits. The mass, wobble and flash of this particular lure does a number on walleyes. Our go to bait. Another popular floating stick bait is the Salmo Minnow M7F
If there is too much of a drastic change and the fish have seemed to vacated out of the shallow areas entirely, we have succeeded in finding and catching fish by “skipping ahead.” What is “skipping ahead,” you ask? What we mean is skipping ahead to spots and patterns that usually shouldn’t emerge for another month down the road. Instead of fishing where the fish should be in the spring on the shallow water patterns, skip to some of the mid depth structure patterns that you know will emerge as summer progresses. During strange weather, fish will pile up on spots that they shouldn’t. Some of the patterns don’t feel right until you catch a fish and often, big fish are one step ahead of small fish. Mid lake structure isn’t often on the minds of anglers targeting spring walleye on natural lakes for example but don’t be afraid to try “out of season” spots when the regular patterns won’t work.

Bad weather in the spring usually corresponds with bad fishing. That’s not to say however that walleye can’t be plucked under difficult conditions.

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