While there’s still a thick sheet of ice over all the bodies of water in the upper Midwest, spring is just around the corner! Next Sunday is the last day of walleye season in Minnesota which won’t reopen until May 9th. If you’re getting the open water itch I estimate that in seven or eight weeks (early April), the first fishable open water on the Red River will open up by the dams and warm water runoffs. Walleye fishing in the spring is as unpredictable as the river itself. Rising water levels with runoff from the snow melt mixed with weather that doesn’t seem to want to make up its mind can make catching ‘eyes a bit of a challenge.
I will warn you, you will lose a lot of jigs fishing by the dams and other places walleyes typically congregate. My suggestion is to buy the cheapest generic jigs available. I almost always start with 1/4oz and go down in size from there. Bigger jigs cast farther and let you cover more water if you’re fishing from shore. The advantage of downsizing to a 1/8oz jig however is that it naturally drifts with the current and will appear more natural to the fish.
Another tactic is to use floating jigs and a few split shots 4-6 inches down the line to achieve a similar effect but get the bait slightly up off the bottom. Most of the fish I’ve caught have been within 2 feet of the bottom, so floating the bait a little off the bottom can help get fish riding slightly higher than just on the bottom. This setup is also fantastic for dead-sticking live bait.
In spring, I would shy away from soft plastics in favor of live bait. The runoff of the melting snow really clouds up the water and the decreased visibility makes it difficult for fish to find soft plastics. Use bright colors such as pink, white, and chartreuse. However, I would argue that in springtime action is far more important than color. The fish will typically be less aggressive than post-spawn and fall, so it is important to have bait that can be fished very slowly. B Fish N Tackle’s soft plastics excel for spring river walleye. Try out the Pulse-R Paddle Tail and Moxi for their ribbed body.
As I already mentioned, fish are typically less active in early spring, though they will get more active as they get closer to spawning. Fish your bait with a very slow retrieve to begin with, and if that doesn’t work, try speeding it up. After your cast, give the bait a few seconds to get down to the bottom before beginning your retrieve. You should be able to feel the jig making contact with the bottom. Don’t keep casting to the same spot if you’re not getting strikes. Shake it up and you’ll find the fish before long.
One final tip: Tie your braided line straight to the jig. When (not if) you hang up, you can load up the rod tip because the line doesn’t stretch, and try to launch the jig out behind the snag.