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Bagging the walleyes
River fishing in the spring has its challenges, but the right lures are essential
Apr. 13, 2022 1:42 pm
GUTTENBERG — Early spring is happy time in Iowa. Pheasants are cackling, turkeys are gobbling and waterfowl are wiggling their tail feathers.
Those of us who love to chase Mississippi River walleyes are smiling, too. It's a time of year when walleyes congregate near spawning areas and trophy fish can't all hide from anglers.
Knowing where the fish are located, however, is only one piece of the April puzzle. River fishing in the spring comes with plenty of challenges, and figuring out an efficient and effective presentation is the first consideration.
Most river walleyes drop their eggs in early April. Males will remain in the spawning areas for another week or two just in case their services are needed while the females seem to get their business done and move on to nearby areas where they can recover and feed.
Anglers have to make choices about which fish to pursue. Trophy fish may mean shallow presentations and fewer bites while numbers of walleyes probably means a deeper approach.
From Davenport to Minneapolis, slow-trolling stickbaits upstream about 0.5 mph is a go-to method that provides depth control and puts a bait right in a walleye's face. That is especially important in the spring when river conditions like rapid flow and poor clarity affect a walleye's ability to eat.
Shallow walleyes on sand flats, quiet sloughs or rip-rapped shoreline can be targeted with three-way rigs featuring small jigs tipped with ringworms and small lures like Rapala F5 (2 inch) and F7 (2 3/4 inch) Original Floating Raps.
Fish holding in water from 10 to 15 feet deep require more weight in the presentation. Some anglers prefer three-ways with jigs in the 3/4- to 1-ounce range coupled with Floating Raps as small as the F5s or as large as an F13 (5 1/4 inch). The deeper you fish, the more current you typically have to deal with so some anglers employ pole-lining or hand-lining techniques where weights as large as one pound are used with stickbaits attached to leaders above the weight.
Once you've got a presentation dialed in, finding the right stickbait for a given day can make all the difference. We've all been in situations where we're doing the same thing as the boat next to us and they're whacking fish while we can't buy a bite.
Finding the right lure color or pattern may be more important in the spring than any other time of year. From sunshine to cloud cover, water clarity to depth and the activity level of the fish, it's crucial to find something a walleye can see or sense.
While there are always exceptions, there are some general guidelines most experienced anglers follow.
If the water clarity isn't great, bright Rapalas like chartreuse, firetiger, hot steel and fluorescent orange get the nod. Cleaner water brings more natural patterns into play such as silver, shiner, shad and perch.
On overcast days, add blue and purpledescent to the lineup and on sunny days, vampire and clown patterns often shine.
One the advantages of trolling is it allows the use of multiple lines. Anglers can experiment until the walleyes make it clear what lures they are seeing best.
When the color of the day has been determined, try different sizes of lures. Smaller may be better when the fish are lethargic while bigger Floating Raps and even Jointed Raps may be more effective when the walleyes are aggressive.
Get it dialed in and you won't be able to stop smiling.