The Pulse

Spring Walleye Fishing on the Chippewa Flowage 04/07/2014


Wow, that feels good to say! It’s true we are in the home stretch and less than a month away from boating Chippewa Flowage walleyes. Walleye anglers everywhere obsess over spring time and for good reason. Generally some of the biggest walleyes and largest numbers of walleyes are caught this time of year. Spring is unique in that all species of fish migrate to the shallows to fulfill their spawning rituals. This time of year trophy walleyes can be caught in a couple feet of water. If that doesn’t excite you after fishing through a frozen hole all winter, nothing will.

I could describe to you some non-existent formula with endless minute variables that equates to fish location and the presentation required, but honestly it isn’t that difficult. Nearly everything is based on the water temperature and how it changes, it’s that simple. Instead of the typical vague, open-ended tips you get fed reading larger publications I intend to give you exact fish locations, exact presentations and the exact water temperatures that change these two variables.



Location


The best way to understand location is through movement. Fish don’t magically appear in the shallows come spring, they come from somewhere. That somewhere is what I like to call “wintering locations”. Deep water, river channels or holes in the 15-35 foot range are typical wintering locations. Follow all of those pink dotted lines on your paper map of the Chippewa Flowage. This is where these walleyes have likely lived since last November.

When looking for spawning locations walleyes will seek hard bottom, shallow locations (7 feet and in). Generally these areas are rocky, sandy or gravely shorelines. Rock or gravel are far better than baron sand shorelines. Lucky for us the Chippewa Flowage doesn’t have endless rock shoreline. Generally these rocky patches will last for 100 yards or will only consume a point or corner of an island making walleyes more concentrated when they do move shallow. Finding these spots is as easy as driving around looking for rock and gravel on shore. The closer their proximity to deep water makes these spots all the better.

Along with hard bottom main lake shorelines rivers are a huge draw for spring walleyes. Nothing pulls more walleye to one location like in flowing water. Think about all the creeks; Hay, Moss, Chief the East Fork/West Fork of the Chippewa River and more. These locations are all ideal, plain and simple. Incoming water will also pull walleyes shallow prior to their actual spawn as well. Incoming water always pull the first walleyes shallow.

So all winter these fish live deep then slowly but surely they make their way to these shallow water locations I just described. Because we live in Wisconsin we never really know if fishing season will open in what seems like the dead of winter or the middle of summer, no problem. Take a pencil and draw a line from the nearest “wintering location” to its closest spawning location whether it be a shoreline or a river/creek. When you draw this line stay in the deepest water available until you get to the spawning location. If the water is less than 50 you can bet that walleyes will be somewhere along this line. If opening weekend arrives and the water temperature is 38 you can expect some fish to be shallow near spawning areas and some fish to be on slightly deeper structures in close proximity to these areas.

Walleye begin spawning when the water is around 40 degrees and some will spawn until the water is close to 50 degrees. The smaller males, generally 18 inches and under, will inhabit shallow locations much longer than larger females. One thing to consider is the surface temperature versus water temperature multiple feet down. Your sonar may be telling you the water is 50 degrees yet 3 feet down it may be only 46 degrees. Keeping that in mind is critical.

Knowing what temperature the walleyes spawn at is critical in following their movements. These fish may only stay in the shallows for a day or less but because not all walleyes spawn at one time a spot will generally reload day to day.

Another thing to consider when targeting shallow water walleyes on the Chippewa Flowage is that the lake can be drastically different temperatures from spot to spot. For example the east side may warm up faster than the west side or vice versa. So although walleyes on the east side may be shallow on opening weekend it might be the following weekend when they move shallow on the west side.

Post spawn walleyes will hold in slightly deeper locations in close proximity to spawning areas. On your map look for humps, points and bars in 4 to 12 feet of water or new weedlines in the same depths and proximity. The presence of sunken wood and deep water will make the spot much better.


Map Index


Hay Lake of the Chippewa Flowage

1. Deep water river channels and wintering locations. 20-30 feet deep.
2. Rock/gravel Shallow water location. 1-8 feet deep.
3. Slightly pre or post-spawn locations. Mid-depth humps with weeds and wood. 6-15 feet.



Presentation


All presentations this time of year have one thing in common “slow”. Slowing down is crucial in the cold water. Here are my favorite presentations. The Rapala Rippin Rap. This would fall under the blade bait category and the beautiful part about this bait is that it can be fished at any depth. If you are working a steep gravel shoreline it can be pumped in 3 feet of water and can be worked down to the base of the break targeting fish in all stages of the spawn. I fish this lure by imparting slow pulls or snaps then letting it fall back close to the bottom. Many times I will vertical jig this bait near steep breaks close to shallow water. The majority of strikes will come on the pause or when the bait is sinking. This is my favorite presentation when fish aren’t concentrated in the shallow areas but are spread across a variety of depths. This is also an excellent lure post spawn when fish are inhabiting humps, points or weedlines in the 7 to 15 foot depths.

Suspending crank baits such as Husky Jerks, Smithwicks and Bombers are another excellent choice. Cranks with a very tight wobble will out fish aggressive baits. I generally fish these when I am river fishing and working shallower flats and shorelines. These baits are outstanding in cold water because they simply suspend at a given depth and can be fished as slow as needed. I fish they lures with a slow pull and pause retrieve. The bigger females generally require a much longer pause than the smaller males. Letting your cranks suspend for 5 or more seconds will prevent you from fishing through the larger fish. This category of lures is definitely my favorite after dark crank for walleyes on the Chippewa Flowage for many reasons; they rattle, displace a lot of water, can be fished very slow and can be kept above structure. Color is simple for both of these lures. Bright patterns like firetiger, gold, chrome or orange are always my go to colors on the Chippewa Flowage. Lastly don’t be afraid to make these cranks big. I prefer these cranks to be in the 4 to 5 inch range, after all we are going after the bigger fish!

No walleye arsenal is complete without a jig. Tipped with a live minnow, a plastic ringworm or a paddle tail, a jig can be deadly throughout the spring and really all year. When tipping with plastics the number one thing to keep in mind is a plastic that has a lot of action at slow speeds. The biggest tip to jig fishing is playing with the head weight. I generally try to get away with the lightest weight possible while still keeping my jig in the strike zone efficiently. Where there is no current I use 1/8th ounce heads and in current I use up to 3/8th ounce. You want your jig to have a slow fall when worked, giving the fish plenty of time to devour it. Because jig fishing is not the best technique for covering water I generally use a crank bait to search out fish then work through them with a jig.

One last thing to consider is catch and release. With walleyes reproducing this time of year it is very important to let these large spawning females free after a quick encounter. Majority of fish over 20 inches are females. Releasing these fish is very important in maintaining a quality walleye fishery.

Spring walleye fishing on the Chippewa Flowage doesn’t have to be difficult. Don’t get lost in the vastness of the lake and don’t over complicate your presentations. Spend some time locating wintering locations, spawning locations and mid-depth structures. Read the water temperature and fish where it tells you to fish and you will catch both more and larger walleyes this spring!