By John Peterson with Noel Vick
Energies and ambitions have been suffocated since fall; back when turkey was served with mashed potatoes and ‘eyes were stacked on points like lumber. Those were Hallmark moments, the days after the leaves dropped but snow had yet to fall.
Yeah, ice fishing provided a redeemable outlet, too, but spring is still spring. Putting the boat in; running your fingers through a mess of leeches, all black ones; cocking back the bail for the season’s maiden cast. That’s it. That’s the feeling.
But with a powder keg of restlessness within, when the moment finally arrives, it’s easy to fish too fast. Instinctually, you spray the water with casts and retrieve at break-wind speeds. The lure would spark if it weren’t for the water. Trouble is, though, the fish – your walleyes – aren’t inspired to chase. They want to dine leisurely. Nibble. Hang onto lures.
But before discussing ways to neutralize this lethargy, it’s necessary to first comment on the “where.” You see, not all lakes were designed with spring walleyes in mind. Certain undeniable characteristics make some bodies of water more qualified than others.
Shallowness is trait one. Lakes with sweeping littoral zones – areas 15 feet and shallower – and maximum depth of 35 feet or less are favored. They warm the fastest, especially if the water is stained and or laden with sediments. Deep and clear lakes are out, too, at least for now. Save those for midsummer and fall.
Walleyes fancy certain terrain on “spring-oriented” lakes as well. Sand and rubble bottoms are of interest, as are emerging greens. Patches of deceased bulrushes also attract fish, as they house baitfish and sprout from promising hard floors. Add to the list tributaries and the protected northwest corner of the lake and you’ve got an enticing menu of starting points.
You know the spots. They’re historic, proven. Alls one has to do is pitch a jig to the bottom and ready the landing net, right? Well…not always.
Suffice it to say, the lead headed jig is the deadliest of all lures on spring walleyes. They are and forever will be. But occasionally, conditions warrant the deployment of other styles, like trolling crankbaits, dragging live bait rigs, even supervising slip-bobbers.
Floats, yep, they’re the chosen ones under certain circumstances. Underused and often misunderstood, slip-bobbers are just what the walleye ordered in cold and sleepy springtime environs. Balsa puts the bait in just the right spot and holds it there, letting it swim, writhe, and tease. No chasing required.
Bobbers also fish exceedingly well over obstructions, such as rocks and timber. Snaggy weeds and moss are easily avoided too, as the bait passes safely overhead. But most importantly, slip-bobbers provide the means to deliver bait to a precise spot over and over again. Rock piles offer a prime example. In the spring, walleyes will pile into the windward flank of a wave driven reef; 90% of the fish might cling to 10% of the structure. In such instances, maintaining boat position is grueling, notwithstanding the evils trolling presents. Everything can get spooked out if the hull whooshes over head. Anchoring and pitching a slip-bobber is a far better option. Doing so yields control, as well as the opportunity to plant the boat strategically, never passing over the fish.
Effective bobber fishing must also entail correct rigging. Essentially, there are two schemes for fixing-up a slip-bobber; one includes a plain hook and the other is end-weighted with a jig.
The second method is preferred, though, but oddly enough, is the least utilized. The end-weighted slip-bobber rig features a 1/32nd ounce jig with a long shank and wide-gap hook. The Northland Tackle Gum-Ball Jig® and Glo-Ball Jig® are the best overall lures for this application.
The jig achieves two objectives. For one, it, due do its shape and coloration, acts as an attractor, enhancing the bait’s inherent abilities. Secondly, the jig’s bodily weight holds the bait at the selected depth, yet is light enough to allow the bait some wiggle room. Too heavy a jig can render bait totally static.
Weighted and painted hooks, which are lures in-and-of themselves, perform similarly. The insect-looking Northland Ghost Grub® is a perfect example. It carries a broad gap Kahle hook, making it marvelous for slipping walleyes.
Unfortunately, though, a 32nd ounce jig alone isn’t massive enough to balance a walleye-sized bobber, let alone keep a larger and sprightly minnow at bay. So shot must be implemented, namely, Northland Hot-Spot Split Shot®. Pinch 1, 2, or 3 shot 6-inches to 18-inches above the jig. (How many and what size shot you use must be determined by first testing bobber buoyancy. Add or subtract shot until the bobber, with bait attached, rides just above the surface but isn’t easily swamped.)
Hot-Spot Split Shot® – available in hot neon and phosphorescent attractor colors – operate in chorus with the jig as a temptation, especially in stained water and during low light conditions. The alternate slip-bobber package is founded on a plain hook, or one with modest flare, such as the Northland Super-Glo® hook. Again, the jig program is superior, since it presents a bigger and brighter target and keeps the bait in check, but when the bite’s light, an old fashioned hook is priceless.
The size of the hook used is dictated by the type and dimension of the bait in hand. Sizes 2 and 4 live bait hooks match well with minnows; 2’s with shiners and other large minnows and 4’s with fatheads. Size 4 and 6 hooks are best suited for leeches.
Shot spacing with a plain hook is the same as with a jig; build in 6 to 18 inches. Once more, it’s prudent to tighten the gap in colored water and widen it when the water’s clear. Setting depth is comparably as important as rigging. With an alligator-clip style depth finder affixed to the hook, slide the knot up the line until the float plunges 6 to 8 inches beneath the surface, which in reality means the bait will ride 6 to 8 inches off the bottom. Unless the bite dictates otherwise, shallow springtime walleyes operate tight to the bottom, so keep the goods low.
How you put the wood to ‘em is a final consideration. Every Tom, Dick, and Harry has a “foolproof” regimen for setting a slip-bobber. Some guys choke down a cigarette before tightening down; others count, “one, one thousand…two, one thousand” etcetera until reaching thirty or so, and then set. And some, the twitchy-types, reef back at first sign the bobber has moved.
Unless you’ve already established a personal, bulletproof process, try counting slowly to 3. With a sharpened hook, low-stretch line, 6 ˝ foot or longer pole, and a sweeping but assertive hookset, that fish should soon be at boatside.
It’ll be tough to do. Changing ones ways is never easy; giving up the manly speed troll and power drift for an anchor and rub-a-dub-dub tactic. You might even loose a chest hair or two. But when the walleyes are pinpointed, and or their mood is subdued, nothing bests the bobber.
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