Post-spawn male walleyes behave like teenage boys who have been coerced into taking a buddy’s fat sister to the high school prom: After the dance they can hardly wait to collect on the promised beer and pizza reward, eager for any mischief the night might bring.
Female walleyes lose up to a third of their body weight in the process of spawning. With that massive shock to their metabolism, it’s no wonder the females have little interest in feeding for a week or so after the spawning run.
Guys who fish never lose that piscatorial peccadillo of dancing with fat girls in the spring. We know that walleyes move upstream in rivers or toward shallow reefs and shorelines in lakes to spawn — at night — over rocky-rubble bottom when water temperatures warm to the 45 to 48 degree range.
We spend an irrational amount of time dragging jigs and rigs across the bottom hoping that an egg-laden fish of dreams will find our hook, and then hold our trophy high for a quick photo and careful release to ensure the next generation.
Odds are the several smaller male walleyes that are tending to a female with dirigible dimensions will find the hook first. Any hookset is good. But when the bites quit coming because jigs worked along the bottom fail to find fish lips, we tend to pack our gear and head off to other waters.
Wildlife migration, by definition, means moving in two directions. Ducks migrate south along traditional narrow corridors when the north wind blows cold. On the upper Mississippi River, for example, the autumn migration down the river may only be 10 miles wide. When the webfeet head back north in the spring, their flight path may be 50 miles either side of the big brown ribbon.
Male walleyes exhibit similar — but vertical — behavior on the backside of their annual spring migration, sliding back to wherever they came from casually suspended throughout the water column.
Like teenage boys, these fish are eager to pursue shiny objects, but few anglers remain to tempt them because they’ve already moved on to other waters or can’t wrap their heads around catching spring walleyes with any presentation that doesn’t involve dragging hooks along the bottom.
Post-Spawn Walleye Fishing Baits
A number of different baits and presentations will trigger strikes from these fish, which make their reverse migration in less than 10 feet of water in both lakes and rivers.
Trolling crankbaits which run at depths from 4 to 8 feet can quickly cover vast tracts of water in a relatively short time. Bear in mind water temperatures will only be in the low 50s at the warmest. A slower speed of 1.8-2.4 mph generally is more effective. Planer boards can enhance your presentation by spreading lines and keeping them away from the boat.
Leisurely drifting downstream on a river while casting cranks, in-line spinners and Kalin grubs is another effective way to cash in on this post-spawn bounty. I’m a big fan of both lipless vibrating crankbaits like the Rat-L-Trap and blade baits like the Echotail when using this presentation.
Since fish have tails they can be anywhere in the water column, but anomalies like current breaks in rivers and points in both rivers and lake environments are high percentage locations that deserve a little more attention when in the post-spawn search mode.
Lure presentation is one of the most important aspects of being a consistently productive walleye angler. A basic understanding of aerodynamics will help you put hooks in the walleye’s strike zone more consistently.
When fishing a river in “search mode” boat control usually is easier when sliding downstream. Once active fish are located, the trolling motor can be used to maintain position for more accurate casting.
Its human nature to cast in the direction the boat is going. We rationalize we’re casting to new water. You’ll find greatly enhanced success if you think of fish like airplanes.
Have you ever seen a plane come in for a landing backward? Of course not! Fish orient themselves facing into the current. Gills work better that way. The strike zone also is larger, as fish can see the lure coming at them.
Facing the current doesn’t necessarily mean casting directly upstream. The hydrodynamics of a back eddy are a case in point. The current runs into a barrier and swirls around, briefly heading in another direction.
Walleyes like to wait in ambush where they can hold with the least amount of effort but with the best chance easy food will come floating right in front of their noses.
On our part of the planet most lakes with inlets are fed from a generally northern direction. Northern exposures with dark bottoms tend to warm faster than other locations around the lake.
Fish are cold-blooded creatures. They naturally seek out the warmest water at this time of year. Don’t be surprised to find walleyes cruising 2 feet down over gumbo mud in 5 feet of water this time of year — especially if both emergent and submergent green weeds are part of the habitat matrix.
Many lakes have islands near their inlet streams, often with adjacent offshore humps that didn’t break the surface to achieve island status. Walleyes will position themselves for easy attack on the windward side of these barriers.
Wind and other factors that influence hydrodynamics in a lake often cause currents. That is why casting in one direction is often more effective than casting at other vectors.
Mighty rivers usually start out as creeks and brooks, eventually growing to river status as they flow downstream following gravity’s will. The confluence with greater flow of every one of these tributaries has walleye-holding potential at this time of year.
Spawning is second only to survival in the walleye’s hierarchy of needs. All other behaviors throughout a marble-eye’s lifetime are based around the predator/prey relationship.
Walleyes may initially be drawn into tributaries to spawn. They may stick around where two flows converge on their reverse migration because there is food in the vicinity.
Herein lies a major key to greater angling success for all fish species: Don’t focus on the fish you want to catch, focus on what your quarry is likely to be eating, or evading what it is likely eat it.
Walleyes are among the first fish species to spawn in the spring. Insects, amphibians and young-of-year baitfish may not be on the menu yet. Fish always pursue the easiest and most plentiful link down the food chain. In early April, that usually means any baitfish that have survived winter.
These prey species may be drawn toward tributaries to follow the spawning urge, to escape predators, to find food, or any combination of these factors and other habitat parameters.
Humans are the sole predator in nature with a tendency to employ discretion with captured prey. There is a growing catch-and-release ethic with walleyes — especially female walleyes.
Once the next year-class of walleyes is essentially assured, taking a few of those eager male walleyes home has zero impact on the resource. There is no better time for catch-and-release into hot grease!