Ice fishing provides some great winter walleye action for Northern anglers, but the water rarely freezes thick enough to venture on ice at my home waters in Missouri and for anglers all across the south and west.
Walleye on the lakes around home go deep in the wintertime and are tough to catch. Plus, during the coldest winters our lakes freeze just thick enough to prevent getting a boat on the water. So, the best option for anglers who want to fish from a boat is to target tailraces below dams where current usually keeps the water from freezing even if the water temperature dips below 32 degrees.
The best winter walleye fishing I have experienced is below dams on the Mississippi River north of St. Louis, Mo. Winter is a prime time to catch walleye below the dams because the fish migrate up river in search of a feeder stream where they intend to spawn on riffles. However the fish in the upper end of the river’s navigation pools become trapped during their search for feeder streams causing large schools of walleye to congregate in the tailraces.
Sandy humps and deep holes adjacent to the humps are the key areas to search for wintertime walleye in the tailraces. Keeping a constant vigil on your electronics is critical to find walleye congregating in the slack water next to current on the back side of a hump or fish that drop down into the deeper holes near the hump. Throughout a winter’s day, the fish will range in depth from 20 to 50 feet.
Walleyes in the tailraces tend to hug the bottom, so you should select lures that reach the river’s floor in a hurry. A ball or stand-up jighead weighing 1 ounce or heavier and adorned with a bucktail skirt or plastic curly-tail grub is recommended for fishing in the strong current below the dams.
Adding a 3- to 4-inch shiner minnow to the back of the jig makes the lure more appealing to wintertime walleye. If the fish keep short-striking the bait, add a number 4 or 6 stinger hook to the lure to increase your hookups. Knowing your jig retrieves can be a huge difference maker in the hunt for winter walleye.
While drifting down river at the same speed as the current, drop the jig to the bottom and make short hops with the lure or slowly lift and swim the jig a couple of inches off the bottom before letting it fall again to trigger strikes from bottom-hugging walleye.
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