Factors like water temperature and wind seem increasingly important during spring. Often, the most important piece of equipment is a temperature gauge as activity often revolves around water temperature. A temperature gauge also enables an angler to gauge the influence of wind. Water temperature is relative in the sense that there is no magic water temperature to find. Rather an observation of where warmer pools of water are located within a system.
Some locations just heat up better during the spring and this difference in temperature often seems to hold and attract fish. Many of the most productive spots we find are bays within bays within bays… small protected coves that are shallow and protected from the fluctuations of the main basins. These protected pockets will tend to warm up regardless of wind direction. Dark bottoms tend to warm up even more and some of these protected spots might only be five or six feet deep but these shallow spots can and will hold a lot of walleyes.
A general rule of thumb is that the fishing typically gets better in these locations during stable weather. As long as the water temperature continues to rise, these spots get more consistent to a point. Also early in the year, afternoons and early evenings are sometimes better as the water temperature jumps a few degrees during the day. Typically, a falling temperature often slows the bite. Triggers that might cool the water include changes in wind direction where cooler water gets pushed into the location from a cooler part of the lake, cold fronts or cloud cover. The fishing can still be good but anglers typically have to make some adjustments.
When the water temperature is stable or rising, pitching crank baits or swim baits is extremely effective. Both crank baits and swim baits allow anglers to cover some water looking for the active fish. “Go to” lures that we have caught a lot of walleyes on across Minnesota and the Dakotas include the Salmo Hornet and the Northland Slurpee Swim Shad. I like to switch back and forth between the plastic swim bait and the crank bait. Often starting with the crank bait as the lure can be worked faster but we can often pick up a few more fish with the swim bait as it touches different parts of the water column and can be worked slightly slower and different to trigger a few extra fish.
From our experiences, crashing water temperatures usually require a change in tactics. The best is to move or avoid the dropping temp. Find a pocket of water somewhere that was spared. If that is not possible, a few changes are usually required on the presentation. Lures can still be effective, especially for finding fish but longer casts often work better as turned off fish often follow the lure longer before hitting. Live bait in combination with sit and wait presentations can sometimes shine. Live bait rigs or slip bobbers for example will still trigger fish. Camping out on the sweet spots and waiting for fish to move through can be a good strategy. When things do get tough, go where you know there are fish and work it long and hard. We often anchor up on the best locations.
Wind can also play a significant role in walleye location but the reasons aren’t so simple. The old cliché about following the windy shoreline is only right about half the time… so there are no hard rules. Let me explain. If wind is pushing warm water into an area and there are already fish present, wind will often turn the spot on, turnkey. Wind can also muddy up the water, crash the water temperature and basically ruin a good bite so we sometimes find the fish out of the wind, focusing on the calm side of the lake. Often as well, we might be more successful fishing “yesterday’s wind” as a hard blow from a certain direction from a few days previous might be the ticket after the fact. Sometimes wind doesn’t make a spot good that day… but it can turn the spot on a few days down the road. Often as well, we might not find walleyes right up in the chop of a real hard wind. A good starting point for shallow fish seems to be “double the height of the wave.” In two foot waves, try four feet of water. This general rule of thumb seems to work really well for us early in the season. In other words, we seldom find walleyes in one or two feet of water if four foot waves are crashing on shore. The only exception I have ever seen is big fish.
Catching walleyes on many natural lakes early in the season often comes down to small subtle factors and variables. More often than not, location usually boils down to the relationship between wind and water temperature.
Editors Note: The author, Jason Mitchell earned a reputation as a legendary guide on North Dakota’s Devils Lake before hosting the television show, Jason Mitchell Outdoors. More information on this popular television can be found at www.jasonmitchelloutdoors.com.
Photo: Legendary walleye angler, Jason Mitchell believes that swim baits like the Northland Slurpee Swim Shad are very effective early in the year.