OPENING DAY ADJUSTMENTS
By Daniel Kiazyk
Fish by memories and that's about all you'll boat. An adaptive style knowing various components of the walleye equation can have a positive impact on your angling success.
Opening day in Manitoba, long sought by all resident anglers, is too often fraught with statements such as; the fish just got off the spawn or they were further up the reservoir etc. Actually these disappointments can be tempered if an informed game plan is put into effect. I guess a book could be written as to different strategies that could be employed. My sole interest is to reflect on the past couple of seasons and things that worked on "different/new" waters. Don't get me wrong there are some holes we'll frequent where we'll bring only one type of tackle and where we'll exercise one kind of tactic with extraordinary fish catching efficiency. But that's another story, one that we are able of performing once we angle on a regular basis. But my purpose here is to share some ideas of what to do if your visiting waters not yet plied or are just having problems contacting fish on a body of water that you're not too familiar with!
Fish the smaller rivers first; leave the deeper larger bodies of water till later on in the season. This first suggestion keys on a couple of key factors, which follow from a walleye in nature. Firstly, the males will often stick around those places where females will spawn; rapid falls, or other obstructions where walleye like to spawn. These males will be smaller in size, but they recover a bit more quickly from the rigorous of the spawn. I know a fellow who has spent a great amount of time exploring many of the smaller rivers that flow into Manitoba's larger lakes (and I've been lucky enough to accompany him on a few occasions!) he rarely has a poor opener. On the contrary his hard work is almost always rewarded with super catches earlier on in the season. When the rivers start to show a sign of slowing down he'll start to fish other locales.
Secondly, smaller rivers tend to warm sooner than other bodies of water. Run off and their shallowness will allow them to be 2-3 F warmer; on occasion the key to encountering active spring walleye. Another trick for those who don't have the equipment to move up the smaller rivers would be to sit at the mouth of a smaller feeder river/creek. It's surprising how many times such a strategy has saved an early spring expedition to a new body of water. Even if the walleye are suffering from lock jaw, pike (and sometimes the largest of the year) will be willing to put in a good show of themselves.
If a wall hanger is your goal, by the opener females have generally left the spawning areas and set themselves in predictable areas. One of the best bets for locating larger females will be to look for the first major hole/drop off in proximity to a spawning site. I've been really lucky at the mouths of rivers/where rivers discharge into a lake. These mouths will be even better if there is a large deeper washout. Walleye seem to want to stick around a bit taking advantage of a river's natural fertility in the spring. Two other areas also come to mind when reflecting of those places where larger walleye hold out after the spawn. On one river, I've seen walleye spread out through the river using deeper structural elements. These are caught using sonar. Moving from one location to another the angler looks for hooks in relation to deeper structure. Finally one other locale, I've frequented for some success is the deeper lake basins associated with rivers. These areas are also tougher to fish as they are extensive in size and have considerable depth. Best technique is a jig and combination of baits.
Having said all the prior leaves many wondering, Yeah, but I don't live near the Manigotogan, Whiteshell, Wanipigow, Moose, Bloodvein Rivers! Rather, I am located near to a lake with no large or significant inflowing rivers/creeks What do I do in this context?
Initially, water temperature and the lake (its physical features and their orientation to sun movement) seems to make all the difference. I'll often tell anglers if the water is in the upper 40's to 50's, the fish will probably be shallow. It stands to reason that the food chain will be activated in water that warms first. Moreover, terrestrials, worms etc. start to become available in the shoreline area. On one occasion, I saw how orientation to sun plays a significant role in a lake situation. The lake in this context or a long lake also narrower oriented north and south. We fished shallow water on the east and west shores and found the east a bit more productive. Even more productive where the bays which opened up to the south. How much better? On a recent (spring 2001) trip, we were fishing the east side and were catching a few fish in shallower water (my guest noted others were a lot deeper, but were having no luck!) When all of a sudden, I decided to try a very shallow south facing bay. My guests questioned this strategy when they saw water 2'feet deep with what seemed like "suckers" swimming around. Fifteen minutes later, disbelievers were in their glory as numerous walleye were boated out of this ridiculously shallow water. Nothing new, just a bit of intuition and luck… I guess.
One other area which has produced for me in the spring with any consistency has been darker/shallower bays (tanin stained). Crowduck lake, one of Manitoba's premier walleye factories, will invariably be better in "dark water" bay than any other local on the lake in the spring. Why,? The darker shallow water is the key as it probably ignites the whole food chain. Walleye will also be in this locale if there is any structure upon which they can spawn. One or both of these factors is probably why these fish are where they are.
"Shallower than you often think for walleye" in rivers and lakes as a generalization proves to be effective when fishing in the spring. Spawning areas and areas (deeper holes) associated with known spawning areas are not prime areas when the season opens. Fish are really shallow (as a commercial fisherman on Lake Manitoba was ardent in making his point to me on one occasion). The other consideration will be those locales that are associated with sun. The warmer more intense rays of mid to late day will get things going – food chain being the key component energized by the spring's warming waters.
What about bait? Well the water is fairly cool in the Spring in Manitoba. Minnows (live if permitted) are best earlier on… worms seem to be a close second while leeches don't seem to come "un-balled" until the water hits the mid 50's. These are generalizations but they also suggest that a long narrow floating crank (which doesn't have to radical an action) can be an effective spring bait if used over shallow water.
There certainly is more to making contact with walleyes in the spring. These few suggestions have been relatively effective in making contact with spring walleye in Manitoba waters over the past two years. Who knows what's next. I guess I've got to keep trying some other approaches to spring water.