By Sam Webb
Mike Hall took me fishing at Willard Bay on March 24th. The wind had been blowing and Hall said this should have mixed the warm, top water with the colder, lower layer producing a more even temperature throughout the water column. We hoped the waves and more even water temperature had stimulated the walleye to feed.
Hall maneuvered his boat through the wakeless area and out into the bay. I was surprised at the number of boats and jet skis on the water. There were even a few brave (crazy?) people water skiing.
Once we got away from the crowds Hall brought his bass boat to life and we flew toward the west dike. A number of boats were working the dike. Several were trolling but most were anchored or drifting. More than a hundred anglers lined the dike.
Hall checked the water temperature — 49.5 degrees — warm enough to get the walleye moving. Next Hall took a long look at the water. The waves had kicked up a lot of silt and given the water a gray-green hue. Bright colored lures were in order, maybe even florescent or phosphorescent. We would have to experiment.
Hall tied on a chartreuse single-tail grub — I tied on a chartreuse skirt and we got serious about catching a mess of walleye.
Hall manuvered the boat parallel to the dike and just casting distance off the rocks. He put the trolling motor into low and as he lobbed his grub toward the rocks explained his method. "Cast almost into the rocks at a 90 degree angle to the boat. Begin a slow retrieve. The forward movement of the boat will pull your lure in an arc away from the dike and toward the boat. Reel slowly. Let the boat pull the lure. The combination of the boat speed and your slow retrieve will keep the lure moving."
"As the lure swings in an arc behind the boat it will change directions and speed. The direction and speed changes will trigger the walleye to bite."
I followed Hall's instructions and a dozen or so casts later set the hook on a 14 inch walleye. It was a little male. Hall said that the females hadn't moved in to the dike yet and the males were just beginning to school up in preparation for the spawning ritual.
I was excited! This was my first walleye of the year. A few casts later Hall hooked another small male.
As we slowly moved along the dike we talked to the fishermen casting from shore. Many of them had a walleye or two but the general consensus was that fishing was slow. I made a mental note of the different lures being cast: lots of single tail grubs (in all shapes, colors and styles), a few double tail grubs, skirts (tubes), rapalas and spinner baits.
We approached two fishermen putting their gear away and preparing to head for home. Hall asked them how they had done. Both said that they had their limit of 6 walleye and that fishing had been great!
Of course the next question was, "What have you been using?" They held up three inch, pearl colored, single tail grubs with action tails. We immediately broke off our lures and tied on pearl colored grubs. The results were dramatic. On Hall's first cast with the pearl grub he caught a nice walleye. The action from then on was fantastic.
Now, some of you long-time walleye anglers may laugh at me when I confess that I missed about three times as many fish as I caught. I was raised on trout fishing and walleye just don't hit a lure the same way trout do. As a matter of fact, if you wait until you get a trout-like hit you will only catch one out of every 20 or 30 (or more) walleye that take your lure.
When walleye hit a lure they simply take it in their mouth. Generally all you feel, if you feel anything at all, will be a slight tap. More often, the line will move in an unnatural way or your "sixth sense" will tell you to set the hook. When this happens, don't hesitate, set the hook!
Don't fall asleep either because every once in a while a walleye will surprise you. After several hours of fishing I started holding my rod loosely as I slowly reeled in the grub. No problem right? After all, I just finished discussing how lightly walleye take a lure. Wrong! A walleye suddenly whacked my grub so hard it almost jerked the rod right out of my hands. It was all I could do to recover in time to grab my rod tightly enough to keep it from going over the side.
Later in the afternoon another walleye smashed my lure just as I was pulling it out of the water, right at the side of the boat. Once a walleye gets it into its head that it wants your lure, hang on because it will darn near jump right into your boat trying to get to it.
Have I confused you? First I said that walleye hit lures so softly that you will have a difficult time telling when to set the hook and then I spent a couple paragraphs saying that walleye will hit your lure so hard that they will rip your rod right out of your hands.
Both are true. About 29 out of every thirty walleye will simply tap your lure as they close their mouth on it — but watch out for that last one!
Although we did pick up a few fish right on the rocks, most of the walleye hit as the lure moved through its arc about half way to the boat.
Troll-casting is especially effective in the spring when the walleye are schooled up and have moved right in on the rocks. With some modifications this method should produce nice fish through most of the summer. When the water begins to warm the fish will move deeper during the day. To get into the fish it will be necessary to get your lure down to the fish. This may mean casting deep-running rapalas and bait rigs. Make sure the lure is down near the bottom as it begins its arc and you are sure to pick up some nice fish.
Now it was late afternoon. The water was almost glass-like and the sun was beginning to set behind the dike. Fishermen were arriving by the truckload. They were spaced about 10 feet apart all along the dike. As we moved away from the dike and beyond the reach of the lines being cast from shore, I thought back to the walleye "rules" I learned on the lower Provo River when I was a kid. The fast "rule" was that walleye would not take a lure when they were spawning. Back then most of the the fishermen "in the know" got out their big treble hooks, melted a blob of lead onto the shank and jerked them across the river. They did catch (snag) their share of walleye but I never did think it a very sporting (or legal) method for taking the fish.
The second "rule" was that the only time to take walleye was in the late evening, night or early morning. Everyone knew that walleye didn't feed during the day.
Of course both these "rules" are wrong. On this afternoon we not only proved that walleye will take a lure in the mid-afternoon — we proved that they will hit without hesitation — if you present the right lure. As far as walleye not taking a lure during the spawn — what a dumb idea!
As a kid I didn't worry too much about what the older, wiser fishermen told me. I simply went fishing whenever I could and where ever I could.
In the early spring I often rode my bike down to the lower Provo River, where the water starts to back up as it prepares to enter the lake. I would thread a garden worm, or if they were small, two, onto a size six hook and then let it bounce around and through the old cars and rip-rap dumped at each bend in the river to "stabilize" the banks.
The fishing was never fast but usually I rode home in the evening with a couple of walleye tied to the handlebar of my bike. I always did my best to tie the fish out where they were the most noticeable. The fish were always good for a few stares.
The problem was, when I got the fish home, I never knew what to do with them. No one had ever told me about filleting fish. I usually ended up scaling them and then frying them like I would a 10 inch rainbow. They never did taste very good that way. It was years later that I finally began to appreciate how easy it is to properly prepare a walleye for the frying pan and just how good walleye fillets taste.
I mentioned the fishing technique I had used as a kid to Hall and he said that bouncing a worm along the bottom is still one of the best ways to take walleye. A spinnerbait or other lure with a crawler attached to the hook will take walleye when everything else has failed. Tipping a skirt with a crawler, so the crawler extends out from the "tentacles" can be deadly.
It was starting to get dark and the temperature was dropping rapidly. Time to head the bass boat back to the marina.
The walleye will stay schooled up until at least the middle of April and then they will return to their more solitary ways. Fishing will be good for all the month of April and May.
Once the water warms the fish will move deeper and be more difficult to catch. So by June and July you will have to change tactics to assure yourself of some walleye fillets for dinner.