Mar 10, 2017

Spring Walleye, Trophies Galore!

By: Jeff Boutin

It is that time of year again when anglers from all over the state head out in pursuit of trophy walleye. The snow is melting, and the rivers are starting to flow. This is nature’s process that will get the walleye ready for the spawn. This is also the time of year when females carry an extra few pounds that add bulk to the trophy fish that are caught throughout the many river systems in the state. The Bay of Green Bay and its tributaries offer some of the best trophy walleye fishing in Wisconsin. And, the area is becoming one of the premiere fishing destinations in the Midwest.

Vertical Jigging

One of the top destinations in the spring is the Fox River in De Pere. There are approximately 300,000 walleye each year that venture up the Fox River to spawn. At times during the walleye run, you will find hundreds of anglers in their boats up near the dam. I have found that the 6 miles of the Fox River downstream from the dam are just as good as the areas near the dam, but without the fishing pressure.

Walleye travel along the bottom of a river because there is less current here. One of the most popular techniques is vertical jigging with a lead head jig and a minnow. A couple of complements for the jig head and minnow are ring worms, twister tails, or the various Gulp! and PowerBait products. All of these options produce fish; some produce more on any given day as long as your presentation is correct.

One way to catch these walleye is vertical jigging. “Vertical jigging” means your line is straight up and down. You want to be able to feel your jig ”tick” the bottom as you move downstream. That means when you are in the current you must follow your line downstream. I do this by pointing the bow of my boat upstream, pulsing my Minn Kota Terrova on and off. By doing this, you can keep your boat going at the same speed as your jig. I also try to keep my jig working up and down the breaks as we move down the river.

Necessary equipment for this technique is relatively basic. I will only use a good graphite rod, with a reel spooled with either PowerPro or FireLine in a 6 lb. or 8 lb. test. At the end of my braid, I tie on a 6 lb. to 8 lb. fluorocarbon leader about 2 feet long. I do this because it will give my jig a very natural presentation, and with the braid, I can feel my jig tap every rock on the bottom. When jigging, always make sure the knot that is tied to your jig is at the top of the eyelet. This will help your jig sit level in the water.

Baits of Choice:

Various sizes of jig heads 1/32 oz. to ½ oz. with a full spectrum of colors. Tails: paddle tails, twister tails, ring worms, Gulp! minnows and PowerBaits. All these will have multiple colors and sizes. On the easy days, fish bite on just about anything. It’s the tough days when you try everything in your box and whatever you don’t have that day, is the very thing they were biting on! Believe me, it happens to the best of us!

Trolling Mud Flats

Another great technique is trolling the mud flats of the river. In these flats there is very little current, so the walleye like to use these areas to travel upstream. Walleye are attracted to the warmer areas of the dark shallow water. This isn’t necessarily where you want to start off in the morning, but these areas can turn on in just a few hours after the sun starts to warm the water. This is where you need either very small baits, or large crankbaits. When I troll upstream, I usually troll at a 30-degree angle to the current. Fish face upstream so trolling at an angle will present a larger profile for the fish to see. When trolling downstream, keep the current in mind or your baits will not have any action and again, try and troll at a slight angle to the current to give your presentation a larger profile to the fish.

Baits of Choice:

Large shallow running crankbaits, Rapala #12 or #14 Husky Jerks, and small crankbaits like #4, #5 and #7 Flickershads, and Salmo Hornets.

Rocky Shorelines

A seemingly little known fact is that there are more and more walleye spawning along the rocky shores of the bay. These areas are becoming more and more popular with anglers and are producing some of the best trophy fishing on the waters of Green Bay. In the spring, Rapalas, Flickershads and Salmo Hornets along the rocky shorelines are the baits of choice while trolling. These shallow areas warm quickly if the sun is shining and the winds aren’t blowing cold water into the shoreline.

Other areas you can find walleye are out in front of the many tributaries along the eastern and western shorelines. These staging areas for the pre-spawn walleye along the western shore run from Oconto to Marinette. Along this stretch are several rivers in which the walleye spawn, namely; the Oconto, Peshtigo, and Menominee Rivers. On the Eastern Shores, these trophies are staging along the rocky shorelines of Sturgeon Bay. You will have to search to find these fish, as they sit in waters from 20 ft. to 4 ft., and anywhere from right out in front of the rivers and channels, to several miles up and down the shorelines.

For these areas you will benefit from using technology. This is where I use my Humminbird Helix 12 to find the fish. With the high definition locator, it can pick out these fish very easily. When you find them, back off from the spot and use your bow mount trolling motor to work the area. I prefer the Minn Kota Terrova, as it is one of the best on market. When you find active fish, set the anchor mode; this will allow you to fish and not have to worry about boat control. Rapala’s Rippin’ Raps, a jig with a PowerBait Rip Shad or Kalin's grubs take the majority of fish. It can take several hours at times to find the active females, but when you do, it might become one of the best days on the water you will ever have!

With the Rippin’ Raps we make long casts and allow the bait to sink to the bottom. To use the bait properly, you lift and reel, keeping the bait near the bottom without it touching and getting fouled with zebra mussels. Lifting fast enough, you can feel the rattle through your line and all the way through your fishing rod. Changing your speed of lift and speed of retrieval until you find what the fish are looking for is key. The walleye just don’t hit these baits, they crush them!

Baits of Choice:

Rippin’ Raps #5, #6, #7 

Jigging Techniques

When using a jig, tipped with any one of the plastics mentioned, it is important to make long casts and let it reach the bottom before you flip your bail closed. The first technique is to lift up your rod tip and reel, lift and reel, lift and reel. Do this fast enough that the bait stays just off the bottom. Another way to use it is a slow hop. You do this by snapping your rod tip straight up, which will pull the bait off the bottom and pull your rod tip back to one side, stop your rod tip, and set the bait on the bottom. Doing this, the bite will happen when the bait stops and hits bottom. Keep tension on your line as the walleye will pick it up right off the bottom. You are trying to imitate a gobie, which hop and make short swims right on the bottom. This can be absolutely deadly, even when the fish are turned off.

Baits of choice:

PowerBait Rip Shad, Kalin’s Grubs and Kalin's Sizmic Shad

The time frame for these trophy walleye is from ice out to the first of May. This always depends on the wind, which can blow cold waters from Lake Michigan down through the Bay. That weather pattern will keep these fish around for a little longer. Our seasonal temperatures dictate success, if it’s a cold spring, this bite can last longer, and with a warm spring, these fish are here today and gone tomorrow. On another note: If you stay away from the crowds, you will find you can be much more successful on most days.

This time of year the waters of Green Bay are very cold, hypothermia can set in in 30 minutes or less, so make sure your boat is in proper working order, you have a marine radio, and you inform someone as to where you are fishing.

Good Luck, have fun, and most importantly, be safe!

Captain Jeff