Walleye watch: Fish slowly emerging from winter stasis
Warden Boyd Richter will tell you the calendar is extremely important for those chasing walleyes this week. After tomorrow you'll need a new fishing license. Richter isn't much for April Fool's jokes when it comes to enforcing the law.
Most years walleyes in the Rock River are on the cusp of spawning right now. But February weather in late March will push this blessed event back until that date when the IRS will tell you the calendar is extremely important: April 15.
This year the full moon falls on April 15. Natural cycles are a solid two weeks behind the norm this year. If water temperatures climb into the mid-40s by then—and they should—those three days either side of tax day should provide stellar nighttime walleye action.
Right now water temperatures in the Rock River are still stuck in the 30s. Walleye activity is just a couple shades above comatose.
Small, slowly fished, basic presentations are key to finding consistent walleye success right now. Water temperature has a profound impact on fish location, too.
Winter is leaving the landscape. Small tributaries and places where sheet water is draining into the river through drain tubes and by natural pathways can be fish magnets. A one-degree difference in water temperature has a profound influence on a cold-blooded walleye. The temperature change also affects location of prey species, with runoff introducing both oxygen and potential food into the grand scheme of aquatic life.
Current is another major factor in riverine walleye location. Cold-water walleyes stage at points where the current can bring food to them so they don't have to expend precious energy chasing it down.
You'll find them holding on the slack side of a slack water/fast water interface, facing into the current. This doesn't necessarily mean upstream. Imagine a back eddy on the downstream side of a bridge piling. Water passing around this barrier increases in velocity. A void develops just downstream from the pillar. Water rushes in to fill the void.
Walleyes use this hydrodynamic to stage with little effort, facing downstream but up-current waiting for an easy meal.
In deeper, slow moving pools there can be several subtle current changes as the Rock River rests momentarily before continuing southwest. Look for lines of bubbles and foam on the surface heading the opposite direction of dominant current flow.
Remember: Riverine walleyes always face upcurrent when staging, but this does not necessarily mean facing upstream.
Basic presentations such as a plain jighead with a minnow or a plain hook with a minnow 15 to 19 inches below a small barrel swivel with a sliding sinker on the other end.
Jig and sinker weight are critical components in convincing a walleye to slurp in your minnow. If you need more than a 3/8-ounce sinker or 3/16-ounce jig to maintain frequent contact with the rocky Rock River bottom, you probably aren't fishing where the walleyes are.
Most of the time a 1/8-ounce jighead is the ticket for cold water walleyes in our river. If you're probing slow-moving pools, 1/16-ounce may yield more fish.
Maintaining frequent bottom contact with weight scarcely heavy enough to do the job is easier with an extremely sensitive rod and smaller diameter braided line with a fluorocarbon leader.
Consistent success on Rock River walleyes is the epitome of finesse presentation right now. A thousand words can't explain this definition into putting a walleye on your hook.
Consistent success is all about time on the water. Fish often—and don't forget to buy a new license.
Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.