By: Ben Patschull
Ice-out in the upper midwest signals the beginning of the annual walleye rush. The melt of ice, snow, and spring rain cause river levels to rise, prompting walleye to transition from their wintering holes to their spawning grounds. In my home state of Wisconsin, anglers flood hotspots like the Wolf, Fox, and Mississippi Rivers with hopes of catching their personal best walleye.
Luckily for the fisherman, man-made barriers like dams act as beacons for walleye as they travel as far upstream as they can, making spring an incredibly easy time of year to locate fish. Anglers use this to their advantage and take to the water to intercept these fish throughout the spawn, which usually begins when water temperatures reach 40 degrees and lasts until the water temps are in the mid-50s. With location and timing out of the way, anglers can spend more time focusing their attention on bait selection. Here we’ll cover the five best baits for catching spring walleye.
1) Blade Baits
Fish will begin transitioning into pre-spawn mode once water temperatures are just several degrees above freezing. Blade baits separate themselves as the most productive bait for tempting lethargic walleyes during the pre-spawn. The Acme Tackle V-Rod and 10,000 Fish Death Stalker are some of the premier blade baits that can be cast into heavy currents and fished by slowly bouncing on the bottom.
A slowly ripped jerkbait can be an effective bait both during the day and night. Spring walleye will often stay active or become more active during the night. Jerkbaits offer a slowly moving, rattling target for walleye in dark water. The Livingston Jerkmaster and Rapala Shadow Rap are a few of my favorite jerkbaits to throw from shore. While fishing from the boat, I like to throw deeper diving jerkbaits such as the Rapala Shadow Rap Deep.
These baits can be cast from shore and bounced slowly near the bottom from a boat. Lipless cranks replace blade baits as productive walleye baits once water temperatures surpass 40 degrees and the fish become more active. The Rapala Rippin Rap is one of the staple spring walleye baits that I use in various sizes depending on fish activity.
These baits are perhaps the most versatile artificial baits for springtime walleye. Paddle-tail baits like the BioSpawn ExoSwim and the Strike King Rage Swimmer are a few of my go-to baits. I like to pair these with a slimmer profile jig head like the VMC Swimbait Jig in higher flows. Jigs and plastics can be fished from shore by casting and retrieving slowly near the bottom or off a boat vertically while drifting.
5) Live Bait
Finally, live bait is always a deadly method for walleye, no matter the time of year. While fishing from a boat, I like to rig my minnows using a simple jig head. While fishing from shore, I use a VMC hammerhead jig under a slip bobber; or off the bottom using a three-way rig. In dirty water or at night, the Kalins rattle eye jig head adds a little vibration to your live bait presentation.
The walleye spawn occurs every spring, generally from late March through April and into May during colder years. This is their first opportunity to fish open water for many anglers and the best time of year to catch these trophy fish. Although there are endless bait choices for finding your PB walleye this spring, these five baits should be in your tackle box throughout the spawn. All of the baits mentioned in this article are available for purchase on the Karl’s Bait and Tackle website.
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