Perfecting the Timing on Early Walleyes

When it comes to targeting early-season walleyes, I am a believer that the word “early” needs to be defined. Although I will make every attempt to get on the water during opening weekend, I often find that the opener is too early for the lakes I target.

As a general rule, I get really serious about walleye fishing a couple of weeks after opening weekend. To me, this still qualifies as the early season, but time has given the lakes and walleyes a chance to set up into patterns that make them easier to find and catch.

There are several factors that come into play that influence the location of these fish, as well as their feeding mood. The most obvious of the changing conditions early is the water temperature.

Although walleyes are a cold-blooded creature and survive in cold water as well as warm, they do have a spurt of activity that coincides with the jump in temperature around the first part of June. This temperature change not only increases their metabolism, but it also moves the spawning baitfish out of the super-shallow water.

I find walleyes in very shallow water tend to be spooky, scattered and hard to fish. I much rather prefer targeting them when they congregate in deeper water.

Weed growth is another consideration in the lakes I fish. In the early, early season, most of our mesotrophic (medium nutrient-rich) lakes have not yet developed enough weeds to create a distinct deep weedline. The deep weedline is a natural staging area and travel route for walleyes and baitfish. I like to refer to this weedline as the interstate of the underwater world. Once these develop, there is also a migration from shoreline structure to more mid-lake structure. Again, this pulls scattered fish out of the shallows and congregates them in deeper water where they are much easier to target.

My preferred presentation for fish once this deeper migration takes place is pretty basic. I am a big believer in live bait rigs and will use shiner minnows whenever I can get them. Shiners are a real delicacy for walleyes and generally out-fish other minnows this time of the year. They can be very difficult to keep, however; aerated minnow buckets and cold water will help.

I am also pretty fussy about my live bait rig setup. I like longer-than-normal leaders of at least 4 feet and will tie my own using 6-pound-test Vanish fluorocarbon. I put a small chartreuse bead in front of the hook as a color attractor.

I also find that slow-death presentations will start to produce fish during this period. I will use ‘crawlers, leeches or minnows on the bent, slow-death hooks. On some days, a 3-inch PowerBait minnow is unbeatable. The slow-death spinning action can be deadly at times.

Fishing for walleyes in the early season is always special. However, I find that my best “early-season” action usually starts a couple of weeks after the opener.