Walleye fishing on Rock River is good —and getting better every day with the peak of the annual spring spawning run on our hometown stream just over two weeks away.
Walleyes spawn when winter water temperatures warm to 45 to 48 degrees. Increasing daylight, flow rate, moon phase and a couple of other factors are also part of the magic matrix that typically roil into harmonic convergence about April Fool’s Day here and on Wisconsin River from the Dells south.
Here, the grand event takes place in slightly cooler water at 43 to 45 degrees.
This data isn’t based on hard science, rather personal notations in an attempt to decipher the ways of this myopic Manitou on these rivers for the past 40 years.
Impact of moon phase on fish in medium-sized Midwestern rivers is not fully understood, but undeniable. This year, the full moon shows up on April 7 with peak walleye activity that occurs at night ramping up April 4.
That date is just within the 72-hour window that has domininated typical spawning time about 80 percent of the time during the past 40 years of activity on this river that has held an unhealthy amount of my attention.
Hoodoo and voodoo not withstanding, there is still only one way to arrive at this calculation: time on the water. Bottom line (which is where most pre-spawn walleyes cruise) is you can’t catch fish if your line isn’t in the water!
A river walleye run isn’t like watching bulls run gutter to gutter down the streets of Pamplona. Fish travel upstream more closely resembles spandexed speed skaters falling into line around turns in a 1,500-kilometer race.
Spawning—not actively feeding—is the sole driving message pulsing through a walleye’s bean-sized brain on the Rock River as April Fool’s Day draws nigh.
Smaller male fish, like testosterone-driven teenagers, are slightly less focused on procreation than egg-laden females eager to drop one-third of their body weight. But all mature fish are attuned to the task awaiting upstream.
The best way to reach this destination is following subtle seams where the slack water meets the faster water, which provides a rest area for the fish.
Work a hook with something resembling food within an easy slurp away from where walleyes are stacked like a SWAT team about to make entry, and any fish foregathered are more likely to come out and dance.
Current seams are like pornography; hard to explain, but you know it when you see it.
Drive out to the Highway 14 bridge a couple miles west of town and look on the downstream edge of bridge pilings. Walleyes are staging in the quiet water directly downstream from these pilings right now.
Catching them is a matter of presentation, which is a significant component in any successful fishing equation.
Fish always stage facing into the current. The most natural way to present your hook is casting upstream and hopping a jig back along the current seam.
The downside is, your hook will likely find a rocky snag on the bottom in the rocky-rubble habitat preferred by spawning walleyes before it finds fish lips.
Most anglers change their presentation after losing several jigs, casting downstream into the seam and hopping the jig off the bottom back upstream through the seam. This presentation will catch fish. But the “strike window” in which fish react to your lure is much smaller.
Those anglers who would rather buy jigs and tie knots than catch walleyes invariably use jigs which are too heavy. They find comfort in the sensation of lead contacting bottom, hoping for the sweet sensation of a walleye eating a jig.
A quarter-ounce jig is almost always too heavy when probing current seams on Rock River. Even an eighth-ounce can be too much when working a seam by casting upstream. A 1/16-ounce pyrokeet Precision jig with a B-Fish-N Tackle Pulse R paddletail plastic is my go-to when seam fishin’ on the Rock for prespawn walleyes.
My favorite rig for this purpose is a 7-foot medium light St. Croix spinning rod with 10-pound test hi-vis Sufix braid line. But that’s just me.
Find your own muse.
Just don’t waste your time throwing cotton candy or moonglow paddletails. They don’t catch fish. This has got to be why those particular pegs are always empty at the Rock River Bait Box tackle shop.