Spring Walleyes

Mike Mladenik
To successfully catch spring river walleyes, anglers need to be aware of present conditions. Water temperature, prevailing weather, current, and water levels are all critical for both walleye location and presentations. Once you establish a pattern, don’t make the mistake of getting in a rut. Spring is known for changing conditions, and as the conditions change, so do the patterns. The faster you adapt to change, the more fish you’ll catch.Water temperature and weather:

Actual walleye spawning occurs when the water temperature is somewhere between 43-46 degrees. Water temperatures in the low forties will put walleyes in the pre-spawn stage, while temperatures in the upper forties will put them at post spawn. Once we know the water temperature, we can determine what stage the walleye are in.

The ideal period to be on the water is just before walleye enter the spawning stage. At this time, both male and females are active and, in many cases, easy to catch. Once they enter the spawning stag, females are tough to catch, but males will generally cooperate. After spawning, males remain active, but females are inactive, unless the water temperature is on the rise.


It’s no secret that walleyes and walleye anglers concentrate below dams in spring. While fishing below dams can be very productive, it can also be tough fishing. Many anglers don’t fully understand the way all fish relate to a dam. In spring, many anglers toss out the anchor and start fishing without analyzing the current situation. Adapting your presentation to the current will make the difference between a few fish and steady action.

Over the years, I have had my best success fishing on the edges of the main current flow. Not only does the current break attract fish, but with less current, your presentation will be easier. Walleyes relating to faster current will hold tighter to the bottom and you will literally need to drop a jig on their nose to trigger a strike. The swifter the current, the tighter the large walleyes will hold to the bottom. You may find the largest fish in this area, but fishing for them can be frustrating.

I have found current breaks below a dam tend to be a holding area for both pre-spawn female and male walleyes. It is common to catch a few small walleyes and suddenly stick a big female. Why? Larger fish are on the move and will use the current edge as their direct route to the spawning areas. Spawning areas in the vicinity of a dam can include rubble, gravel or other hard bottom.

Water levels:

When water levels are on the rise, shore fishing may be the most productive method for taking spring walleyes. As the river continues to rise, walleye will move tighter to shoreline cover. Shore anglers will do well if they concentrate on slack water areas close to the shoreline. Walk along the shoreline and pitch a jig into the slowest possible water. Keep an eye on the line for any sudden movement. Once you detect line movement, set the hook with a hard steady sweep. Wham!


Both a jig and minnow or a jig and plastic trailer are effective. If the walleye are active, the jig and plastic is easier to use. However if the bite is light, I rely on a jig and shiner or a large fathead minnow. Cast upstream towards the shoreline and the slack water area and slowly retrieve the jig into the current. Once the jig enters the current break, raise you rod tip to about 10 o’clock and keep a tight line. If you detect a strike, lower the rod slightly and then set the hook. There you go!

A last note on equipment:

For spring walleye fishing, I prefer longer rods than most anglers use. When fishing in a boat and working a current break, I go to a seven-foot rod. A Lamiglas Certified Pro CS 701 has a fast tip but enough backbone to handle a big walleye and the current. For shore fishing, I prefer a Lamiglas Certified Pro XS 703. This rod is slightly stiffer and handling larger fish is easier from shore.

This should help get you started this spring. Remember to be aware of the present conditions and don’t rely on what happened last year. Also keep in mind that if the river conditions change, the walleyes will move, and you’ll need to adapt your approach. Go get ‘em!


Mike Mladenik
Wisconsin Fishing Guide, Author, and TV Host

Leave a reply