Spring Walleye Fishing Tips

spring walleye

Post-Spawn shallow walleye (pickerel)

The post-spawn walleye catch is arguably the most exciting time of the walleye season, but fishing for spring pickerel can also be very frustrating. Getting the fish to bite isn’t that big a challenge at this time of the year, but reaching the fish is a different story.

Where do you find big walleyes in the spring?

The best place to catch walleye once the ice melts on the lake depends on the local conditions. After spawning, big female walleyes are hungry and can be regularly found in shallow water near the spawning beds. At this time a big female pickerel is very active and will eat just about any bait it can catch. Sometimes it is hard for anglers to get to these fish just after the walleye-opener weekend because the pickerel are often feeding in secluded or difficult-to-access lakes and bays that may be protected by thick weed beds, nasty rapids, shallow reefs, or flooded tree stands.

Live baits for catching walleyes in the spring

When using live baits, a simple slip-bobber rig is great for working the shallow areas and looking for pockets of deeper water that may be holding your spring walleyes. This is especially effective if you have to hike through the bush to reach the fish, or are fishing a shoreline with a bit of current. After the ice goes out, the walleyes are often in areas with lots of obstructions. The slip-bobber set-up makes it easier to fish these spots. Minnows, worms, and leeches are popular walleye baits that should work well in these conditions.

Lures For Spring Pickerel

Not everyone has access to live bait or is comfortable handling worms, leeches, or even minnows. Cost is also a factor. Bait is expensive these days and it doesn’t take long to burn through some serious cash over the course of a weekend on the lake.

If you prefer to use lures for catching pickerel this spring, a jig-head with a rubber tail is easy to maneuver around structure and can be jigged or fished with a cast-and-retrieve technique. A jig provides the flexibility to drop the bait into hard-to-reach spots that may be holding a number of fish. Flipping the jig into pockets along the shore that are adjacent to a rock face can produce a number of fish that are tightly packed together waiting to ambush smaller fish that are moving along the shoreline. While many people recommend bright fluorescent colours, a standard white or yellow jig will often really light things up. In areas where leeches are abundant, a black tail can also be productive.

Walleye Spinner Baits
If you have some room to cast into an area holding pickerel, a spinner bait with a rubber tail is a great option. Consider adding a small split shot to the line above the bait if the water depth is changing along the shore. With a slow retrieve you can present the bait deeper and it will drift down into any holes that might be holding fish. This rig is also snag-friendly and is easier to use than a stick bait.

The Leader Debate
Big pike are often found in the same areas as walleyes, especially in the spring. You may want to bring along a few wire leaders to use in the event the pike start taking off with your bait. Using the leader may have a negative effect on the number of pickerel you catch, but it is a better option than spending half the day retying your line.

How To Find Walleyes in the Spring

In Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario, the lakes and rivers are riddled with diverse walleye spawning sites. Many prime spots rarely see any anglers due to their location. Spring water levels in some of these locations can change as much as three feet in a day making it nearly impossible to accurately determine when you can get a boat into a spot that you know holds trophy fish.

Even the locals who watch the daily water-flow reports have a tough time predicting the rise or fall of the water in certain areas.

Use the canoe?
A canoe or kayak is often the only consistent and reliable way to fish for spring walleye in certain locations, yet few people bother to go this route. Fishing from the canoe takes a bit of extra planning and requires getting some exercise, but the payoffs can be huge, both in the number of fish and the size of the fish you catch.

It is well known that spawning walleyes will often navigate to these hard-to-reach areas. Whether or not the fish know that these locations are safe is up for debate, but the reality is that the fish in these hot spots are plentiful and have a voracious appetite for short periods of time towards the end of May or the first weeks of June before they head back to deeper water.

The versatility of the canoe allows anglers to go right to the fish. When you find walleye in very shallow water it is often just a matter of pulling the canoe up onto the shore, hopping out, and working the area by foot, which can be very productive. In most cases there are no worries about being on private property because many of these locations are not adjacent to private land.

Hidden lakes also provide fantastic spring walleye action. For the trouble of a short portage with the canoe and your gear, a few hundred feet is often all that separates you and a virtually untouched lake of hungry trophy fish.

So, when you plan your post-spawn walleye trip this spring, consider taking the old canoe. It may turn out to be the best equipment decision you make all year.

Written by: Andrew Walker

Get more spring walleye and pickerel fishing techniques on the Walleye Tips page.

Go to the Northern Pike Fishing Tips page.

Go to our Beginner Fishing Tips page for a full run down on tips for new anglers.

Note: A version of this article can also be found on Walleye Central which is arguably the best place on the web for walleye fanatics to get their fix.


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