By Tom Pettengill
Former Sport Fishing Coordinator, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

Spring walleye are very predictable in some ways and very unpredictable in others. Spring walleye fishing means fishing for spawning fish. I have fished spring walleye more at Willard Bay than any other water in Utah. As a biologist and angler I have come to know the behaviors and haunts of spring walleye in Willard Bay.

Spring Walleye Behavior

As the days lengthen and the temperatures warm in February, walleye begin to think more and more about spawning. Both males and females will begin to migrate to traditional spawning areas. The males will arrive first and stay the longest. By early March, male walleye will begin arriving at spawning sites in the Inlet Channel and along the West and North dikes. By mid-March, spawning will begin and it will continue for a couple weeks. The males will stay in the spawning areas while females will come and go, as they are ready to lay their eggs. A 10-pound female may lay 500,000 eggs each spring. Eggs hatch in 12-18 days and within another two weeks the young walleye will have dispersed into the open water of the lake.

Males greatly outnumber the females and it is the males that we want to target for harvest and a tasty meal. If you are lucky enough to catch a large female and want to have the fish mounted, you don't need to kill her to do that. Just quickly measure and photograph the fish and release it to spawn another time. Many taxidermists today can make an exact replica of your trophy and a picture will show the coloration of your fish.

When, where to find March walleye

The best catches of walleye at Willard Bay in March are made by concentrating your fishing efforts from late afternoon through the night and into early morning. Spawning typically occurs at night so that's when the fish are in along shore and are most active. Focus your efforts from sunset into the night and pre-dawn to early morning. Spring fishing success is highly variable. Fish as often as you can to make sure you hit those few good days. Some of the best fishing may occur just before storms and during the full moon.

Concentrate your effort around the mouth of the South Marina (the inlet channel is closed to fishing in March) and along the West and North dikes. The walleye will be right in along the rocks. They may be in only a few inches of water right next to shore or down several feet. Walleye will not be uniformly distributed in these areas and may move in and out from day to day. Walleye tend to congregate in small areas and once a good spot is found it may stay good all through that spawning season. The next spring they'll probably not be in the exact same location.

Techniques and tricks for catching March walleye

Along the dikes, whether fishing from shore or a boat, just pick a spot and start fishing. This is probably the best time of year to fish from shore because the fish are in along the rocks and often shallow. At times it seems that fishing is actually better for shore anglers than boat anglers. The fish seem to hit jigs coming into shore better than jigs being pulled away from shore. I know boat owners who regularly fish from shore this time of year at Willard Bay.

Work along the dike fan-casting to cover as much area as you can from your location and then move to where you are covering new water. Move slowly and quietly. Banging rocks together or making a lot of noise will spook shallow fish. Once you get a hit or catch a fish, work that area for several minutes to see if there are other active fish in the area. Then slowly move on, casting to locate more fish.

Most of the fish this time of year will be taken by casting 1/8-1/2 ounce jigs. Lightweight jigs work best in light wind conditions and shallower water. If the wind is blowing or the fish are deep then use a heavier jig. White, yellow or shad-colored jigs seem to work the best. The best jig body size seems to be about three inches. Curly- or paddle-tailed jigs provide good action and send off a vibration that walleye can key in on as you crank the jig slowly through the water. I have found that cranking the jig just fast enough to keep it close to the bottom but up out of the rocks works better than hopping in along the bottom. Vary speed and depth of presentation until you find what is working that day. Use a 6 or 6-1/2 foot medium action spinning rod. I like to use 6-8 pound monofilament line. Tie the jig directly to the line. Don't use a swivel or snap to attach the jig as this will affect the action of the jig and the way it travels through the water.

At times, walleye can be very aggressive and will hit your jig hard. At other times you'll only feel a slightly heavier sensation as you pull the jig through the water. The best way to demonstrate this subtle bite is to cut a rubber band and hold one end in each hand. As you just barely begin to stretch the rubber band you will feel a slight pull in the other hand. This is a typical walleye bite on a jig. If your line moves funny or you feel anything unusual, set the hook immediately. Most of us have many more bites than we ever know. Fish can swim along at the same speed as your lure and completely inhale it and spit it out without anglers ever knowing they had a bite.

One way to increase your odds of hooking a fish as it spits out your jig is to slightly bend open the gap of the hook. Use a pair of pliers and just open the gap a little by pulling the point out away from the shaft of the hook. Grab the hook behind the barb. Don't grab the point or barb of the hook. You only have to bend it about 1/16 of an inch. By doing this the point won't be exactly parallel to the shaft of the hook and can more easily snag the inside of the fishes mouth as it tries to spit it out. When it feels the pick of the hook it will jerk to get away and many times will set the hook itself, or you'll feel the fish and set the hook. Check your hooks often. When casting around these rocks it's very easy to dull or bend the point of the hook. Carry a small hook sharpener and keep those hooks razor sharp.

Spring walleye fishing at Willard Bay is pretty simple. Follow these few tips and tricks, keep your jig in the water and you'll catch some March walleye at Willard Bay.