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The Spread on Spring Walleyes

Jason Mitchell’s spring tips for locating walleyes.

As anglers, we often lock in on finding a specific edge or spot in the area that fish are using. We attempt to focus on a specific depth. For example, we catch a few fish in 22 feet and then spend the rest of our time trying to catch more fish at that depth. I find that I can easily get too specific, and locking into too specific a depth range can be costly during the post-spawn period.

I find that we can catch a lot more fish early in the open water season by not getting too specific. Instead of picking apart a location and staying on a productive depth, fish to find as wide a baseline as possible. Fish probably aren’t in 40 feet of water on most lakes during the middle of May (although we have seen that around bottleneck areas with current or after severe fronts). We can anticipate a shallower range. On some lakes, fish might be as shallow as 7 feet and as deep as 20 feet. Each fishery has a different range. Fish might be up 3 feet and as deep as 10 feet on a prairie dish bowl lake, for example.

Later in the season, as fish become edge-orientated on structure, you might successfully spend the whole day fishing a specific depth and catch lots of fish. Early in the season, though, fish movements are often wider, as some fish move up shallow to get some sun while other fish are deeper, recuperating from the spawn. Fish now are more spread out, depth-wise, on structure. At times, some fish push up into shallower water during the warmest part of the day, when the water temperatures bump up a few degrees, while in other situations, the fish move shallow during low light or after dark. The bottom line is that you can often catch more fish by fishing through a wider range of depths.

This is exactly why casting from the boat makes so much sense.

Casting jigs and soft plastics catches a lot of fish in the spring and early summer because you can deliver your presentation away from the boat when fish are shallow and won’t let you drive over them.

Another factor makes the casting game effective. As you work a piece of structure, say you have the boat in 15 feet of water—some fish might be scattered in 15 feet of water while other fish might be laid up 7 or 10 feet deep. One approach is to make a pass in 15 feet of water and make another pass in 10 feet to contact fish. You can cover a lot more water, though, by simply making a pass in 15 feet of water and casting up into shallow water. This way you not only touch the shallow water, but also fish the water below the boat at the end of each cast.

We often find early in the year that fish on a piece of structure are moving targets. We might pop a few deep, right below the boat, and then catch some fish with a long cast to the top of the structure. Other fish hit the jig halfway back to the boat. That range in depth is typical in spring. Not only does fan casting these locations allow you to touch all the different zones, it also enables you to find fish much more quickly.

So many walleye anglers get locked into finding a specific depth and then fishing below the boat, but by simply casting around the boat you dramatically expand the water you fish.

Expansion helps locate fish. We, as anglers, must adjust accordingly to the fish’s movements and select the right presentation, which is key to success.

To learn more, check out the May issue of MidWest Outdoors, available now at a newsstand near you, or by subscribing on our website.