With the slightly warmer winter, many walleye areas will likely see ice off before the peak of the late March to early April spawn. Of course, some areas never see ice and the anglers on these reservoirs relish the opportunity to fish for big fish every evening for a couple of weeks.
The other refreshing part of this tradition is fishing from shore. In reservoirs, these fish push up along the rocks of the dam after dark making a boat useful at times, but unnecessary overall.
From a boat, dial in the exact location of the fish by starting an hour before dark with a long trolling pass along the dam. The first line should pull a single Offshore OR-12 board a few feet in front of a Berkley Cutter 90 held no more than 10 feet from the rip rap. Two other flatlines (lines without planer boards) behind the boat with a Flicker Shads, or Flicker Minnows diving into the rocks covers slightly deeper fish staging for the evening.
When it comes to equipment, the 9.5-foot telescopic Walleye Angler Trolling rods from Bass Pro Shops are real sweethearts! We run the baits off of 10lb. Berkley XT line, which has been the standard for trolling walleyes for years. The Off Shore planer boards we run have a very heavy ballasted system so boards can be trolled slowly without tipping. They are also great for handling rough conditions. When trolling crankbaits we like to modify the clip set-up on the boards to what we call “The Pro Set-Up”. We remove the release hardware and the OR16 (Red) release from the back of the board. The board comes from the factory with and OR19 (Orange) release that is mounted straight out on the arm and we add another OR19 just behind that one so it’s aimed back at about a 45- degree angle (the board comes with a pre-drilled hole for this modification). The advantage of the “Pro Set-Up” is that it makes the boards easier to read because they will “tip back” more when a fish is on. It also makes removing the boards easy, especially when you are fighting a fish by yourself.)
The rip rap and depth along a dam never stays constant. Larger rocks, flatter sections, and wind-eroded cuts hide beneath the water. Wind plays a factor too. The only goal of this first trolling path is to locate these structural elements and trigger a couple of over-anxious males to provide a clue into the night’s details.
As darkness falls casting becomes the better option. We start with any lure from the Berkley Cutter family and put the bait right up on the edge of the shoreline. The Cutter 90 is smaller than the 110 while the 110+ dives a bit deeper. A Berkley Digger 3.5 will also tempt fish when bounced off the rocks.
Having four or five Bass Pro Shops or Cabelas 6’3”, fast action Prodigy spinning rods rigged up with different lures can help stay on top of the changing bite. Half of the rods should be rigged with a no-stretch line like Berkley Ultra 8 Carrier Fireline. For a different sink rate and presentation, the other rods should be rigged with 8-lb Berkley Trilene XL. The stretchy monofilament line puts a slightly different action into the lure while also keeping the lure higher in the water column.
If possible, nose the boat into shallow water and cast parallel to shore. Start with a constant, but extremely slow retrieve and eventually work pauses into a classic jerk bait cadence. Be patient as each night progresses differently. In some cases that initial nightfall will be a hot bite but others will be delayed until much later.
On dark nights solid colors like Fools’ Gold and Pearl Vapor provide a silhouette for the fish. If the moon is out, metallic colors come into play with Clown and Black Silver as obvious options. Sexier shad and Table Rock work in varying conditions.
A hand-held spotlight can be a key tool from a boat. The walleyes push up so shallow that shining a bright light up against the rocks can return hundreds of reflective eyes from below. Reservoirs with running inlets can also be explored and monitored with the spotlights. Once the run has started clear your calendar for a few nights of great fishing.
After using the mobility of the boat to figure out some details, switching to shore on later nights lands more fish. Every cast can be placed and retrieved through the shallow strike zone, hung up lures can be retrieved quicker, and the time spent launching the boat and controlling it can be spent fishing. Knee- high waterproof boots, hip waders, or even full waders give the angler more than enough mobility.
Shore-bound anglers can troll with two methods. The traditional way is to use a jerk bait behind a 14- foot rod like the Bass Pro Shops Crappie Maxx Tightline Special and simply walk the edge of the dam. This is especially easy on dams with solid concrete walkways at the water level. Similarly, a small planer board like the Offshore OR38 can take lures a bit further out. Wade out and attach the board a few feet in front of the lure. With the bail open, toss the board just far enough away from the rocks to get started. Walk along the dam and the lightweight board will keep the lure tracking parallel to shore. The OR-38 board can switch directions so you only need to carry one for the night.
After one bite, standing on a rock or wading makes it easy to cast parallel to the rip rap. Stay in the area for a few minutes but don’t be afraid to move up and down the shore in an attempt to stay with the fish.
The late nights and darkness might lull you towards sleep but when a walleye splashes and hits the lure at your feet the senses snap back quickly. Eventually, a real giant will show up. Starting the season with a personal best secures bragging rights and your big-fish confidence soars for the rest of the season.