The Right Place at the Right Time
By Gary Parsons and Keith Kavajecz
They say that the “early bird catches the worm”. That statement is true, but it is only part of the story. You see, in order to catch the worm, the bird needs to know where to find the worm. The same logic applies to the highly anticipated opening weekend of fishing each spring. You have to know where to find the fish!
There are two types of areas we like to fish on opening weekend. The first one is shallow bays that are not traditionally considered walleye producing areas. These are the types of areas that most people think of when they think early season bass.
A lot of these bays, which have shallow flats that are about two feet deep and then drop off into 6-8 feet of water, also have a feeder creek running into them. These areas warm up and “come to life” first in the spring. The warm water brings new weed growth on the bottom and a lot of baitfish. When the new green weeds are 1-5 inches off bottom, the walleyes come in and put on the feedbag!
We prefer bays with a northern slope, but a southern slope can also work. Most lakes have anywhere from one to three bays like this. The beauty of these bays is that there is often a mix of walleye and crappie in them. This includes the big female walleyes. Twenty years ago, most people would say that you can’t catch females until two weeks after they spawn because they are resting. Tournament fishing has proved this isn’t true. The females are ready to chow down!
The key is to move around the bay casting as you go. Once we find a school, we put the MotorGuide Xi5 bow mount in anchor mode and just pound on them! If you get into the crappies you can sometimes get a fish darn near every cast!
In 2-10 feet of water, we like to pitch a 1/16 oz. Mustad WL746 Elite Walleye Jig with a 2.5 inch Berkley Gulp! Minnow on 6# test Berkley NanoFil line. The beauty of using a 1/16 oz jig is that this presentation is a crappie killer also! In windy conditions you will have to switch to a 1/8 oz. jig. We use either the Mustad WL746 Walleye Elite Jig or Bass Pro Shops XPS Walleye Jigs with a 2.5 or 3 inch Berkley Gulp Minnow. While you won’t get many crappies with the 1/8 oz. jig, you will get bigger walleyes and an occasional pike.
Both jigs have unique characteristics that make them great choices for walleye fishing. The Mustad WL746 Walleye Elite Jig has a round head with a razor-sharp UltraPoint hook. Not only is this hook still sharp after fishing rocks, but the longer than normal size of the hook allows it to come out of the back of a Berkley Gulp Minnow in the perfect spot.
The Bass Pro Shops XPS Walleye Jigs have a “semi-stand-up” design. This means that as the jig sits on the bottom, the hook is angled up, putting it in perfect position for a fish to inhale the offering and increasing your odds of getting a hook-up.
If there are a lot of big fish in the system you are fishing, try using the new Berkley PowerBait Pro Shad, Jig Worm, or the Rib Worm. Any tail that would work in the dead of summer will also work this time of year for catching a trophy. Just tear the jig through the weeds and pop it off the weed stems. At this time of year the weeds, with their shorter lengths are easy to fish and you won’t get tangled up in them as much as in the summer.
The other place we like to target, are the shallow areas with structure near shoreline; more of a “classic” rock pattern.
The best spots top out at 2-5 feet, like a hump that is shoreline connected or a hump that is within real close vicinity of the shore. Another thing to look for is any shoreline spawning area with a 2-5 foot drop onto a shelf. Any flat that slowly tapers off, spine or point that is connected to the shoreline can also be hot, but remember, with this pattern, rocks are key.
You probably won’t find a lot of females in these areas, but there will be a lot of males still hanging around after the spawn. You can catch these fish by casting cranks or jigging the same types of tails that you would use on the weed pattern.
The #5 Berkley Flicker Minnow is a good choice for casting, as it dives quickly and has more of a minnow type profile for lakes that have predominantly a minnow forage base. You will always need to try a #6 Berkley Flicker Shad when you’re casting. It’s usually pretty deadly and is a lure we designed for casting. It was important to make it neutrally buoyant and heavy enough to cast. While any shad styled bait will get bites, it is best to steer away from #7’s and #9’s early in the season, as they have a wider action. Baits with a subtle action are best for casting in the spring. By alternating between the shad style and minnow style bait you should be able to dial in the cranking presentation.
When it comes to the retrieve, slow and steady, but still being able to feel the vibration is the rule. There are two types of line we like to use when fishing rocky areas, Berkley FireLine and Berkley NanoFil. FireLine is a very tough and abrasion resistant line that can be tied directly to the bait. In clear water situations we will tie on a 10# clear Berkley 100% Trilene fluorocarbon leader.
Berkley NanoFil in 10# test is a great no stretch line. Not only does it allow you to feel the bait, but it also has the additional advantage of being a Uni-filament line. Uni-filament means there is no braiding or fusing, making the line super slick, which can add significant casting distance for these lightweight lures.
A steady retrieve is the norm, but occasionally the lure should also tick the bottom, which will cause it to jerk off to the side. It is important to be able feel every vibration of the lip, as walleyes will often take a swipe at the bait and miss. When this happens you will feel the bait “skip a beat”. Stop reeling, count to three and then start reeling again. Many times by the time you count to two the walleye will take another swipe and connect, just about ripping the rod out of your hands! Once you learn how to do this you will double the number of fish you catch. You can’t get that kind of feel with monofilament line.
You can also pitch jigs in these areas with a high action 2.5-3 inch Berkley PowerBait Pro Shad or Jig Worm. Both of these baits will jump all over the place! We typically start out with artificial baits on a rock bite, but in very clear lakes, a live bait presentation may be preferred.
Remember, in order to catch fish, you have to find the fish first! So this year on opening weekend, mix it up by hitting your traditional spots, but also take a chance on trying a bay you may have overlooked in the past to get your Next Bite!